Are you worried that your child struggles to read small words, which seem so easy to you? Maybe you should be.
Why are Small Words so Important?
Small words occur frequently and trip up struggling readers. If children find small words hard, they will struggle even more with longer ones, made up of little words pushed together (each syllable is a word). Eg cabin:
Some syllables are small nonsense words (words with no meaning):
Are ‘nonsense words’ Really Words?
A word is a cluster of sounds, including a vowel sound, enabling us to say it. This means these ‘small words’ can be sounded out (segmented) like those with meaning.
What are Small words?
There are several kinds of small words (one-syllable words), but it’s important to focus initially, on simple, phonetic ones: cat jog mat yes cab in. These small words are the easiest to sound out: if you say the 3 sounds: y e s, you can hear the small word yes.
Why can ‘easy’ Small Words be a Problem?
When I test young readers, they often falter over small words. When Education Psychologists test struggling readers, they often identify ‘misreads small words’ as a problem. But why?
Children struggle with small words, because they lack basic reading skills. It is not enough to recognise the letters: y e s, a child has to say them, and push them together to hear the small word yes. (I deal with this in detail in my Blog Post on blending). This is where helping your child with small words begins.
Learn Skills! Play with Sounds in Small Words!
It is important to remember that children learn skills through repeatedly ‘doing’: practise really does make perfect! Maybe you need to put away your child’s reading book for a while, or you can read it to him! Instead, get out the sticky note-lets and big coloured pens and have fun with simple, small words!
I expect your child recognises his ‘letters’, but may not be able to write them. No worries; do the writing for him and leave writing for another day,
Let’s do Something Useful & fun with Small Words:
Take three sticky notelets and place them on the table in front of your child, sticky side along the bottom, so they will stand up a little. Tell your child you’re going to make a small word together.
Think of a simple, small word – I like to begin with cat! Ask your child to tell you the first sound he hears in cat. If he can’t hear the first sound, play listening fingers (see my handbook). If he can tell you the first sound – tell him well done!
It’s time to write letter c on the first notelet (either you or your child can do the writing), but he must say the sound c, as it is written.
Now ask him to tell you the next sound in cat. Repeat the first two sounds pushed together: ca until he can hear sound a. If he can’t hear it, you may need to play listening fingers again.
When he can tell you a – tell him well done! Now write sound a on the second notelet (or he can write it) and ask him to say a, as it is being written.
Finally ask him to tell you the last sound in cat. The last sound in a small word is usually easy to hear. Again, sound t is written on the notelet, as he says it.
You might add an extra notelet for him to draw a picture of a cat, if he likes drawing! This will help him to remember this word.
Now it’s time to read the small word ‘cat’.
You want him to be good at sounding out (segmenting), so begin by showing him how. Point to each notelet and say sounds c a t followed by the word cat. Then he can repeat the sounds, as you point to them, and say the word. You can say ‘Well Done’.
Repeated Exposure to small words helps Recognition!
Why not stick this small word on the fridge, or the wall, where he can see it, and every so often you can point to the sounds and say c a t and the word cat.
Don’t ask him to do it, until he wants to. Remember, he is struggling, even with small words. He may have lost faith in his ability, and needs your support.
You can now repeat this with any small word, (one that has a consonant-vowel-consonant-cvc) like sat, can, tan, cot, not. Note these small words use similar sounds. Try not to add new sounds too quickly, and just do a few small words at a time.
As your child becomes more confident, he will want to take over the writing, and wont wait for you to demonstrate sounding out. Make sure you let him choose the colours of the notelets and pens!
Using three of his Senses to read Small Words!
Think how helpful this process will be: he will be seeing each sound, hearing each sound and feeling it when he writes it. His three senses working to help him remember: that has to boost his confidence!
Have Fun with Small Words!
Psychologists have repeatedly shown that children learn best through play. Piaget said “Play is the Work of a Child”. We can see this when we watch our children at play.
Big colourful pens and sticky notelets take the tension out of helping children with reading. Children love colour! Have fun with your child; laugh when you both struggle; praise each simple step and stop before he tires. He will enjoy working with you and begin to see you as someone who helps him. If you need more help:
Please Help Me? I Really Can’t Read!
This is the book I have written, to try to make it easier for you to help your child with reading. You might like to download a free copy, from this website. I watched my child struggle many years ago, and couldn’t help him, because I didn’t know how. I have learnt a lot from this miserable experience.
And other small words? I will deal with them in future Blog Posts.