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How to Teach Kids to Read

As adults, it can be easy to forget the process we had to go through to learn how to read. We may remember some kids as the kids who just ‘got it’ and others as the ones who struggled and needed more assistance.

If you have an education background, you may be aware of the many theories and strategies recommended for implementation in teaching children to read. The mainstream theories are as follows; top-down or reader-based approach, the bottom-up approach, or the text-based approach.

Specifically, the bottom-up approach refers to a process of learning whereby students are taught skills in sequence, building from scratch. It assumes the learner has no prior knowledge and teaches in steps, which lead towards an end goal.

With regards to literacy development, this theory suggests that reading is best taught from the bottom-up, meaning students are first taught about letters and phonemes. Once students have mastered this skill, they are then exposed to the next stage in their reading development. From letters to words, from words to phrases, from phrases to sentences, from sentences to paragraphs.

Once these technical skills are mastered, then other aspects such as comprehension is focused on. At the end of all this, students should be able to read and understand what they are reading.

In contrast to bottom-up, the top-down approach focuses on the text as a whole. Students are expected to learn how to read by picking up a book and attempting to read, of course with the support of their teacher, parents or other carers. The rules and information about words and phonemes are learnt during the reading process and students will generally have had some prior experience with reading.  

The text-based approach is more constructivist, in that it takes the text as a whole and students learn to read as a manner of context and meaning rather than focusing on the words themselves. They use illustrations to understand the story line and learn to read in a reactive manner.

Kids will have very different approaches to learning and will learn in a variety of different ways. Teachers, parents and carers should be mindful to present reading tasks to kids in various ways to ensure their way of learning is being catered to.

Tips from Marie D.

Author: Sim K


Sim K


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