Happy Cheetah Reading

Why My Son Doesn’t Sound Out Words Any More

Sounding out words is one of the techniques of many programs that teach beginning readers to read. You probably know this process, where children determine each sound in a word, one at a time, then combine them together slowly, then quickly.

You don’t do this when you’re reading. I mean, if you went letter by letter through something like, “The time of day when all was finished,” not a single one of those words would make sense.

English is so incredibly irregular!

So it surprised me when I realized that the Happy Cheetah Reading System has no sounding out.

You do make sure that your children know that each letter has a corresponding sound. Every once in a while my son will need to sound a word out. But this only happens when he is reading back a list of unrelated words that he has just spelled. Never in the context of a story.

When he’s reading a story, he just reads.

He knows the story well enough that even if he doesn’t fully remember the word, he is able to predict what comes next. Prediction is natural, because the brain is contextually driven.

Sounding out is not natural!

In fact, because English is so irregular, good readers use meaning and structure 85% of the time.

When you’re teaching students to read, you’re wanting to create this shift for students, so that their brains start to read for meaning and structure. Meaning is pretty obvious: does what they’re reading make sense?

Structure is easier to demonstrate than explain. “Does the word fit where you’re reading it?” makes sense. “Does fit the word where you’re reading it?” doesn’t make sense. Let alone something horrible like “Does the reading it fit where word you’re?”

Good readers know this intuitively. Even non-readers can tell the difference!

When students are starting to read, when they come to a word they don’t know, they might need to go back to the beginning of sentence and start again, to get a running start towards sense. That’s great! It’s natural problem solving! But 85% of the time, children predict correctly what the next word will be, even if they aren’t sure.

And if they don’t predict correctly? You supply it and move on. They will see the word again. And they’ll probably remember it next time.

The higher the reading level, the less phonetically regular the words are. So teaching sounding out, instead of teaching predicting, is not a good long-term strategy. Phonemic awareness is a fine backup system, but it’s not a good way to build pathways in the brain, and good readers rarely need to sound words out.

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