{January 7, 2009}   The Importance of Reading

When working with children, literacy and reading ability are crucial factors. Little children learn to read generally at home, with their parents. But sometimes, parents leave the teaching of some basic reading to school teachers, what makes our work harder.

How do children acquire their reading ability?

Up to age 8, children first learn to listen and to speak, while later, they start to explore reading and writing. From early babyhood, parents develop children’s literacy, helping him to learn the basics of conversation and communication. Throughout childhood, children develop communication skills as they try to express their needs and desires through words and body language.
At the age of 1, babies start associating words to meaning, and by the age of 3, most children are fluent speakers without conscious effort. Children develop the four language  macroskills gradually and at the same time while they listen to their favourite stories and retell them on their own, play with alphabet blocks, draw pictures, scribble and write letters and words, and watch adults read and write. Children learn by discovering language as they play, explore, and interact with others. During play time, children develop some literacy skills such as sorting, matching, classifying and sequencing materials.Other activities, that include playing with their hands and fingers (such as rolling playdough) help children strengthen and improve the coordination of the small muscles in their hands and fingers used to control writing tools such as crayons, markers, and brushes.
Reading and writing skills develop together, both by looking at how other people write and by doing their own writing. First, they scribble or use their own spelling to communicate a message. They dictate stories and turn pags of storybooks to see what happens next. They gradually recognize specific letters in unfamiliar words and write “words” made up of known letters. They start sayinh the alphabet and fingerpointing while being read to. Later, they will spell words phonetically, relating letters to sounds and they will recognise words that rhyme. By the next stage, children will master conventions of written language: recognize lower and upper case letters, correct spelling and the use of spaces between words. WIth some practice, these will happen automatically.
What is important here is phonemic awareness – the ability to associate specific sounds with specific letters and letter combinations. Phonemes, the smallest units of sounds, form syllables and words are made up of syllables. Children who understand that spoken language is made up of discrete sounds – phonemes and syllables – find it easier to learn to read. Effective readers and writers can recognize letters and words, follow rules for writing, and use routine skills and thinking to create meaning. Many children develop phonemic awareness naturally, over time. Simple activities such as frequent readings of familiar and favorite stories, poems, and rhymes can help children develop phonemic awareness. Other children may need to take part in activities designed to build this basic skill.
By the age of 8, children improve their comprehension by relating what is new to their background knowledge, creating and changing mental pictures and making predictions. It is at this age that children start figuring out the meaning of unknown words and understanding elements of literature by comparing different stories, settings, characters and events. Children can recognize various simple genres and recreating similar stories on their own, while using correct and appropriate conventions of language (spelling, capitalization, punctuation, legible writing, a wide range of vocabulary and complete sentences.
Learning to read and write is critical to a child’s success in school and later in life. When children become good readers in the early grades, they are more likely to become better learners throughout their school years and beyond.

How does this relate to English language teaching?

When teaching a second language, one can use the students’s knowledge of the mother tongue as a basis for teaching. Children learn a second language just as they learnt their mother tongue. They first develop their listening and speaking skills and later reading and writing ones. At the age of 9 they are capable of understanding and differenciating second language grammar rules and structures, so a good basis of reading in the mother tongue is really useful to help the children compare and contrast the different languages. As a teacher of English to Spanish speakers, I find really useful to include the teaching of phonics to younger students, to help them recognize sounds of the English Language. A great resource for this was foniks,  a site with phonics reading practice. To introduce pronunciation, I sometimes use some material from ship or sheep, a minimal pair ESL pronunciation practice site and from fonetiks, a site with pronunciation exercises.

Reommendation: Younger children LOVE the story of Oh and Ah!

Some extra reading on the topic:,1607,7-140-5233-23207–,00.html


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