Step 1:

Be certain to only begin teaching reading when you, the parent, are ready to commit to daily lessons. If your child is in school, spend time with him as he learns to read.  Proper reading instruction requires time and your child needs your help.  There is just no way around this.  Be prepared to spend daily time on lessons until your child has learned at least all of the phonograms and rules and is beginning to read fluently.  Fluent reading takes place when there are no long pauses occurring.  The student can easily read the words without having to stop and sound out most words in the passage.  This will not take place soon, but in time, with consistency, it should.

Step 2:

Do use a quality phonics-based program from start to finish. Stay away from programs containing too many “sight” words.  As well, some programs claim they are “phonics-based” but many are not very complete.  If you need a recommendation, feel free to ask us.  Also, be certain to continue with your phonics lessons after your child is reading simple words.  Many times the second year of phonics is overlooked.  This results in a student with poor second or third grade reading skills.  Remember to continue lessons until the end of the program.  It is very common for especially busy parents to let phonics go by the wayside when their child begins to read.  No matter how well your child seems to be able to read and no matter how many months/years it takes, continue teaching till the end of the program to ensure complete reading skills.


Step 3:

Practice phonics review daily with your student.  Workbooks are helpful, although other methods can work well, too.  Workbooks should enable students to practice the phonics he has already learned, thus solidifying the concepts.  If you need a suggested workbook, feel free to ask us.  Explode the Code or MCP Phonics workbooks work very well. Not all workbooks match the phonics program being used.  This is okay.  I just turn to the pages that include what we are working on and use those.  Also, children who enjoy learning will want to work through many pages of his phonics workbook.  For this reason, I tear out only the pages I want my student to work. Try to limit his workbook practice to only about two pages a day. Otherwise he will end up minus enough practice pages at the level he needs.


Step 4:

Practice daily reading sitting side-by-side with your student.  Preferably, use only books containing mostly those phonics your student has already learned.  Young children typically skip or guess words they are not able to easily read yet. It is helpful to read any unknown words for him as he reads (those words which the phonograms have not yet been covered) and encourage him to sounds out the other words. Try and find readers that match his level that do not contain a lot of large words he has not yet learned to sound out, which encourages guessing.  Discourage memorization of words unless they are common “sight” words.  Sight words are words which break phonics rules…or Rule Breakers.  Some are listed below. 


Listening/watching your young reader enables you to notice which words he struggles with so that you may encourage him to sound those words out instead.  For the most part, avoid higher level readers until he is reading fluently (smoothly without having to stop to sound out words). Repeatedly reading books at his reading level improves fluency in time. 


Locally, we can help evaluate what level your student is reading at and recommend practice readers.   A suggested motivator might be that he read a book to a family member after dinner!  Perhaps reserve a section of the family bookshelf for books he has earned or received as gifts from grandparents.



Sight words are commonly used English words that do not have set phonics rules or patterns.  Sometimes they are called “irregular” words.  Different programs will define some words as “sight”, whereas, others will not.  However, there should not be excessive “sight” words, especially at the beginning of a quality phonics program.  It is alright to have your student memorize words that are true sight words.  Some common beginning ones are:


the, said, are, you, two, one, once, come, to, do, does, says, have, love, some, live, give, of, where, were, son, and some names.



Step 5:

Be very patient with your student.  Learning to remember the sounds of the letters and then reading them requires time and effort for young children.  No matter how slowly your child reads in the beginning, continue to encourage his efforts and wait, wait, wait.  When I meet a parent frustrated with how slow their child reads, I pull out a Spanish reader and ask them to read me a line or two, assuming they do not know Spanish.  They usually get the point right away.  Trying to read quickly when you have just learned the sounds is like speed reading Spanish when you have just learned the language.  Moms or dads can use their “listening time” by taking advantage of some cuddling needs with a younger sibling at the same time perhaps.


Step 6:

Avoid requiring your student to practice reading for speed until he has mastered the phonics lessons for his level.  In other words, your first grader can attempt speed reading of three-letter words once he has mastered all the first sounds of the consonants and vowels and can read three-letter short vowel words with confidence.  All too often I hear parents frustrated with the slow reading speed of their child.  With Common Core, I’ve seen a big focus on timed fluency for classroom students these days.  We aren’t able to change the classroom requirements, but we can encourage our children to not worry about their reading speed as long they are practicing daily and doing their best.


Step 7:

Watch for signs of frustration and/or fatigue on both your part as well as your child’s.  Know when to put the lesson away.  For some, five minutes is more than enough.  Others will be able to work longer.  Learning to read properly can take up to three years for some children.  This is normal. Others will catch on sooner.  Try not to put time limits on his ability to learn to read well.


Step 8:

Lastly, offer incentives such as a trip to the library or a new book for your child’s own personal library when set goals are met.  Make room on the family bookshelf to hold books your child can read and add to it frequently.  Grandparents can help provide some incentive readers on birthdays or Christmas.  It is encouraging for children when parents offer praise and recognition for reading accomplishments especially in front of others.

8 Steps to Great Reading Skills was written by Cynthia Sciscoe and is published here with her permission.