Fix reading problems before Year Four or suffer  academically for years until the reading gap is closed.This is a sentence that no child deserves.Learning to read is a complex skill where problem solving unlocks words that are unknown.

Little children use some known words, prior knowledge, picture skills, beginning sounds and oral language to unlock unknown words. Older children use the same skills at a more complex level. Some students are learning to read by learning lists and lists of words, this has become a BIG problem for both reading and spelling. Learning to read by learning lots of words is a prime cause of failure by the end of Year Three or in Year Four.

 Prep to Year Three is the time when children are learning to read. From Year Four onwards, children are reading to learn. As the phrase implies the reading is more complex and related to specific areas of learning, e.g. Science, SOSE, History and all other key learning areas. These subjects have words that children haven’t learnt and, if they have learnt to read by learning all the words that will be encountered, they will have no other strategies to unlock unknown words. 

Reading is not only about words, it is an integration of the skills; phonics, meaning and grammar. These three skill areas are interspersed with other skills BUT for this article I am concentrating on phonics, meaning and grammar. For some unknown reason children think that if they don’t know a word they need to sound it out. This is a slow process for slow readers and highly ineffective. How can you gather meaning when you have to sound out every word. Do not misinterpret what I am saying, if a child can’t work out the word with the more effective strategy that I’m going to explain, sounding would be the final way to solve the problem. BUT try to fix the reading problems before Year Four for greater academic success.


The majority of children should be able to blend sounds quickly by the end of Prep. This skill should be improving grade by grade with the introduction of an ever increasing complexity of sounds. Prep children should be sounding three letter words that use the letters of the alphabet. Some Prep children would be capable of blending the next level of sounds.

Prefixes and suffixes are all introduced as early as the child reads at a level that introduces affixes. With older children, if a word isn’t known it is advisable to sound the first syllable of the word, instead of just the first sound,  keep on reading and then reread to insert the word that makes sense. Obviously, older children need to confirm that the word is correct by sounding.


Learning to read is primarily about meaning, without understanding there is no reading. Children need a variety of experiences to help them understand the world and reading.  For example,to successfully read a medical book, vocabulary needs to be understood and terminology must be known.

It is the same for a child reading about a crab. If the beach has never been visited it will be difficult for the child to know the vocabulary as well as the meaning of a story about the beach. I have taught some African students who had never visited the beach and found difficulty understanding the meaning of beach- the sand, the waves, the wind, life savers and the excitement of the beach.

All of these experiences are added to prior knowledge which makes it easier for a child to read. Making certain that this knowledge is activated before reading is very important. Activating prior knowledge means discussing the vocabulary and the concepts  in the reading.    

If the child was reading about a beach and the following sentence was included, “The waves crash on the rocks at the beach.”There would be a picture of the beach to support the reading and as we know, the picture tells about the words and the words tell about the picture. The child would know the basic high frequency words; the, on, and at. The sentence would be read, using the first sound of the words unknown. “The w__________ cr__________ on the r_______________ at the b____________. The child would have knowledge of the beach and the prior knowledge would have been activated so probably, the words, waves, and beach would be predicted.

Then going back to the sentence the child now reads; The waves cr_____________ on the r_________ at the beach. Then you would have to prompt the child to say what would the waves do? Then they could even sound this word easily. Reading on then would encourage the child to look at the picture and see the rocks in the picture to work out the word, rock. The child has used picture cues meaning and phonics to unlock the words.


At an early age children use grammar to work out words in reading. How do they know this strategy without knowing parts of speech? They know grammar, the natural order of words, from their oral language. As an example, if I said, “The dog b_________. You don’t have to know at a sophisticated level that the missing word is a verb. But a very young child knows that a dog barks and that this word would make sense. Oral language follows patterns and this is the underlying skill that children can use to problem solve unknown words.

The strategy that all children should be using is to say the first sound or first syllable of a word, to keep on reading and then reread to insert the word that begins with that sound/syllable, makes sense and is the correct part of speech. Research tells us that this is the skill used by good readers to read effectively and efficiently. If children use this strategy they learn to read quickly while learning sounds, blending, decoding and high frequency words.

Ann Foster
Ann Foster is a teacher with a unique talent to provide back to basics step by step programs/products and tutoring for students in Australia and overseas.Her programs and products help children, teachers and parents to achieve extraordinary  results quickly. She has a track record of bringing into action programs that are easy to follow and that achieve results.
Ann has been working online teaching students and adults successfully for the last four years and has taken children from average results to well above.
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