Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 3 “Does it look right?”

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Welcome back to part 3! In this post we will look at some strategies and prompts regarding the visual cueing system. When a student’s main strategy is to use the letters they see to sound out words, they are attempting to make the word(s) look right. This method is often helpful, especially with cvc words or words which are phonetic. We do want kids to know how to segment the sounds and blend them together to pronounce the word. But we don’t want them to overuse it and neglect the other 2 cueing systems. A good reader uses all 3 at the same time to cross check their reading.

If we want children to use the visual cueing system, there are several “sounding out” strategies. Children often need guidance about which of these works best. So try not to just say, “Sound it out.” This  guide emphasizes many of these strategies. Get it here FREE:  Strategy Chart full size.

  • Sound out letter by letter:  To pronounce had = /h/+/a/+/d/
  • Get the word started with the right sound.
  • Stretch out the sounds slowly (also referred to as continuous blending).
  • Use common chunks (sometimes referred to as rimes, phonograms, word families): spent = /sp/ + /ent/
  • Look for little words within bigger words: stand = /st/ + /and/
  • Flip the vowel:  If a student tried the word time, but pronounced it /t/+/i/+/m/ with the short i sound, tell the child to flip the vowel (meaning they should try the other sound that vowel makes to determine if it makes sense). This is a GREAT strategy to use without having to go into a mini lesson about vowel pairs, silent e, and other phonics rules concerning vowels.  Just say, “Flip the vowel.”
  • Think of another known word which has a similar spelling: If the child is trying to read the word were think of the word her. Trying to read the word tree? Think of the word see.

Caution:  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. Revisit Parts 1 and 2 to help students also focus on the meaning and structural cueing systems.

What if the child is NOT using the visual cueing system? This is what you might observe:

  • The text says: Jack and Jill went up the hill with a pail of water.
  • The child says: Jack and Jill went up the hill with a bucket of water.

In this case, the child IS using meaning (especially if there was a picture there) because bucket and pail have similar meanings. The child IS using structure, because the word bucket sounds right in the sentence and matches the same part of speech (nouns).

But, the child was NOT using the visual cueing system because the words pail and bucket do not look alike. While you might think, “Hey, at least this child is comprehending the sentence!” if a child does this often, then you need to call their attention to the visual aspects of the word.

Here are some prompts to help students monitor for visual cues when reading text:

  • Did that look right?
  • Reread it. Get your mouth ready to start that word.
  • What could that word be that starts with that letter?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 ________?

Reminder: 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.

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.

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.” For the same reason above: If another student always comes to the rescue, the child who needs help is not learning to self-monitor.

Next week:  Ten more strategies to help your students practice the visual cueing system.

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