The Parents' Guide


Is your Child Reading or Reciting?


Priscilla is reading:     


Priscilla is reciting from memory: she recites words that she has learned to recognise by repeating them often.


Araba is reading:       


Araba is reading by sounding out the letters: she blends the sounds together and so pronounces the word.




Both methods of learning to read have validity, but there are some considerations.

What is the difference?




Reciting from memory means: storing the image of a word in the memory, to fetch it whenever it is needed.



Processing letter-sounds means: storing the image and the sound of a letter in the memory and actively combining it with other images and sounds.




An example:



Many children learn that ‘c’ is ‘see’ (the letter name). So when they see letter c, they say ‘see!’. That is memorising: the name of the letter is stored in the memory and seeing the letter triggers the name.



When a child learns that ‘c’ is ‘kh’, and in combination with ‘a’ it makes ‘ka’ and in combination with ‘u’ it makes ‘ku’, then the brain actively processes information for practical use.



With the skill of actively processing the letter-sounds, a child is able to spell out many words that he or she has not seen before. But with this method, a child still memorises. Not only the images and the sounds of the letters, but also words that appear frequently are stored in the memory as a whole. Words like: ‘and’, ‘the’, ‘it’. When progressing, most children (and most of us) recognise these words by their shape:



We call these words ‘sight words’, and many schools teach these words as such. Reading words ‘by sight’ helps to improve reading fluency, and over time many words become ‘sight words’ to us.




The same happens with words that are not phonetic: when the sound of some letters changes in combination with other letters.


How would you spell out ‘aeroplane’? Or ‘eight’?




When a child has met such a word a few times, it is stored in the memory as a whole. Again, this increases reading fluency.




Children who are just beginning to read often memorise a lot. We all have seen a pre-schooler who could recite most of his or her favourite story book and accurately follows the text with their finger!




But: when a child continues to rely on memory only it becomes problematic. It means that the number of words that the child can ‘read’ remains limited, like in the case of Priscilla. The skill of sounding out and blending sounds together is vital for reading new words.




A child that only ‘reads’ by reciting known words typically skips unknown words, or replaces them with known words that look similar. For example:  




‘a red tomato in the kitchen’ is read as: ‘a red --- in the chicken’.




To watch out:

if you notice that your child continues to recite instead of read, contact the school and discuss your observations. It may also help your child to spend time at home to practice letter-sounds and blending of sounds into words.








See also our post on ‘How to help your Child develop letter-sound skills’


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