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Blog Series: Literacy

Part 3 - Intervention

Welcome back! So far we have dove into background information about reading and writing, the warning signs for struggling readers plus areas to include in a full assessment. If you haven’t checked those blogs out, take a quick few minutes to pop onto the first and second blogs before continuing to read here. Last up, how do we help these kids?!

 

As discussed before, children who struggle to read and write do NOT all struggle in the same way. Therefore, depending on which area children struggle with, they require different interventions.

 

Children with word reading difficulties require interventions that help them learn the rules that tell them what sound letters make when they are together (a.k.a. phonologically-based reading program). For example, “cap” has a short /a/ sound but when you put a silent ‘e’ on the end and make it “cape” the ‘a’ now sounds like the letter name 'a'. A huge amount of research has shown that this instruction needs to be explicit and direct for these children. So, reading alongside a student or having them read the same book over and over again will not help these kids become better readers because they struggle to pull the rules from those words and use it on other words. There are a lot of programs that promote being phonologically-based but here is a simplistic breakdown of the rules here. These serve as the basic tenants of most reading programs. As with all areas we target in SLP, it is how you teach these rules that matters. I have been extremely fortunate to have been trained in and use a reading program created by my boss and SLP, however, there are many programs widely available. I recommend discussing this with your district's reading specialist or feel free to contact me directly.

 

Children with reading comprehension difficulties require interventions that help them organize, process and understand important information from a text they have read. This is supported by using graphic organizers as well as strategies to identify and learn unknown vocabulary. There are some clear and accessible resources here for graphic organizers.

Lastly, children who struggle with a mix of both of these areas need intervention that supports both the word-reading and reading comprehension issues as outlined above.

 

As many schools and SLPs have tools for working on reading comprehension, I have included some tips here about word-reading instruction that I have accumulated. It is important to note that these are tips that help ALL readers, but are especially supportive for those who are struggling to decode words.​​

Phonological Awareness and Letter-Sound Correspondences

  • Teach sound correspondences to letters without the “uh” sound at the end (also known as a schwa in SLP). So the letter ‘m’ says ‘mmm’ not ‘muh’. Some sounds are more difficult to eliminate this like ‘p, b, t, d, k, g’, but simply try not to overemphasize it in these sounds.

  • When teaching letter names and the sounds they make, you can incorporate a visual to help support this. You can use set programs (e.g., Bjorem Speech Sound Cues) or even just make your own drawings. (see picture on right)​.

  • Phonological awareness skills are highly correlated and even strengthen reading abilities. For children in kindergarten to grade 2, our first sessions usually combine work on letter-sound correspondences plus phonological awareness activities.

    • I teach 1-5 letters and their sound correspondences at a time depending on what the client can handle. I work on consonants until they know all of them and then move to five short vowel sounds.

    • Blending- grab 2-3 small similar objects (e.g., dried pasta, pencils, blocks). Each item will represent one sound. You will say a sound while putting one of the objects on the table with a small pause between them. The student should then try to determine the word by putting the sounds together. Start with two-sound words (e.g., so, me, two, bee, up, at) and move to three-sound words (e.g., cat, bin, sat, kid, nut, zap, pod).

    • Segmenting- this is the opposite of blending. You can use the same 3 objects but this time you will lay them all on the table and assign a sound to each as you point. Then, ask the child to remove one of the sounds from the word. For example, point to each item while saying ‘b-a-t’ and then say “Now say ‘bat’ without saying ‘b’” while removing the first item as a visual. See the picture below for what the two steps look like.

Decoding (reading) and Encoding (writing)​

  • When working on decoding (or “sounding out”) words, have the student blend all the sounds in the word rather than saying each sound separately. For example, ‘sun’ should be read like ‘sssuuunnn’ all together rather than ‘s - u - n’. If a child is struggling with identifying the vowel sound, have them say that first and then blend through. For example, ‘u... sssuuunnn’. This is usually less of an issue when decoding a three-letter word but really supports retrieval in larger words.

  • Whenever you teach a phonological rule (e.g., silent ‘e’ on end of a word like ‘cape’) incorporate practice in both reading and spelling using this rule. Just because a student can read a word does not mean that they can immediately spell that word so practice both to support full understanding of the rule.

  • Once a child has learned a phonological rule at the single word level, incorporate this into sentence, paragraph and book-level texts. Sentence-level is difficult to come by but you can make a few pages of your own and use them for every student working on that rule. Bob Books are controlled for types of rules but are quite simple for kids over grade 1. The clinic I work at uses High Noon books and even my grade 3 and 4 boys like them!

  • Ensure you teach which words do not follow the rules (a.k.a. phonetically-irregular rules). Approximately 15-20% of words do not follow the rules in English. These are different than sight words as sight words are high frequency words that children learn in a chunk, however, many of them follow phonological rules (e.g., and, not, that). As with words that follow the rules, it is very important to practice both reading and writing of these words. When spelling these words, I usually remind kids to think about what the word looks like (since you cannot sound them out).

  • Practicing literacy skills again and again can get a little monotonous. My two go to’s for keeping it fresh are humor as well as a variety of writing supplies. There are so many options including metallic pencil crayons, twistable crayons, dry erase markers with a mini white board, or a Boogie Board. My current favourite are erasable pencil crayons from Crayola - my client gets to choose their colour of the day at the beginning of our session.

 

If you haven't yet, pop your email into the box below and click "Sign Me Up!". I am working my tail off to get the freebie PDF download finished for you guys - it will include a summary of this entire blog series, a free literacy red flags check list and more BUT it's only going out to subscribers!