Inside: Follow these five steps to teach a child to read. Helpful for parents, homeschoolers, and teachers that are teaching beginning readers. This post contains affiliate links.


How to Teach a Child to Read, The Ultimate Guide, A step-by-step process for parents and teachers that want to help children learn to read, perfect for homeschool, preschool, kindergarten, and first grade #literacy #learntoread #homeschool #preschool #kindergarten #1stgrade


I looked like a mother hen with my chick gathered around me. Sitting on the floor with my legs crossed, I stared into six eager pairs of eyes that were ready to learn to read… but there was a problem.


A knot tightened in my stomach as I realized just how unprepared I was to take kids from non-readers to readers. Sure, I could say “sound it out”, but was that really going to get it? This was a serious responsibility! Who decided I could even be trusted to do this?!?


“Let’s all look at the first page,” I said. And we dove into a book.


This is the Cliff’s Notes version of the things I learn from trial and error, helpful colleagues, and professional books  as I taught those kids to read:


Step 1: Pre-Reading Behaviors

There are activities that don’t look like reading at all, but they set the stage for a child to become a reader. These pre-reading behaviors may appear spontaneously through a child’s own observation and mimicry or an adult can encourage them.


Look for and encourage the following:


  • awareness of print on signs, labels, packaging, etc. Kids can know that a sign says “McDonald’s” before they can actually read the letters
  • sound manipulation games, think “Hannah Hannah banana, banana-fana, fo-fana, me-my-mo-mana, Hannah”
  • awareness  of rhyme
  • concepts about print – Does the child know which way is up on a book? Do they have a sense that the pages turn one at a time and always in the same direction? As you read, point to the words so they can see you are reading from left to right.
  • sound discrimination – “Max is eating a muffin. Mmmmax…mmmmuffin…. those start with the same sound.”


When a child demonstrates these behaviors and abilities, they may be ready to learn to read. If not, work activities like these into your daily routine to help guide them in the right direction.
Continue reading aloud to the child. If children learn that reading is an enjoyable experience through read-alouds, they will be motivated to learn the skill themselves.


I bet you can totally guess the next step…

Step 2: Learning Letters


Obvious, right?! But you might be surprised to learn these things about introducing letters:


Letters don’t have to be taught in alphabetical order. Think about it: If you taught the letters a, m, t, and s, the child can start to read a few simple words right away and that’s so exciting for them! Quick pay-offs like that keep kids motivated!



Mastering a single letter involves two different skills: Identifying the letter visually, and memorizing the sound associated with the letter. Then there are letters that make more than one sound… but more on that in a bit.


Using the senses and movement helps kids memorize letters. Build the letter with clay, draw the letter with your finger on the child’s back, associate a motion with the letter’s sound like jumping and making the sound of letter J.


One exposure is not enough. A lot of memorization has to happen to learn all the letters and sounds. Incorporate plenty of review and don’t rush it.


Step 3: Blending Sounds


Moving from knowing single letters to reading words is all about blending the sounds together. Try this technique:


  1. Using a 2 or 3-letter word, point to the letters and say each sound.
  2. Then start back at the beginning of the word. Slide your finger slowly under the letters as you stretch the sounds and put them together.
  3. Have the child try to do it, too.


Pro tip: Keep it simple here. Stick to words where every letter makes its “normal” sound. Stay away from words where two letters work together to make a new sound, like the th in “the.”


Step 4: Start Introducing Sight Words


Sight words are typically shorter words that come up very frequently in text and sometimes they don’t follow predictable spelling rules. Some examples are: look, yes, the, do. It’s better to know them by sight rather than trying to sound them out.


Sight word practice can include flash cards, hunting for the words in books, and using computer games.


One of my favorite ways to practice sight words is through the use of predictable or patterned text. These are books where each sentence is the same except for one word which can be inferred with the help of a picture. Kids get lots of practice with the sight words and are proud to be reading sentences.


Patterned text for learning sight words from Learn to Read Activity Book by Hannah Braun

This is patterned text.


Pro-tip: Spread out sight word instruction. Yes, this is “step 4” but it’s really more of an element of reading that gets sprinkled in here and there. Teach a couple of sight words so kids can read a book. Practice some other phonics patterns, teach a couple more sight words, etc.



Step 5: Work With Word Families


You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck if you spend time on word families. Teach kids that if they can read the word “can,” then they can also read “man,” “pan,” and “fan.” 2-letter word families are perfect at this stage (-am, -at, -et, -en, -it, etc.)



A word family game

A word family game from the Learn to Read Activity Book by Hannah Braun



See Also – How to Improve Spelling with Simple Word Sort Activities

Step 6: Phonics Skills


We all know English is weird! Learning the individual letter sounds is just a foundation. I like to follow this sequence as I introduce other phonics patterns:


Blends: Two letters that are frequently together in words, both letter sounds can be heard. Examples are bl, tr, sk, dr, sm


Digraphs: Two letters that make a new sound (sh, th, wh, ch, ck)


Glued Sounds: These are a blend but are 3 letters and come at the end of a word (all, ell, ill, ull, ank, ink, onk, unk, ang, ing, ong, ung)


There are plenty more phonics patterns and rules but this gives you a lot to work on with beginning readers.


Making Meaning

Making meaning? Is there a recipe for that? Ha!


“Making meaning” is a phrase that’s always thrown around in teaching workshops and books. It just means that as a child starts to read sentences and longer texts, they should be able to get some meaning out of it. They should have a sense of what is going on in the story or what the author wants them to know.


Making meaning should be woven in as soon as a child starts reading sentences. Help the child make meaning by:


  • asking questions about what they just read.
  • encouraging them to reread if they didn’t understand what the author was saying.
  • demonstrate your own reactions to the text


What’s the point in learning to read if you’re not enjoying a story, learning something new, or being exposed to a different way of seeing things?


Click on the picture below to download a copy of this cheat sheet:
So what about my little reading group? Did they ever learn to read?


They sure did!


I’m not sure who learned more in that group, them or me. What I do know is, there’s no reason for you to struggle with developing a reading-teaching roadmap from scratch. Start with pre-reading skills. Then move through letters, blending, sight words, word families, and other phonics skills. Allow time for review and the natural development of the child.


If you’re ready to jump in and want to save some time, check out the Learn to Read Activity Book. I’ve taken the steps above and turned them into 101 simple lessons and fun activities. They’re perfect for parents working with their own children or teachers working with beginning readers in their class. Click HERE to find out more!

Learn to Read Activity Book, 101 Fun Lessons to Teach Your Child to Read by Hannah Braun



For more on how to teach a child to read:

Crash Course in Phonics: Part 1

Crash Course in Phonics: Part 2

Praise and Prompts for Teaching Reading



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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.