Thursday, March 13, 2014

6 Mistakes You Can Make When Teaching Children To Read

As a newly qualified teacher, you probably struggled with the mechanics of teaching children how to read.  However, once you mastered phonics instruction and guided reading sessions, it all fell into place, right?

But are you teaching this essential skill as well as you could be?  Is every child in your class getting it?

I've been doing some research* and will share my findings concerning common mistakes with you below.

Mistake #1: Teaching Upper/Lower Case Sounds and Letter Names in Isolation

I'm the first to admit, I have been guilty of this.


It made sense to me to break letters into manageable segments (lower case letter recognition and sounds, upper case letter recognition and sounds and then, finally, letter names) to make it "easier" for students.


Learning is all about making connections.  By teaching sounds and letter names in isolation this way, I was doing my students a disservice.  Struggling students often experience difficulties in making connections.   Teaching letter sounds and names in isolation makes the process more challenging for those types of students.

Mistake #2: Telling Students that "Tricky Words" are Non-Decodable

“Decodable words can be sounded out. Tricky words need to be learned by sight.”

Sound familiar?

Well, as it happens, only 4% of words in the English language are completely non-decodable.  

Picture yourself learning an additional language.  You spend weeks, perhaps months, learning the code only to be told to "forget all about that" and, instead, learn a whole bunch of words by sight.  Confused/frustrated much?  I know I would be.  

Instruction should address students' levels of decoding skills.  Emergent readers will most likely have to learn the word "the" before learning the "th" sound.  Initially, you should teach these students "the" as a whole sight word.  HOWEVER, later instruction should go back and address the fact that the "th" part of the word is decodable. 

The powers that be in England have attempted to address this common misconception in their curriculum guidance by using the phrase "common exception words" as opposed to "tricky words".  

Mistake #3: Teaching Rules and Exceptions Together

The English language has many rules with exceptions.  For example, "i before e except after c".  It can be tempting to teach "achieve"and "ceiling" together with some exception words such as, "seize" and "vein".  

Sure, you will save yourself a bit of time.  However, chances are you will confuse some students in the process.  After all, what is the point of learning something that doesn't always work anyway?  

Exceptions should be addressed when, and only when, students are proficient in their knowledge, understanding and application of the rule.  

Mistake #4: Teaching Phonics Exclusively During Phonics Lessons

Reading is an essential skill in every curricular area.  Use opportunities in lessons other than phonics to make connections with phonics instruction.  

As a primary school teacher, I often find myself explaining the meaning of various words.  However, I have to remind myself to discuss how to decode the word and then explain the meaning.  

Mistake #5: Not Making the Process Explicit and Multisensory

Do your students know exactly what to do when they encounter a word they don't know?  Is the process explicit and on display with visual clues?  If not, it most definitely should be.  

Students need to know what to do when they don't have us around to support them.   This is particularly essential when it comes to homework and school holidays.  

Building confidence is essential.  

A bookmark with visual clues / text would serve as an excellent reminder when students are reading at home.  

Mistake #6: Making Assumptions

I love this wonderful quote from Shantell Berrett over at ReadingHorizons:  "Assume nothing, connect everything".  

Regardless of how many times we, as experts, have explained various terms connected with reading, are you confident that every single student knows what you are talking about?  Check and check again.  

Finally......A Gift

To celebrate the launch of my new blog, I have created a free Dolch sight word game exclusively for my blog followers (the first of many treats!).

If you wish to claim this free download, suitable for Kinder through to 3rd Grade, please opt in at:

Warm wishes,

OkinawanGirl Lisa is a teacher/nomad/Internet junkie with experience teaching in Scotland, Japan and Spain.  You can check out her shiny new blog at: 

*Research:  Much of the content of this post was thanks to the wonderful webinars hosted by the team at Reading Horizons.  I highly recommend checking them out.  


  1. Hi! Thanks for the informative post. You have some great tips here. I especially love the tricky words one. We always point out where the words don't "follow the rules," then as I teach those skills, we go back and say, "Hey, that word's not tricky anymore!" Teaching words by sight is important because, as you mentioned, they will encounter many of these words before they learn the rules that make them decodable, but going back is just as important. I love the bookmark suggestion, too. =)

  2. Brenda,

    Thank you for reading! I'm pleased to hear that you found it informative :-)

    Warm wishes,

    OkinawanGirl Lisa

  3. Wow, there were so many things in here I did not know! Thank you so much for the detailed information!

    1. Chrystine,

      I'm so glad you found this helpful. This is what I love about being a teacher - the constant learning curve involved!

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, I appreciate it :-)

      Warm Wishes,

      OkinawanGirl Lisa

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I guess the mistakes we do when teaching children to read are the results of how we were taught as well. It’s time that we correct them. I agree with your point about teaching rules and exceptions. English spelling can be very confusing and teaching both rules and exceptions at once can be overwhelming for a child. It may be better to only point out the exception every time the child comes across it.

    Sarah Haskins

  5. Sarah,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I'm pleased to hear you enjoyed this post!

    I'll be posting again here in May but in the meantime I have my own blog over at:

    Warm wishes,

    OkinawanGirl Lisa