Ways to Read a Difficult Word in A Sentence

reading togetherIf your child is having trouble reading a particular word, but is able to read the rest of the sentence, here are some tips to help her figure out the difficult word:

  • Skip the word, and come back to it when she is finished reading the entire sentence. Then sound out the first couple letters, and “guess” the word through the combination of the beginning sound and the context (meaning) of the sentence.
  • Instead of just telling her to “sound it out,” take a look at the word. Are there “chunks” she is having trouble with? She may be trying to sound out the word letter by letter, and having no success because she runs into chunks like “th” or “ch” or “gh.” You may need to review (or teach) these kinds of chunk sounds and then have her try the word again. Similarly, long vowel sounds are often written in a variety of ways, and you may need to review or teach them (“long a” may be written as “a__e” or “eigh” or “ay” or “ae” or “ai”).
  • For multi-syllabic words, help your child divide them into syllables and sound out each part. If she has difficulty with this, write the word on a piece of paper, and use a pencil to try out different divisions. Remind her that every syllable must have at least one vowel. Have her look for “sound chunks” she recognizes. These may be sound chunks (“th,” “sh”), word endings (“ing,” “ed”), suffixes or prefixes, or words within words (compound words like “sunshine” or words that have a smaller word in them like “sunny”).
  •  Also, with multi-syllabic words, have your child look for “double consonants.” A fun way to teach that syllables often are broken at double consonants is to write the word “Mississippi” — and divide it: Mis/sis/sip/pi. Then watch for other (easier!) words with double consonants, and see how many have syllables divided that way. If your child continues to have difficulty with a particular word, you can first write the word with slashes or dashes between the syllables and have your child read them that way, then just with spaces between, and finally write the words normally. You can also use magnetic or foam letters, and have the child “feel” the different syllables and say them at the same time.
  • Look at the picture on the page to see if it provides a hint.
  • Find or recall other words she has already figured out that are very similar. The new word may be just a different form of the same word (for example: dance, dancer, dancing, danced).
  • If your child is getting frustrated, it doesn’t hurt to say the word for her, and then show her how you figured it out.

You can help your child avoid frustration with difficult words if you do a bit of preparation before having the child read. Look through the book (or other item to be read) before your child reads it, and pick out words you think he will have trouble with. Write them as individual words on a piece of paper or on index cards. Then do these kinds of activities with your child before reading the book:

  • Together, analyze the words (sound them out).
  • If the words are vocabulary your child does not know, be sure to discuss the meaning of the word, rather than just sound it out or whatever. You can together look up the word in the dictionary, or you can look at pictures in the book, or discuss the context (the sentence/paragraph in which the word is found) for hints about the word’s meaning.
  • List the words in groups of similar sounds (for example, “th” words, or “short vowel sound” words). Compare them to similar “sound” words your child already knows.
  • Or, if the book or other item to be read has a lot of words that are about a particular topic (animals, sports, etc.), divide the difficult words into sub-groups. For example, for sports, you could divide names of sports into sub-groups such as racquet sports, team sports, or other subdivisions. Learning words in groups like this often helps a child recognize and remember the words.
  • Use mnemonic (memory) tricks to help your child remember new words. If your child is involved in creating these tricks (rather than you creating them yourself), the memory will be even stronger. Here are some ideas:
    • Draw little sketches of “problem” words. The sketches do not have to even particularly “look like” the word. The child is simply making a visual connection.
    • Make up a funny little sentence or rhyme or riddle using the word
    • Write the word with magnetic letters, or finger paints, or in sand, or whatever helps your child. “Texture” writing can be very helpful for some children.
    • “Write” the word on your child’s back or on the palm of the child’s hand with your finger. “Feeling” the word can work well.
    • Find out lots more Memory and Learning Strategy Tips and Tricks from this booklet.

Once your child feels confident with the words, he can then read the book easily–and the confidence he has gained by knowing these “hard words” may well work wonders in overcoming anxiety.

What methods have you used that you’d like to share with other parents who are helping their children read difficult words? Be sure to share your tips in the comments below. Thanks!

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

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