The 7 Steps in Detail

To learn to read, we must be able first to discern the differences between different sounds. In other words, it starts with hearing and speaking—pronouncing the 44-45 different sounds in English, i.e., phonemes. “Decoding” words starts with learning which letters and phonemes go together to make the words we speak. From the moment we’re born, assuming we don’t have a hearing deficit, we begin learning and distinguishing between different sounds. If talked to and read to, we soak up new words—especially the names of things in our environments—like a sponge. (Within no time at all, we respond to our own names. By the time we’re two years old, when asked, we can usually point to our noses and tummies and identify pets, etc.) If we can successfully hear and pronounce the different sounds, we are ready to move onto the first step.

STEPS 1 & 2: Learning the Letters and Consonant Sounds

  • STEP 1: Learning the Alphabet: Goal is to be able to recognize, name, and write letters in both their upper and lower case forms. Repetition and broad exposure are key. When working with children who are learning the alphabet, videos and computer games are helpful but don’t forget to point out letters on signs and billboards, in magazine titles and newspaper headlines, on cereal boxes and candy packages—anywhere letters appear in their normal environments.
  • STEP 2: Learning the Consonant Sounds: Goal is to learn the sounds consonants (all of the 26 letters except the vowels a, e, i, o, and u) make, first at the beginning and ending of words and followed by learning the sounds of consonant blends and consonant digraphs (and occasionally trigraphs).

STEPS 3 – 7: Learning the 5 Vowel Patterns

  • STEP 3: CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant) – Short Vowel Sounds: Goal is to learn the short vowel sounds and begin to apply the rule that when a single vowel (or syllable) has a consonant followed by a vowel followed by a consonant sound, the vowel sound is short. Examples: “cat,” “net,” “sit,” “mop,” “mug.”
  • STEP 4: VCE (Vowel-Consonant-Silent E) – Long Vowel Sounds: Goal is to learn the long vowel sounds and begin to apply the decoding rule that when a vowel is followed by a consonant and an “e,” the “e” is silent and the vowel sound is long. The rule for the long vowel sound is usually the easiest, in that the long sound is the same or similar to the name of the vowel itself. Examples: “cake,” “bike,” “hope.”
  • STEP 5: VOWEL DIGRAPHS – Two Vowels Together (Part 1): Goal is to learn and apply the decoding rule for most words with two vowels occurring together, namely that the sound made is the long sound of the first vowel and the second is silent. A common “rule” is that “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” Examples: “train,” “beach,” “sleep.”
  • STEP 6: R-CONTROLLED VOWELS – The “Bossy R”: Objective is to learn the sounds vowels make when followed by an “r” and apply the rule in decoding. Examples: “car,” “bird,” “fur.”
  • STEP 7: VOWEL DIPHTHONGS – Two Vowels Together (Part 2) and More: Goal is to learn that with certain letter combinations (usually two vowels, but not always) instead of following the rule for vowel digraphs, the two vowels together make a whole new sound, and applying the rule in decoding. Examples: “oi” as in “join,” “au” as in “autumn,” “igh” as in “night,” etc.


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