Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reading Sentences

I discovered something very interesting a few weeks ago: reading sentences is a separate skill from reading words.  I'm sure all of my books on phonics and reading already told me that, but I don't remember anything about it.  I learned it from Sam herself when she started reading to me from her Bob Books.

We got her the Bob Books a few months ago and she's read parts of them a number of times.  All of the words are easy for her now ("cat," "and," "bag," "hat," etc.) but she would still make guesses based on the pictures and what she had memorized.  She didn't seem interested in reading a story all the way through, and now I know why.  She didn't really get the concept of reading words in a sequence to make up a sentence.  I figured she would have learned this from the thousands of hours we've read out loud to her, but I suppose she couldn't really understand it until she did it herself.

When we were reading together a few weeks ago, she had the breakthrough moment.  She would read a word or two  - say, "Dot and" - but then she would get confused.  She'd jump to the next page, or start the sentence over again, or just flounder.  I realized that I had to help her understand that the series of words would add up to a unit.  She knows that letters and words go from left-to-right (well, most of the time she knows that) but she still didn't really get the idea that if she kept reading, she'd get an entire thought instead of just a word.   I don't really know how I helped her.  I think I mostly just put my finger underneath each word to guide her.  But within a few minutes, she got it - I guess she was just mentally ready this time.  I observed her go from confusion to understanding.  I knew when she made the mental connection by the pride in her voice when she read, "Mat sat on Sam."  (It's a nice coincidence that the main character in the first book is named Sam.)  I could just hear it in her voice - that "aha" moment.  And I could also hear it in the fluid way she read the sentence as a whole.  She had never done that before.  It was an awesome moment.

Now I have to go back to my phonics books and find out if they really do address this.  In the meantime, I'm really glad we got Sam the Bob Books.


  1. And you'll find that spelling is an entirely different skill, even though it seems like reading a word hundreds of times in the course of reading books would suffice.

    Watching verbal development in my kids has opened my eyes to just how difficult the English language is.

  2. Bill, yes indeed. Since there are so many words that you can't read phonetically, Sam's Montessori school calls the exceptions "puzzle words." I like that because I had been struggling early on explaining to Sam that even though she was sounding a word out right, it was really pronounced another way. Now I can tell her, "That's a puzzle word. You just have to memorize it." I mean, come on, "once" "who"? But somehow, we all learn it.