Strategies For Teaching Children To Read

Strategies For Teaching Children To Read


You are ready to start to teach your child to read in a more concrete and organized way. You now have the task of choosing between several different styles or methods to use to teach your child to read. YOU have the task of navigating the several strategies available to you for teaching children to read. Because you will probably be making this decision on your own, some helpful information might be needed. It may not seem obvious, but evaluating how to teach reading – or how children learn to read – is actually quite complicated but has been extensively researched. You should probably do some basic Internet research, beginning with this post, then spreading out to a more general search in Google or some other search engine.

There is a crucial and functional difference between a child learning to talk and one learning to read. Learning to talk is a natural process that occurs when children hear words being spoken, whereas learning to read is not a natural process. In order to learn to read children need to be taught how to put words in context by connecting words heard to words seen in print. As the parent it will be your decision as to which teaching approach your child will be exposed to in order to successfully achieve this goal. The information in this article is intended to help you understand the basic methods available to you and why one might be better for your child than another.


There are two popular teaching models currently being used. One is phonics and the other is sight, or whole word. Phonics has come to be recognized as the preferable teaching model. (See, for instance, an article “K-12:  Phonics is Winning”, by Bruce Dietrick Price, October25, 2019, in American Thinker)   It focuses on teaching children to build on basic sounds associated with each letter. It emphasizes sounding out a word to capture the correct pronunciation and meaning of that word. In this approach a child uses what he already knows about letter sounds and puts those sounds together to make a new word.

The sight word model teaches children to recognize common English words by sight, recognizing words from their written forms. In this method children are taught to learn by memorizing words that they see. The sight/whole word method operates from the premise that a child acquires language rather than learning it through direct teaching; that language learning is child-centered, not teacher-dominated; that language is integrated rather than fragmented; and that children learn by talking and doing rather than through passive listening. Children are taught to take words at face value associating the new word with prior knowledge rather than breaking a new word into individual sounds.

The literature on how children learn to read also reflects a minority approach referred to as the “language experience” method. In this model children are taught using words that are meaningful to that child. Different words are taught differently to different children under this method because it depends upon the child’s familiarity with the words. This method involves a more personalized approach to reading. Advocates of this method point out that it instills a love of literature, problem-solving and critical thinking.


Over the last several decades there has been extensive academic and scientific investigation into the various teaching methods. Studies have shown that the process of learning to read actually causes physical changes to the brain and that these changes differ depending on which teaching method is used. In an article by Dian Schaffhauser, a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media’s education publications The Journal and Campus Technology, published in July, 2015, recapped a review of scientific studies of recent research published by Stanford University, the Child Study Center at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders at the University of Texas at Austin, in which all found that new readers sounding out words (phonics) rather than learning whole words use that part of the brain best wired for developing reading skills, thus providing evidence that phonics teaching has an educational neuroscience basis over whole word learning. Apparently sounding out letters is a left-brain activity where visual and language regions reside whereas memorizing words (the whole word model) is a right brain hemisphere activity. This research demonstrates how different instructional approaches impacts changes in brain circuitry.


Notwithstanding the plethora research, there continues to be a long-running war between advocates of each teaching model. This war has been going on for many decades. Phonics is better at teaching word recognition, spelling and pronunciation. But if only phonics is used, the child could have major difficulties in reading comprehension and more difficulty with the creative writing process. I believe that parents need to understand about both teaching methods as the advantages of a program because the advantages of each program offer benefits to children.

The National Reading Panel, a United States government body formed in 1997 at the request of Congress, with the stated aim of assessing the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read, and tasked with developing recommendations based on the findings in reading research on the best way to teach children to read, found that specific instruction in the major parts of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary) was the best approach to teaching most children to read and that instruction should be systematic (well-planned and consistent) and explicit.

The academic controversy between which method is better has morphed into development of a “blended” approach to reading theory in which a child first starts out in a phonics-based program and then transitions to the whole-word approach as the child develops more reading skills. Students being taught a blended technique are found to grow up to be stronger readers and writers.


Studies and academic literature offer no general consensus among educators as to which model is better. Neither model has proven to be more effective or fail-safe than the other. In most cases, in choosing which model to use a parent is left to rely on which teaching approach feels better to the parent. All these models have pros and cons. Parents need to understand both teaching methods because the advantages of one program may be better for a child’s needs, although most children benefit from a blend of both learning programs. Today the phonic model has the more widespread acceptance among teachers. However, there is great latitude and experimentation among differing models.


It is possible to see some pros and cons to each teaching model. Deciding on the more appropriate model often comes down to how well you understand your child’s needs. Your child’s general abilities and any special needs will often tip the scale in the direction of one model over the other. What in general can be said is the following.

Benefits and disadvantages of Phonics

1. Some whole language programs place too little emphasis on word analysis. When that is left out, young readers may guess or skip over words they don’t know and some children may not learn how to read.

2. A whole-word memorization approach puts severe limitations on the number of words that children can learn to read.

Benefits and Disadvantages of the Whole Word Method

1. Children who are likely to become poor readers are generally not as sensitive to the sounds of spoken words as children who were likely to become good readers. Children who struggle have what is called poor “phonemic awareness,” which means that their processor for dissecting words into component sound is less discerning than it is for other kids

2. Generally, learning to decode printed English has been a difficult skill to master for children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH).

