Moving beyond "sound it out" to help new or struggling readers use a variety of reading strategies. Especially helpful for 1st and 2nd grade teachers

If you asked the average person off the street what they would say to help someone struggling with a tricky word, I bet a lot of the responses would be, “Tell them to sound it out!”  And then the average person off the street would say, “What kind of question is that, anyway!”  : )

While “sounding it out” is an important part of reading, there are lots of other helpful things we can say to young readers. If you’re in a hurry, grab a cheat sheet of praises and prompts HERE.

Ensure Strategy Use Again and Again

My educational psychology professor in college was known for his calm, soft way of speaking which lulled people right to sleep. However, one of his lessons has always stuck with me. One day he had us work in groups to throw a bean bag backward over a shoulder with the goal of landing it on a piece of copy paper. After each toss we attempted, our group members gave us feedback. Comments included things like, “toss it a little harder,” or, “that was hard enough but it needs to be a little more to the right.” After a few attempts and corresponding feedback, everyone could get the bean bag on the piece of paper or at least much closer than on their first attempt. The key to this success was the educational F-word…feedback!

Of course teacher will give feedback about how students can improve, but it’s also important to give feedback about what students are doing right! This encourages students to use those same strategies again and again.

Some of my favorite reading praise feedback includes:

I love how you…
-used the picture to figure out a tricky word
-slid through all the sounds in the word
-broke that long word into chunks
-thought of what would make sense in the sentence
-tried a different word when your first guess didn’t work
-tried a different vowel sound when you first guess didn’t work
-read with expression

Get Kids “Un-Stuck” From Tricky Words

What can you put in your students’ tool boxes for attacking tricky words beyond just “sound it out”?

Try these prompts:
-Can something in the picture help you?
-Slide through all the sounds.
-What word chunks do you see?
-What word would make sense in the sentence?
-You said ______.  Does that look right/sound right/make sense?
-Try a different vowel sound.

I’ve organized all of these praise and prompt comments on a handy cheat sheet that you can put in your guided reading binder or send with parents and tutors. Click HERE to get a free copy.


Praise and Prompts for Young Readers: free cheat sheet perfect for a guided reading notebook or to send with parents and tutors
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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.