Learning to Read
Quick revise

Historics of learning to read


Frank Smith said that as children learn to talk by talking they learn to read by reading. He said that reading should not be broken down into component parts and children should not be presented with contrived or over simplified texts.

The reader has 2 basic needs:

  • The availability of interesting material that makes sense to the reader.
  • An understanding and more experienced reader as a guide.

Psycholinguists explained that readers draw upon the following cue systems when making sense of texts:

  • Semantic cues – using knowledge and experience of stories to predict events, phrases and words.
  • Syntactic cues – drawing on knowledge and experience of patterns in oral and written language to predict text.
  • Grapho-phonic cues – using knowledge and experience of relationships between sounds and symbols to read particular words.


Growing emphasis on home-school links, children’s knowledge of literacy before schooling and contributions made by all parents.Ÿ  

A research programme in Bristol found clear evidence that listening to stories was one of the most significant pre-school experiences associated with children’s development as readers and writers.

When an adult reads to a child it is normal for the child to ask questions and make comments about the pictures, the print and the nature of the text itself. Through this talk children come to know more about what is involved in becoming a reader.

Popular texts tend to share:

  • a strong story
  • a lively, rhythmical text
  • powerful, imaginative content
  • memorable language
  • interesting illustrations that complement the text
  • humour
  • language that is not contrived or unnatural
  • As well as published texts children’s own texts play a powerful role in developing reading ability. These texts are often made into books and become a valuable part of the classroom’s reading resources.

Reading aloud

A child who is read to frequently builds up a repertoire of known texts which will be returned to again and again. On each occasion the child plays a more active role in the reading, predicting and re-enacting of the text. This familiarisation helps the child develop a growing awareness of what is involved in becoming a reader.

Silent reading

Usually during the infant stage the child moves from reading aloud to reading silently. In the initial stages the child sub-vocalises the words, reading at the same pace as if s/he were reading aloud. With experience the words become ‘thoughts in the head’ and the rate of reading increases.


The phonics approach to learning to read is now very popular. It involves teaching children the relationship between letters and sounds, so that they can learn the sounds for individual letters and then blend the sounds together to make the word they see on the page.

We already know that there is more to reading than this straightforward activity.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to look in more detail at what is taught in phonics programmes, as letter-sound correspondences are not always as simple as c-a-t in English.


Using the Internet, research the complexities of phonics and create a revision mind map or poster.  You could include some explanation of:

  • Initial, middle and final sounds.
  • Consonant clusters.
  • Digraphs.
  • Long and short vowel phonemes, schwa and other vowel phonemes.
  • Rhymes and how these can be used to teach the variations in letter-sound correspondences.
  • Anything else you found out...

Other Literary Techniques that help young readers

Fiction for young writers will often use tried and tested techniques such as alliteration to interest a new reader and help them remember the sounds associated with certain letters. These include:      

  • Alliteration.
  • Pre-modification.
  • Repeated grammatical structures.
  • Assonance.
  • Moral lines.
  • Rhythm.
  • ŸFamiliar discourse patterns.

Methods- actually learning how to read

Although you've never seen the word before, most of all you will be able to guess a pronunciation for smidge. How? There are two principal methods by which a child learns to read. One is the Whole Word approach where a child is taught to recognise the total shape of the word. This method might make use of pictures and labels. The other is the phonic method where a child learns the sound of individual letters and runs them together to form a word, such as m-a-t. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of both?


One important aspect of studying children's literature, and for writing for children yourselves, is the concept of readability. Readability is how easy it is to read. The frameworks allow us to be a bit more specific. What might you consider when looking at children's writing? Complete the table.

A framework for analysing children's reading books


  • Page layout.
  • Lineation.
  • Pictures.
  • font(s) and size of letters.

Lexis and Semantics

  • Length of words and number of syllables.
  • Types of words and semantic fields.
  • Sounds of words e.g. onomatopoeia, rhyme.
  • Concrete/abstract nouns.
  • Repetition.
  • Ease of recognition (sound-spelling match).
  • How context could help with more difficult words.

Grammar / Syntax

  • Sentence type (simple, compound, complex.
  • Sentence length.
  • Position of subject and verb in sentence.
  • Use of active or passive voice.
  • Verb tense.
  • Modification e.g. adjectives, adverbs.
  • Pronouns used after subject (or object) has been clearly established.
  • Lineation in relation to grammatical units.


  • Careful structuring of sentences to make the text cohesive.
  • Repetition (of words and parts of sentences).
  • Pronouns used after referent well established.

Influences from everyday speech

  • Face to face interactions.
  • Familiar scenarios.
  • Use of direct speech.
  • Informal register.
  • Repetition.

Features borrowed from the oral tradition of story-telling

  • Alliteration (big, bad wolf).
  • Repeated epithet (Little Red Riding Hood).
  • Parallel sentence structures.
  • Rhythmic language.

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