Listening to Your Students’ Reading Part 3: Visual Cueing System

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

monkey-visual-cuesThe third cueing system is the use of visual cues (V) to decode words. This means the reader is mostly focused on how a word looks.  A best-case scenario is when the student is cross-checking by using meaning, structure, and the visual aspects of the word to make a correct response. See previous posts regarding Part I (Meaning) and Part II (Structure).

 If a child mainly relies on this visual cueing system, he/she may become slower and lose comprehension because he/she is so focused on the pronunciation and not the meaning.

 In an earlier post from “Listening to Your Students Reading Part 1,” I referred to this sample sentence: Jack and Jill had a pail of water.

If the child said pill or pal instead of pail, then that child was primarily using visual cues because those words look very similar. Unfortunately, neither of those examples makes sense.

Sometimes a child will sound out a word letter by letter as they read. Suppose the text said: That puppy is so cute! A child may come to the word “cute” and sound out /k/ + /u/ + /t/ and maybe even add short e sound to the end. Again, saying “cut” for “cute” is visually similar, but does not make sense. The child is only focused on the letter-sound relationship.

“Sounding Out” is usually the most recommended strategy suggested to students when they don’t know a word. I cringe when I hear a child try to sound out words letter by letter. To me, this is effective with cvc words, but not many others.

So how can I help a student use visual cues in ways that will benefit him/her as a reader? Here are 10 suggestions:

  1. Help the child think of a word that makes sense that also begins with that letter.alligator
  2. Use the picture and the first letter to help predict the word. Example: The alligator is green. I know it’s not crocodile because the word begins with the letter a.
  3. On a word which can be predicted using the meaning and structure of the story, show a student how to cover up the end of the word (with their finger) to “force” the student to focus on the beginning letter or blend. Or use a post-it note over everything except the first letter or blend.
  4. Limit “sounding out” to highly predictable words. Use Elkonin sound boxes for students to “push” sounds of words and then blend them together. Click on this link to see a video of this process: Elkonin Sound Boxes When ready, replace chips with letter tiles.
  5. Show the student how to cover up parts of words to isolate syllables, base words, or word parts.
    • Candy: look for known word part –and (or can)
    • Jumping: look for base word jump
    • Herself: look for compound words
  6. Help student relate the tricky word to another that is similar (word analogy). I like to use my handy white board to write a known word on the board first, and show them how it is almost like the word they aren’t sure of:
    • You know ”we,” so this word is “week.”
    • You know “are,” so this word is “car.”
    • You know “cat” so this word is “hat.” (rhyming)
    • You know “hit,” so this word is “him.”
    • You know “her,” so this word is “-Per-fect.”
  7. Sometimes a student gets a word on one page and not another. Help them notice when this happens. “You read this word correctly on page 2. What did it say on page 2? Try it here on page 5.”
  8. Teach children to look for chunks and break the word apart. Example: For standing break into /st/ + /and/ + /ing/. Children will learn more of these “chunks” through spelling instruction. Or, make new words using word families so they can see similar chunks, such as: -ame, -ell, – ick, -oat, -ug
  9. With the example above of saying cut instead of cute, tell the child to “flip the vowel.” This way a child will learn that if they try one vowel sound and it doesn’t sound right or make sense, to try the other sound the vowel makes.
  10. Practice word sorting, so children can visually discriminate between words.

Finally, here are some prompts to help students monitor for visual cues when reading text:

  • Did that look right?
  • Reread it. Get your mouth ready for that word.monkey-visual-cues
  • Say it slowly.
  • Do you see part of the word you know?
  • Try _____. Would that look like the word?
  • Do you know a word that starts/ends with those letters?
  • Could that word be ________?

Tip #1: If the child makes an error, let them read to the end of the sentence to see if they self-correct. If they don’t, then prompt / question. In this way we are teaching the child to self-monitor. If the teacher jumps in as soon as a child makes an error, then it is the teacher monitoring the student, not the student monitoring their own reading.

Exception to #1: It’s okay to tell a student a word!! If that word is difficult to break down, is not phonetic, is not supported by picture clues or meaning, just tell them the word and go on.

Tip #2: Teach your students to not correct another student when they make an error. If student A needs help, wait til they say, “Help, please.” Or “I need a hint.”

In conclusion:

So how does all of this knowledge connect to a running record and being a good listener? You should begin to notice the type of errors each student makes as they read orally, by being an astute listener. The running record gives you physical evidence of the child’s use of cueing systems, and their progress over time.

Then, your instructional strategies should be based on using this data to help students utilize all 3 cueing systems to decode text. AND, this knowledge is powerful to relay to parents so they can better help their child read at home. Click (and print) this pdf for parents: Reading With Your Child at Home

For you, as the teacher, click on this 2-page Teacher’s Prompting Guide It also includes prompts for making visual matches, cross-checking, self-monitoring, self-correcting, and improving fluency.

Happy Listening!! I’d love to hear your comments regarding how you listen to students!

C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Clip art courtesy of MS Office.

2 thoughts on “Listening to Your Students’ Reading Part 3: Visual Cueing System

  1. These are great suggestions! The two page guide will be nice to use a quick reference while listening to my students read. Thank you for your hard work!

    • Thanks, Krystal. Knowing these types of prompts changed my teaching (for the better I think). Glad you like them.

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