3. The most common kind of dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, causes individuals to have trouble hearing the sounds that make up words. This makes it difficult for them to sound out words in reading and to spell correctly. Dyslexic learners may therefore benefit from a method that teaches whole-word reading and de-emphasizes the decoding process.

4. For those who learn to speak by learning the whole sound of a word, phonics is not an ideal form of reading instruction, because these learners do not naturally break words into separate sounds.


Learning to read is more than just learning to recognize words and letters.  Children learning to read also have to develop fluency in reading and comprehension of what has been read.  Most children will eventually develop these skills in the normal process of learning.  However, some children have difficulty in this area.  Some because of reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, and others who simply find it more difficult than normal.  When your child falls into this category, the problem has to be dealt with or your child will continue to fall behind his peers.  You should pay attention to how well your child is doing in these areas.  If you observe your child is having difficulty in either fluency or comprehension, you should take appropriate steps to help.  This may require devoting special attention on your part.  This might require more hands on attention from you or engaging a tutor or other means of dealing with the problem.


Here we are. You are ready to leap into the precipice. Has all that you have learned in these posts helped to make you more informed, more confident and more able to make a better choice for your child? I hope just a little bit more! If nothing else you should have learned that your decisions are important for your child’s development and future growth. My purpose in these articles was to help you to realize your role in guaranteeing a better future for your child. It is a complex and daunting one, but if you have been reading these posts of mine, you are on the road to successfully help your child to be a literate and achieving person. Who, I ask, could aspire to more!

NOTE:  I have reviewed  Reading Buddy Software [an affilitate product], a computer program to improve a child’s reading fluency and comprehension skills.  I find it to be a very good product and recommend that you take a look at my review by clicking here.

If you liked this article or have a question, please leave a comment below.  I will reply as soon as possible. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

6 thoughts on “Strategies For Teaching Children To Read”

  • Thank you for this great article. Teaching children to read is definitely an interesting subject, and I never thought of it that way until just coming across your article now. Hopefully by the time you start teaching them to read they have already been exposed to some language so that they can pick up the meaning of the words. 

    Most people learn to read, so it will probably happen. I think the most important thing is the way that you teach them, teaching them nicely and with patience, not being harsh or mean about it along the way. The end goal of learning to read is one thing, but it’s also important to give them a supportive and nurturing learning process. That way it’s not just that they learn reading but also that they learn to learn. Thank you for your expertise on reading and have a great day.

  • Hi, I enjoyed reading your article on Strategies For Teaching Children to Read. The information in this article was very helpful and interesting. I have never thought of that there is a difference between learning to talk is a natural process and learning to read is not a natural process, but I agree with you.

    Do you think children can learn phonics if they are home school? Do children need to attend elementary school for the first couple of years to learn how to read? I was wondering because my daughter is thinking about home schooling her little girl. Thank you for sharing!
    Best Wishes,

  • Hi, I enjoyed reading your article on Strategies For Teaching Children to Read. The information in this article was very helpful and interesting. I have never thought of that there is a difference between learning to talk is a natural process and learning to read is not a natural process, but I agree with you.

    Do you think children can learn phonics if they are home school? Do children need to attend elementary school for the first couple of years to learn how to read? I was wondering because my daughter is thinking about home schooling her little girl. Thank you for sharing!
    Best Wishes,

    • Hi Margaret.  Glad you found my article both interesting and informative. The answer to your question is “yes”, phonics can be taught at home.  If your daughter is going to take on the entire teaching role, she should definitely have a good understanding of her role in teaching her child to read.  She can start by reading my earlier articles and then expanding her reading to the Internet or books and magazines devoted to the topic. Good luck to your daughter.  You will probably have a supporting role as  well, so good luck to you, too..  

  • This was an interesting read and being a “Baby Boomer” I tend to lean towards the “Phonics” way of learning how to read. 

    Granted, it may not be the only way to teach children how to read but it seems to me that I read somewhere that children that were taught the other method had trouble reading and actually fell behind the children that were learning to read through the “Phonics” method.  I also recall that a lot of parents thought the “Whole Word Method” was not very good as well.  there was quite a battle over it.

    My Granddaughter was having difficulty with reading in her first couple of years of elementary school and, when she was tested in grade four they found her level to be 1/2 of grade one.  I believe she was being taught the “Whole Word Method”.

    The interesting thing is that we had just decided to pay for her to go to a special needs school and they started teaching her the “Phonics” method and within a year she was right up to par and actually reading better than some of her fellow students. We were so happy we made that decision.

    It wasn’t long after that (maybe a couple of years) that the regular school system reversed their decision and started teaching the older method and, they too noticed a marked improvement in their student’s reading skills.

    I’m no expert in this field but I tend to think that learning the sounds of letters and sounding out words and syllables may be the better way to go.  At some point, it seems to become second nature to read whole words better when taught the Phonics way.

    Just my opinion,


    • Wayne, appreciate your observations.  Consensus is that phonics is the better teaching approach in the early stages of teaching but that whole word also serves an effective approach as a compliment to phonics.  The general discussion is now recognizing that a blending of both approaches may be the best of both methods.  Glad to hear your own story of the effectiveness of the phonics approach for your granddaughter.

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