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Reading and Writing SOS: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and Fluency

In this special Reading Rockets video series, experts answer real questions from families about reading and writing, and how to support their children at home.

National Education Association (NEA)

Reading and Writing SOS was produced in partnership with the National Education Association.

Question: What literacy skills indicate my kindergartener is on track for reading?

Early literacy expert Bernadette Pilar Zermeño says that parents can watch for and support these pre-reading skills: interest in learning about and using new words, lots of talking (and expressing increasingly complex ideas through oral language), rhyming and playing with word sounds, letter awareness, and understanding how books work.

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Question: Should I be concerned if my child reads slowly?

A parent is concerned that her child reads accurately but very slowly. Literacy expert Kegi Wells explains that what’s most important is if your child understands what she’s reading. Kegi offers simple ways to check for understanding and how to model expressive reading.

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Question: How can I help my child read more smoothly?

A parent says that her second grader is pretty good at reading but sounds robotic when he reads aloud. Third grade teacher Chelsey Short explains that if your child understands what they’re reading, then you don’t need to worry too much. Reading with appropriate expression is a skill that develops over time as your child grows in confidence with their reading. Chelsey offers simple and fun ideas for helping your child become a more expressive, fluent reader.

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Question: Which letter sounds do I teach first?

Reading expert Linda Farrell recommends that you begin with teaching the letter names, and then focus on the letter sounds that are closest to their letter names (such as /v/). And here’s a great tip for teaching the trickier letter name–letter sound combinations — use arm motions. In this video, Linda demonstrates motions for /x/ and /y/.

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Question: How do I explain “ea”?

A parent asks about the best way to the “ea” vowel combination (also called a vowel team). Reading expert Linda Farrell explains that you begin with the most common pronunciation, and then teach the exceptions.

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Question: Why can’t my child re-read a word in a sentence that he just sounded out?

Reading expert Linda Farrell sees this often with striving readers, and she shares a simple tip: encourage your child to silently “think” the sounds as he reads the word. Linda also emphasizes how important it is for kids to keep their eyes on the words as they read.

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Question: How do I help my child who is getting stuck on sight words?

Many striving readers struggle with sight words. Reading expert Linda Farrell suggests this teaching sequence: first, be sure your child knows all the letter names, then all the letter sounds — and then you can introduce a few short high-frequency words such as was. Choose words that don’t have regular phonetic spelling. Words that do have phonetic spelling, such as in, did, and on can be folded into phonics lessons.

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Question: Do Bob Books help young readers?

A parent asks if the Bob Books — a step-by-step early reader series — help her young son with reading. He likes to read them over and over again! Reading expert Linda Farrell shares her thoughts on these early readers as well as the importance of reading aloud to build vocabulary and background knowledge.

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Question: Can you recommend a good reading program for my child with learning disabilities?

 expert Linda Farrell provides guidance in understanding the three features that all good reading programs should have: (1) Readingphonological awareness and phonemic awareness, (2) a strong phonics scope and sequence, and (3) lots of opportunities for kids to practice what they’ve learned in their phonics lessons.

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The Reading and Writing SOS video series was produced in partnership with the National Education Association.

Meet our experts

Linda Farrell

Linda Farrell is a founding partner at Readsters (opens in a new window), an Alexandria, VA-based firm that helps schools implement research-based reading instruction. She is committed to effective early reading instruction to help struggling readers become strong readers, and to ensure that strong readers achieve their full potential. Linda works in schools throughout the U.S., training and coaching teachers and modeling effective reading instruction. Linda is a former English teacher and she was a National LETRS trainer for seven years. She has co-authored assessments and curricula for teaching reading, as well as several other published works. Watch Linda in action in our video series, Looking at Reading Interventions.

Chelsey Short

Chelsey Short is a third grade teacher at William B. Wade Elementary school in Waldorf, Maryland, where she loves helping students learn with fun and engaging lessons. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a focus on K-8 mathematics and a minor in special education at Southwest Minnesota State University. Chelsey is a member of the Education Association of Charles County Executive Board where she advocates for policies that benefit educators and students. Recently, she joined the New Mom Club and enjoys spending time with her daughter during her free time.

Kegi Wells

Kegi Wells is the Coordinator of Professional Development for the Jackson area and the southern part of Mississippi at the Barksdale Reading Institute (opens in a new window). Kegi has most recently served as Director of Curriculum and Instructional Management in the Quitman County School District. She began her career as a teacher at Crystal Springs Elementary School and later became the assistant principal at Crystal Springs Middle School. She then served as an instructional coach and later the principal at Madison S. Palmer High School in Marks, MS. Kegi received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA. She received her Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Mississippi College in Clinton, MS.