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This gives a sense of how a sentence might look like to a child who has not yet developed letter recognition (phonographic knowledge). If you know the Greek or Cyrillic alphabet, you may well have spotted that all I have done above is select the symbol font in Word for the initial sentence in this paragraph.

For children who are not yet learning to read, the text in a picture book is little more than a series of squiggles. They may begin to recognise individual letters, particularly the first initial and others in their own name, they may begin to sound out letters to read c-v-c words (consonant-vowel-consonant e.g. c-a-t). Children may enjoy being read to and they may recite phrases from a favourite book. They may want to look at books independently, ‘reading’ from memory or making up their own story to go with the illustrations. For many, the earliest attempts at reading are combine pictorial cues, recognised letters and memorised words.

For many children, the opportunity to access and use information in a variety of ways is an integral part of learning and mastering skills. Where reading is concerned, this might mean simply looking at the word, hearing another say it, tracing over it, saying it for themselves – the number of times and combination of ways required for mastery will vary from learner to learner.

Mulitsensory learning

In the past, an assumption was often made that reading should always be taught first, and that reading would always inform writing. Over recent decades, the relationship between speaking, listening, reading and writing has become much better understood, and now it is recognised that writing has a part to play in developing reading skills, from the earliest phonic stages to more complex inferential comprehension skills (Shanahan, 2006).

Frith (1985) suggested that reading in English develops in four stages:

  1. logographic (rote learning of words and linguistic guessing based on context)
  2. an in-between stage combining guessing from context with visual letter cues
  3. alphabetic (sequential decoding, letter-by letter and phoneme-by-phoneme)
  4. orthographic (hierarchical decoding employing context and analogy

More recent research suggests that to become successful readers of English, children need to employ both alphabetic (phonic) and logographic (word) skills in the earliest stages (Johnson and Watson, 2005, Shanahan, 2006, Seymour, Aro and Esrkine, 2003)

Signs of possible specific learning difficulty (SpLD):

  • Difficulty or inconsistency with grapheme-phoneme correspondence
  • Ability to sound out the letters in a short, phonically regular word, but difficulty or inconsistency putting the sounds together to read the word, e.g. sounds out m-a-t, but says ‘man’

Support for developing readers should incorporate multi-sensory activities introduced in Early Years classrooms and ongoing specific and explicit teaching of unfamiliar or complex  words and letter combinations (orthography and morphology as discussed in recent blogs). Reading experiences can incorporate hearing and sharing stories with adults and peers as well as audiobooks, read-along texts (a wide variety of these can be found online and many are formatted for interactive whiteboards use). Because of the impact that reading has on writing, unnecessary copying should be avoided. Depending on the age and stage of the learner, this might mean e.g. provision of hand-outs, use of a date stamp or pre-printed labels with date, title, learning objective, etc.

A few ideas to help support phonological knowledge (letter-sound correspondence) and synthesis (blending letters to form words) for reading in English include:

  • Teach ‘pure’ phonemes (letter and grapheme sounds), avoid the ‘schwa’ /ə/ sound
  • Where possible, use plain letter flashcards rather than busily decorated cards with characters that might add to confusion or load on working memory.

Sight vocabulary development can be supported and encouraged:

  • Provide access to a range of books that can be self-chosen, as well as any directed reading books, shared texts and stories (in print, oral online etc.)
  • Draw attention attention to words displayed in the environment, label classroom objects.
  • Be explicit, draw attention to the ‘look’ of words, words that have the same spelling patterns, ask children to look out for these and collect/share them.
    • When appropriate, talk about words that sound the same but but have different spellings, or words that look the same but are pronounced differently
  • Games and activities including e.g. picture/word matching games, word hunts, practical hands-on craft and construction activities.

As with most things these days, there is a wealth of resources online. Here are a few:

More blogs on reading and writing can be found here:
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Johnston, R. and Watson, J., (2005) The effects of synthetic phonics teaching on reading and spelling attainment: a seven year longitudinal study. Edinburgh: SEED [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 29 June 2016)

Seymour, P., Aro, M. and Erskine, J. (2003) ‘Foundation literacy acquisition in European orthographies’, British Journal of Psychology, 94 (2) pp.143-174 [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 7 July 2016)

Shanahan, T. (2006) ‘Relations among Oral Language, Reading and Writing Development’ pp.171-183 in MacArthur C. and Graham, S. (ed.) Handbook of Writing Research. New York: The Guildford Press






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