How to Teach Reading Skills

Diane's Quick-Start Guide

Learn the Essentials of Teaching Reading Skills

Mastering reading skills means learning the system of rules that govern the native language. In an ancient Greco-Roman classical education, the everyday languages were Greek and Latin just like English is the native language of your 21st century child.  Select imaginative content, along with classical teaching methods, during the k-7/8 homeschool years that will bring your child to a fuller reading comprehension.


-- Teach Reading --

Where do you begin teaching reading skills?

It might surprise you to learn that even though you didn’t know any classical teaching methods when your child was a toddler, every time you read an illustrated children’s book out loud to him, you were giving him a classical education! So, hooray! Your little cutie-pie is already on his way to reading and language mastery.

Learning how to read is hard work, but you can really ramp up your child’s reading comprehension skills if you commit to reading out loud every single day. Read an illustrated children’s book to him, and when he gets older and starts reading on his own, switch reading roles and have him read aloud to you.

Other than the pleasure of a good story, your child’s reading skills improve every time you read a good book, particularly his print awareness, which lays the groundwork for teaching him the alphabet. He becomes aware that those squiggly lines on the page and the sounds you make have meaning. He learns that what you say has a relationship to the words on the page. If you use your finger to point as you read, he learns that in our language, print is read from left to right, and top to bottom. He learns that words are made up of letters, and that there are spaces between words.

When you read aloud, you also teach your homeschool child all the phonetic sounds of the alphabet from short vowels to consonant blends. Your spoken inflection (whether through pitch, stress, cadence, or accents) teaches him that our voice rises when we ask a question, and stays steady when reading a statement. He learns about the meaning of a story through our emotions from excitement to sadness.

As you teach reading through good classic children’s books, don’t forget to include sight words. There are about 300 frequently used, short sight words in the English language which can be sounded out phonetically, but the more you point them out when reading, the more likely your child will recognize them on sight allowing him to read quicker without decoding.

In addition to daily read-aloud time, get your child a library card, and take him every week. Let him pick out as many good books to read as he can carry. Set a little basket by his bed for daily nighttime reading, and as he gets older, incorporate independent reading in his daily homeschool routine.

Use classical teaching methods to teach reading, and your homeschool child will be on the way to mastering the English language. By the time he reaches puberty, and you begin to build that amazing high school transcript, you ‘tween will be equipped for reading the challenging ideas of classic literature, histories, scientific theories, mathematical operations, and a host of other content containing life’s biggest ideas.

Are you reading aloud every day?


-- Teach Spelling --

How would you rate your child's spelling skills?

Every day when you are reading out loud to your homeschool child, you are investing in his ability to spell. Learning how to spell starts with his understanding that the words you are reading are made of different speech sounds (phonemes) with letters representing those sounds. With time and experience, your child will see patterns in words like the way the letters are used or the way letters are put together to form a pattern.

Did you know that almost 90% of English words could be accurately spelled by using conventional spelling rules? When you teach spelling, use real books to demonstrate spelling rules. Pick a passage, and show him how sequences of letters form syllables, word endings, word roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Devote a block of time to work on one pattern or principle of spelling until he masters it.

You don’t need to spend money on an expensive spelling homeschool curriculum; use this list of 850 common spelling words that make up 80% of the words that elementary age kids used in their writing. He needs to write the spelling words, or recite them out loud, so give him 10 words a week to practice until he can spell them perfectly. Play spelling games with ABC blocks, scrabble tiles, illustrated letter playing cards, or colorful sidewalk chalk.

Test his spelling rule knowledge by giving him a passage with spelling errors. Select a quality paragraph from his library book that has a few of the 10 words he’s studying this week. Copy or type it in large font, and sprinkle in a few misspellings. Tell him it’s a race to find and correct all 5 errors. Set the timer, and give him a prize when he successfully completes the task.

You can also use his classic library book to teach spelling rules for syllables and hyphens. Start with single syllables, and then move on to two-syllable words, triple syllables, and even more. Teach him the spelling rules for hyphenation; let him practice hyphenating multi-syllable words.

Teach spelling using this classical teaching method, and make learning how to spell fun!


-- Teach Handwriting--

Handwriting gives your child creative power to write his own thoughts.

Teach handwriting by starting with writing the letters of his name then move on the letters of the alphabet, both lowercase and uppercase, in manuscript (print). Show him how to properly grip the fat crayon or pencil, and use wide-ruled lined handwriting paper. Or you could make your own handwriting paper with some blank copy paper and a ruler.

When you’re first teaching the alphabet, use imagination to create an ABC book with your child. Get a sketchpad, and draw the upper and lower cases of the alphabet, one on each page. Draw things that start with the letter, and have your child color them. Or cut them out of magazines and paste them in the ABC book. Keep adding to the ABC book, and teach him the alphabet song.

An easy way to guide your child’s first attempts at handwriting is to have him trace the letters of the alphabet with his finger then with his pencil. Take a piece of blank or lined paper, and use dotted lines or dashes to draw the letters of the alphabet. You could do this in your ABC book, too. Give him the pencil, and show him how to follow the dotted lines.

