Make It Match!

Many of us are being challenged with the idea to reembrace the words “sound it out” If you have been teaching reading for a while, you might have been taught to redirect kids to the print last, to use other cues first. Somehow it got misrepresented and turned into you should never say sound it out. Many of you probably found unique ways to say it instead.

           Look at the first letter. Now say the next sound.

           Say it sound by sound.

           Say each letter’s sounds.

In my training, I was asked to avoid only relying on the phrase but never to eliminate it. If you have taught reading, you know that focusing on other cues: meaning, syntax, and visual cues, does help readers solve words. We are finding out, however, that beginning readers need to make sounding out the word the first thing they try. Some of you might have been taught to use MSV or meaning, syntax, and visual cues in the order presented.

Therefore, direct students to use meaning first and visual cues (print) last. I was taught to use the cueing systems interchangeably. I present students with different strategies that use specific skills, and then when they are stuck on a word, I ask them what they can try. They would use MSV in varying orders. If they guess a word based on meaning or just the first letter, I would say things like:

  • Let’s check it and see if it matches or make it match.
  • Put your finger under the word and say the sounds
  • Check it with your eyes. You must make what your brain suggests match what your eyes see.

I may have been a step ahead of some, but not ultimately where I needed to be. Students need to practice attending to the print first and then checking the words using meaning. Using the cueing systems of MSV is not wrong. We just have to prioritize. Beginning readers must attend to print and then bring in other information to check the word. I will still be using my prompts, but I will be starting with something like

  • What word did you say that didn’t sound right? Go back and find it and sound it out.
  • Go back to the word had. (the word is really (has). Say had, how many sounds are in had? (3) What is the third sound in had? Check the word and see if it matches.
  • We have to make what our brain suggests match the letters in the word we see. Check to see if the letters match up with the sounds in had.

I had a student confusing the words on and no. They hesitated after saying “on” as “no”, and actually went back and read the sentence again incorrectly.

Here are the two sentences on the page from the book:

Is the cap on a mat?

No! It is not on the mat.

 I said to the student say no.

What is the first sound in no?

Now put your finger under that word.

Say the sounds. Can that word be no?

We do not want readers overly reliant on picture cues and unable to stretch out CVCC words or multiple-syllable words when they reach level D and up.  

We want students to be able to stretch whole words out. They need to be able to do this with words they will encounter when there is no picture support available. When we teach them to rely too much on the picture, their attention is more on the picture than the word. They need to attend to the print first.

So do, continue to use the cueing systems. Beginning readers must first look at the print, say the sounds of the letters represented, and then think about meaning and syntax. So do not stop using MSV but make adjustments using what we are learning about how we learn to read. When kids have strong oral language skills, have heard the word, and attempt to match the spelling to the sounds, they are more likely to figure it out using MSV. On the other hand, beginning readers often have a more limited vocabulary and have heard and seen fewer words. Therefore they need to rely more on the print(V) and pull in the M&S to help support. Maybe we should start thinking of it is VMS.

You might also have to adjust the text you use to help make this adjustment. I will take a look at some different texts in my next post.

Do You Have Students Break Words?


I am trying a new approach in the Word Study component of my guided reading lessons. Sunday Cummins shared this approach with me recently. Jan Richardson shared it with her. It comes from Michele Dufresne.  Twitter: @MicheleDufresne

It is really simple and makes great sense when you think about transitioning readers from using sound boxes into chunking words or breaking a word, a strategy you should be using with readers in stages Early – Fluent.

This strategy teaches readers to break words into meaningful parts or chunks. This is a strategy you should be prompting readers to use as you listen to them read and get stuck on a word. Breaking a word will help the reader hold onto the meaning of the word and sentence as they work through it. The alternative of asking readers to stretch it out, does not often work and it causes them to lose meaning of what they are reading. Breaking  a word should be used as part of the cross-checking strategy when students are reading.

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The old adage of sound it out is not effective when reading for meaning.

This new approach involves asking students to break words apart instead of asking them to build words during the word study component of guided reading.

When introducing this approach, you may want to tell readers where to break words at first. However you want them to be responsible for breaking the words themselves when possible. You have to know your readers and what they need. If they do not need to be told, then do not tell them. Let them figure it out.

Let readers take on as much responsibility as they can. Never start from the stand point that readers cannot do something, give them a chance and jump in when they need the support. Remember one benefit of guided reading is that the teacher is right there supporting students as they try things out. It will be more authentic for the student and they will remember it better when they do the work. Then they will transfer the skill more easily.

Example: Break chop in front of the vowel:  ch  op

Or just ask students to chunk/break the word.

If your students need to be told where to break the word I think it is important to say break the word in front the vowel. This will help reader distinguish vowels from consonants, a skill they must have when breaking apart larger, more difficult words. Recognizing different vowel combinations is very helpful.

In my 2nd grade group this week I practiced this strategy.  I wrote the word sticky on a white board and asked my students to build it and then break it out, without saying the word out loud. They came up with 3 different ideas.

                                                      st   i   ck y

                                                     stick   y

                                                    st  ick    y

All of these can be helpful to individual students. So, do not penalize readers for breaking the words differently. But make sure you ask them to explain their reasoning.  There are certain guidelines you will want to enforce, however.

Keep vowel pairs together: ea, ou,  ir

Keep digraphs together:  th,  ch,  sh

Keep blends together:  st,  sw,  sl

Keep prefixes and suffixes together

                                                    (This is not a complete list)

Look for meaningful chunks that keep common patterns(rimes) together:

CVC words like: p op,  s  at,   t ub


Readers in the Early stage of reading will probably need more support.

Here are a few more examples of words my students have broke apart this week.


This student changed her break in the word to “con” “nect” when I asked her to explain reasoning for the break in the picture above. She even said at first I though it was “co” (with a long o sound) and then I thought it was “con”  I always ask student to explain why they broke the word the way they did and let them notice a better way to break it without directly telling them when at all possible.

The other students broke it like this:

fullsizeoutput_30        fullsizeoutput_32


Here are the basic steps

Step 1:  Write a word on a dry-erase board. Do not say the word and tell students not to say the word. (chop)

Step 2: Have students take the letters off their trays and make the word.

Step 3: Tell students to break the word at the vowel. (ch   op)

Step 4: Have the students say each part chorally. (/ch/  /op/)

Step 5: Have the students put the word back together and read it. (chop)

Step 6: Tell the student to change a letter or two to make a new word (e.g. tell them which letters to change). For example, tell the student to “change the letter c to a letter s” so they have the letters for shop). Do not say the word and tell students not the say the word.  Students then break the word, say each part, and put the word back together as they read it.

Step 7: Write a word on the dry-erase easel with the same rime but different onset. Have students read it. (stop). If they need help underline the rime (stop).

Now when readers come to a difficult word and are trying to cross-check it, I have them try breaking it as an added strategy. When reading with this group of 2nd graders I had  to prompt them to break several words this week. They wanted to guess or try to stretch it out. A habit I am trying to break. They quickly put their finger on the word and eventually all solved their words by breaking them apart.

I like to say break the word instead of saying look for a part or word you know. Saying that can sometimes backfire on you. For example in the word: finger, recognizing the word in will not help. I am sure many of you have encountered many words where it didn’t help. You have to think about the word, text and student when making in the moment word solving decisions.

I did not have to tell any of these 2nd graders the words we chunked this week. They solved every one.

Let me know if you try this out and how it goes. Email me if you would like a copy of this complete strategy.





Kansas City Literacy Association


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sunday cummins

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