When I got married, I hadn’t been in charge of a household before. The first weekend after the honeymoon, my husband went rock-climbing with a friend, and I eagerly decided to make a meal from one of the wedding gift cookbooks.
Except the word said, “Saute.” And I had no idea what that meant.
And this must have been pre-Google everything, because I went looking in cookbooks. The Joy of Cooking had an eleven step process that sounded completely unlike anything I had ever seen a real-life cook do.
And my spouse came in — with his rock-climbing friend — to find me sobbing over chicken breasts that I was rhythmically puncturing with a fork.
They had shrunk to tiny, dry balls of desiccated protein, since I was releasing juices with every stab.
Sadly, that wasn’t my only cooking misadventure, but it illustrates my point. I had no idea that “saute” was as easy as, “Put some oil in a pan, add the protein, and cook, flipping occasionally, until cooked through.” I was missing the basic vocabulary of what I was attempting.
When teaching children to read, it is important to make sure they understand the vocabulary of reading.
Children may already understand the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters, but other terms, like vowels or consonants, may be less familiar.
When you teach your children to read, don’t assume that they understand instructions like, “Put a space between each word,” or, “End each sentence with a punctuation.”
Here is a short list of words that your students may need to learn.
1. Alphabet — The 26 characters used in the English language to make words.
2. Letter — One of those 26 characters of the alphabet. Each comes in both an uppercase and a lowercase form.
3. Vowels — In the most simplified explanation, the letters a, e, i, o, and u. Each has more than one possible pronunciation. Each syllable in English includes a vowel or combination of vowels.
(And for adults who like a more advanced explanation? Two letters are tricky. The y is sometimes used as a consonant, as in you, and sometimes as a vowel, as in fly, and sometimes in a vowel combination, as in they. The wis an even more stealth tricky letter. It is not used as a stand-alone vowel in English. (Welsh, of course, has words like cwm — steep-walled semicircular basin in a mountain, sometimes containing a lake. But not English.) But it is used as a vowel combination, as in blow or flew.
This is definitely more than a beginning reader needs to know, but for the literate, it is interesting to think about!)
4. Consonants — All other letters.
5. Word — A group of letters put next to each other to signify something.
6. Spacing — Blank areas between letters and words that show where one word ends and another begins.
7. Sentence — A group of words that expresses a complete thought. Sentences always begin with a capital (uppercase) letter and end with a punctuation.
8. Punctuation — Periods, commas, and other marks that clarify the meaning of written language.
All sentences end with either 1) periods, that come at the end of sentences that make a statement; 2) question marks, that come at the end of questions; and 3) exclamation points, that come at the end of sentences with emotion.
Punctuation is awesome because it’s like a secret code. And you need to get the code right in order to convey meaning.
The book Eats Shoots and Leaves has a title that makes the point in a humorous way. If a panda’s diet consists of shoots and leaves, the writer could say “The panda eats shoots and leaves.”
But add two commas, and the sentence meaning changes dramatically: “Eats, shoots, and leaves.” This is a panda in the Wild West, who ate a meal at the saloon, discharged a firearm, and left the scene.
That’s so cool!
Here’s the deal, though — until students start to write for themselves, they won’t pay much attention to punctuation. Once they start writing, though, it’s like their brains suddenly clue in that these little squiggles and dots have some meaning.
It was exciting to watch my son ask for the first time, “Wait — what are these?” when he was looking at some quotation marks.
With the Happy Cheetah Reading System, children start practicing punctuation from the very beginning. They get to work on the secret code right away.
And don’t we all want at least a little secret code experience in our lives?