As he gets older and his fine motor handwriting skills improve, you’ll start to see smaller and neater letters. When this happens, it’s time to teach cursive handwriting. Some schools are moving away from teaching cursive handwriting, but don’t eliminate this opportunity to challenge your child while improving his reading and critical thinking skills.

Classic children’s books are a great resource for practicing print and cursive handwriting. Select a beautifully illustrated storybook, one with a picture on one page and the text on the opposite page. Have him copy the classic author’s exact words. Not only will his handwriting skills get better, but he’ll also soak up all that great language, sentence structure, dialogue, and ideas.

Finally, when your homeschool child has mastered print and cursive handwriting, teach him how to type. He’s probably already gotten familiar with the keyboard if he plays any computer games, so again, use simple library books as the source document. Pick a simple phonic reader with three letter words, and have him type selections, or give him the sight words list to type. You could even practice spelling while typing if you use this week’s ten spelling words.

Is your child's handwriting legible?



-- Teach Punctuation --

Can you name all fourteen punctuation marks used in American English?

Teach your homeschool child that writers use punctuation marks to shape meaning, and that there are certain punctuation rules of usage for the various punctuation marks. Again use real classic children’s books that you’re reading together to demonstrate how this works. Find all the punctuation in a passage, and ask your child how the meaning was shaped by the choice of mark. Ask how the meaning might have changed if a different punctuation mark had been used.

Teach punctuation through reading aloud. What are punctuation sounds?

Think like an actor on the stage. What does it sound like to use a question mark, a dash, or an exclamation point? Have your child practice reading out loud, too, to make sure that they are pronouncing the mark with feeling every time.

Play some punctuation games by copying or retyping excerpts of your daily reading, but leave out the punctuation marks. Have your homeschool child add the missing punctuation marks. Or use that same reading passage, except this time, add the wrong punctuation marks, and have him correct the punctuation errors.

Capitalization is another reading tool that shapes meaning. Learning how and when to capitalize will improve reading comprehension. Teach the standard uppercase capitalization rules like days of the week, holidays, proper names, and streets. Then play some reading games to make sure the teaching concept sticks.

Become a master at teaching punctuation and capitalization so people take your child seriously.


-- Teach English Grammar --

An educated child must understand the rules of English grammar.

Most adults have a strong reaction to English Grammar…they either hated learning it in school, or they were devoted fans who loved diagramming sentences! In all likelihood, you will need to refresh your own memory of the basic rules before you teach English Grammar to your homeschool child. Get an English grammar handbook, and use it as your teaching resource.

Teach your child the eight parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, and interjections. Your daily reading again serves as the perfect teaching tool. Point out all the nouns until he masters them, and then move on to the verbs.

Once your child has an understanding of verbs, teach him the difference between passive and active voice. Next, move on to the ‘being’ verbs. Irregular verbs are also important to learn. Teach him how to conjugate verbs by creating a chart of first person, second person, and third person with singular and plural columns.

His library book can be a great source for teaching English Grammar. Pull passages out, and highlight all the nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. Have him substitute parts of speech like new nouns, adjectives, or adverbs for the original vocabulary words in his narrative writing assignments.

Teach the English Grammar rules for modifiers so that he understands the difference between comparative and superlative. Practice using the correct modifier in context, and explain how the right modifier affects the meaning of the passage or conversation.

Finally, knowing how to diagram a sentence can really make your homeschool child a better reader and writer. Diagramming sentences with visual graphics help cement your child’s understanding of the eight parts of speech, and ensures that he will use the parts in the proper order when he writes his own compositions.

When you’re deciding on what classical teaching method to use, remember that drilling English Grammar can be very boring…if overdone, it could even cause your child to hate grammar. Instead play games, or host an English Grammar “camp” where you teach only grammar with fun games that still build in the repetition for retention, but seem like play, not work.

How can you make teaching English grammar more creative and fun?


-- Teach Vocabulary --

Pay attention to the vocabulary your child uses.

Vocabulary is a critical component of learning how to read because beginning readers use the words that you are reading to make sense of the print on the page. Studies have shown that kids, who hear more words at home, from reading aloud or conversations, have a more extensive vocabulary bank.

Many vocabulary words will be learned indirectly as you read in context. But you’ll still need to teach the meaning of certain unfamiliar vocabulary words, for reading comprehension. Kids can’t understand what they’re reading without knowing what most of the words mean. Connections improve learning, so resist the temptation to teach vocabulary words in isolation. Teach a variety of words that share a common root or prefix like –hypo (under) or –hyper (over).

Don’t forget to teach your older child how to use the dictionary or Internet to look up the meaning of words. Show him what the abbreviations and pronunciation symbols mean. Make using the dictionary a fun vocabulary game by picking out some words from his independent reading book of the week, and having him look them up, writing down the definition, then using the word in a new sentence. You could even play a pantomime game with the new vocabulary words.

Vocabulary is a very important factor in reading comprehension. Classical teaching methods like recitation, imitation, and memorization will make your homeschool child a better reader.

How many multi-syllable vocabulary words does your child use on a daily basis?