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Tutor Tips - Environmental Words

Beginning readers need to turn on the reading mechanism in their brain. They may have spent much of their lives ignoring the print that surrounds them. By using words from their environment such as common brand names or signs they see everyday, you can get students reading at every turn. Labels from common products can be pasted on one side of a flashcard and the word itself can be written on the other. Students can dictate sentences using these words and then read them back to the tutor. Word parts such as the word "it" in "exit" or the word "press" in "express" can be pointed out to help students begin the habit of seeing words in chunks.

Word Parts

By breaking words into parts such as prefixes, suffixes, roots, and syllables, words become more manageable. Also known as chunking, this strategy helps learners with multi-syllabic words.

Compound Words

Similar to word parts, compound word practice helps students see words as chunks. Reading compound words also trains the eye to look at the second half of the word. This is especially helpful for students who drop endings such as -ing or -ed.

Word Families/word Comparisons

You can assist your learner in making comparisons between words that are similar or from the same 'family'. For example, the word "examine" is similar to the words "exam", "re-examine", and "examination." A discussion can ensue about how these words are similar or different in spelling and in meaning.


Phonics is the process of reading a word by making letter-sound associations. It is often helpful for small words such as cat and ball, but it is not as helpful for more complicated words such as ghost or pneumonia. We recommend that phonics be used as just one of many strategies for deciphering difficult words and that it not be relied on as the only instructional technique.

Sight Words

Many words are best learned by memorizing them. Students can keep their own list of words that they want to memorize. To assist the process of memorization, use flashcards or have your student write the word several times. Visual learners may want to pay particular attention to the shape and length of the word. A kinesthetic learner might want to trace the word on a desk or write it in large letters on a chalkboard. (For more info. on learning styles, see Tutor Tips for Learning Differences) For many adult learners who have difficulty with phonics, sight word memorization may be the most efficient way of learning to read. Though it may seem like a difficult task to memorize many words, just remember that the Chinese memorize all their words by sight-- they do not have a phonetic alphabet such as ours to rely on.

Language Experience Stories

One of the best ways to find reading materials that are relevant to your learner's life is to have her dictate stories to you. This is known as the language experience approach. The story can be factual or fiction. It can be one line or pages long. What is important is that the person recording the story writes exactly what is said. By writing what is said, the student can see and hear the words. This sight/sound relationship is basic to effective reading. After the dictation, the story can be read and re-read by both the learner and the tutor. Words and sentences can be extracted for more concentrated practice. These stories can be collected in a portfolio and/or as part of a book.

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