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    Struggling Readers Need to Learn to Read by Analogy

    Struggling Readers Need Phonics Instruction Beyond "Sound it Out" | This Reading Mama

    We’re on part 8 of a 10-week series called 10 Things Struggling Readers Need.  If you’re new to This Reading Mama, welcome!  Please click HERE or on the image above to read the background of this series as well as look through the topics of weeks 1-7.

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    Can you read this made-up (pseudo) word?


    What strategy did you use to read this word?  Did you just sound it out letter-by-letter?  Chances are no. So just how did you read the made-up word?  You probably read it by analogy. What exactly does that mean? Let’s explore!

    The Problem with “Sound it Out”

    With young readers, we teach them some pretty universal strategies for decoding.  I had them posted in my room as a first grade teacher.  If you teach the younger grades, you know them by heart: 1) Get your mouth ready to say the word, 2)  Look at the picture, 3) Think about the story, etc.  Any of these sound familiar?  One thing I noticed as a teacher is that many of my more advanced readers were outgrowing these strategies, especially when they began reading words with more than one syllable.

    Another VERY common strategy that I want to focus upon for a moment is “sound it out”.  So many of our struggling readers need phonics instruction that goes beyond sound it out to READING BY ANALOGY.  And this is especially true in the upper grades, where students are asked to read multi-syllabic words.  Pat Cunningham (author of Phonics They Use) suggests that “it is the problem of encountering a growing number of ‘big words’: words that present decoding difficulties if children are still trying to ‘sound out’ words letter by letter.”

    What Does It Mean to Read by Analogy?

    Let’s go back to our made up word that I had you read earlier.  You probably read the word by analyzing the word parts.  You broke the word into chunks and thought of other known words that had the same or similar chunks to help you read the word.  For example, with the word chunk dext, you may have thought of the word text or dexterity.  With bor, you may have thought of a common word like for to help you read that part.  You probably did all of this within seconds first seeing the pseudo word with little to no effort.  Reading by analogy is how proficient readers figure out unknown words.

    Ideas to Implement Reading By Analogy with Struggling Readers

    1. MODEL, MODEL, MODEL.  One simple way I did this in the classroom and in tutoring was pulling a large word out of context (for example, a word right out of the text the student(s) were about to read) and writing it on a dry erase board, playing a little Parse the Word.

    breaking multisyllabic words into chunks

    Break apart the word and think of other known words to help you read parts the word . After breaking it apart, I’d show them how I could now pronounce the word–or at least most of the word.

    2. LET THEM GIVE IT A TRY.  Let the students have a little fun with Parse the Word.  They could do it as partners or solo.  See if they can figure out the pronunciation on their own. Use real or silly words to make it more fun!

    3. WRITING.  And this one starts with one-syllable word families!  For example, “Hmmm…I need to spell mat.  Do you think the word cat can help me spell mat or would I use the word nap? (answer: cat because it has the -at chunk needed for mat)  Which word has a chunk in it that I need to help me spell it?”

    4. MAKING WORDS. Take a look at all of Pat Cunningham’s Making Words books; which she has for grades K-5.  I have used this in the classroom, in tutoring, and with ALuv, as it reinforces reading and spelling using patterns.

    5. TEACH PHONICS and READING BY PATTERNS. I love word study, as I teaches reading by pattern. I created a free one-sheet reference guide for my young reader to help him remember those common word patterns as he was beginning to read more difficult words. Difficult and longer words, for the most part, consist mainly of those common word patterns. We also want to teach young children from the beginning how to read by pattern(with word families) instead of sounding out every letter.

    6. FRAME WORDS. Michelle shows on her post how she uses magnetic letters and teaches children to ”frame” patterns within words with their fingers when reading.  These are both great ways to help children see the word chunks within multi-syllabic words.

    So, the next time your struggling reader comes to a word he or she doesn't know, maybe you could add this decoding strategy to your repertoire: “Find a pattern from a known word”.