Articles – How to Teach Reading

While anyone who is literate and has sufficient patience is capable of teaching reading, there are three things prospective tutors need to take into account before deciding to teach reading.

Firstly, ask yourself if you are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to bring the student to the stage where he or she becomes an independent reader. Secondly, ask yourself whether your student has the necessary abilities to succeed: adequate levels of hearing, speech, attention, and motivation. Thirdly, ask yourself if you have found a sufficiently comprehensive, well-structured course. If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, then you are ready to proceed.

Tutors need to equip themselves with several basic skills before beginning to teach reading. They need to learn how written English works, from the perspective of a non-reader. The free introductory videos teach this information in about an hour. These videos can be found here.***

Next, tutors need to learn how to say the sounds correctly. Written English is based on individual sounds, so it’s important you can say each sound accurately. For a list of most of the sounds, go to the Articles page, and look under the section for Sounds. Learning to say each sound individually isn’t difficult, but it does take a little work because the last time most of us used that skill was when we were babies.

Babies learn to speak by listening to normal speech, isolating the sounds, then practicing those sounds. Once they can say the sounds clearly, their brains switch to paying attention to words instead. This means that most tutors and students have to relearn the skill of saying individual sounds.

Then, tutors need to learn to sound out a word, and blend the sounds back into a word. The introductory videos teach these skills, so tutors can quickly and easily learn those skills before commencing teaching.

Teaching Sounds and Letters

One of the problems with English is that our sounds don’t appear to have a link to the letters we use to represent them. In the original language, there was a link between a sound and its letter (or picture). But if there was ever such a link in English, it has been well and truly lost.

This means that there is no logical link between a sound and its letter. And learning something that doesn’t make sense is extra difficult. But there’s a way around this problem.

In this course, this hurdle is overcome by using a temporary bridge. It’s a bridge because it links the sound to a visual clue (the bridge); then links the visual clue to the letter.

When students begin a lesson, they are shown a picture, and learn its name. The name of the picture begins with the sound taught in that lesson. Students then learn a hand sign (the visual bridge). The hand sign is useful for helping students make visible the invisible sounds we say – so they are easier to think about.

As soon as students can say the sound correctly, and make the hand sign correctly, the lowercase letter is taught – using the shape of the hand sign as a reminder of the letter’s shape.

This means that in just a few minutes, the students can learn the sound, the hand sign for representing the sound visually (without having to write it), and the letter – in a way that’s easy to remember because they all link together.

Here’s an example: Sound /h/ in here. (When a teacher calls a student’s name during roll call, the student puts up her hand and says, “Here”.)

Hand Sign

Sounding Out and Blending

Once students know the sound, hand sign, and letter, they can start sounding out and blending the words that use that new sound and the previous sounds they have been taught.

Download the PDF version of this article to see the list of words taught in this course at this stage.

Cumulative Courses are Best

It’s important that courses are written in a cumulative way. That means students should only be presented with work requiring the knowledge they have already been taught. Students might have to think for a minute in order to recall earlier work, they might even have to ask for help (or at least a hint), but they should be able to be confident that no-one is trying to trick them or make them look like idiots by expecting them to do something that hasn’t been taught yet.

Guessing is not a legitimate reading skill, neither is having to work out which word would make sense. In fact, most of the supposed “reading strategies” taught now have no part in reading instruction.

Reading is about what is On The Page

The purpose of learn to read instruction is to teach students to read and comprehend what is on the page in front of them. The basic skill required in order to do this is a “look at the letter and say the sound” skill. It advances from there to a “look at the letter team, and say the sound” skill.

Then it progresses to “look at these old ways of writing letters for that sound, and these letters that follow rules, and these letters that we use in foreign words” skills. Once students have progressed through these stages, they can read thousands of words.

Whole Word

There are two major methods of teaching reading. One is the whole word method – which goes by numerous names, and the other is the phonics method – teaching sound/letter combinations.

When students are taught using the whole word method, they need to learn every word individually, in order to become fluent. As they read, they need to be able to rapidly retrieve the word they are reading from memory.

Trying to become fluent by using Whole Word reading is very difficult, as to become a competent reader, students have to be able to read thousands of words. Some Whole Word methods focus on teaching fluency in consonant blends, syllables, word parts, and word families. This is even harder to learn, as each of the thousands of words that can be read can be broken up into several different parts of words.


With the phonics-based method of teaching reading, tutors need to teach only a limited number of skills: sounding out, blending, and practicing until studenst say the sound automatically when they see the letter /letter team.

The amount of phonics knowledge required by students in order to be equipped to read well, is also limited. Students need to know: the alphabet sound/letter combinations, the multiple sound/letter teams, the historical sound/letter teams (knife and moat), and the sound/letter teams we use to write foreign words in English.

In addition to this, students need to know and be able to apply the 21 reading rules (such as: “when we see double letters, we only say the sound once” e.g. inn). These rules are easiest to learn by reading words where the rules are applied, while committing the rule to memory.

Focusing on the Building Blocks Saves Time

Focusing on these most basic building blocks saves a lot of time, as although competent adult readers read thousands of words (between 20,000 and 50,000+ words), almost all of these words are made up of only 160 sound/letter building blocks.

Good phonics-based courses focus on teaching these reading essentials, thereby equipping students to be able to read independently in weeks, rather than years.

To learn more about the course offered on this site, click Reading Course, in the menu.