Taking words apart

taking words apartResearch has shown us that effective readers take words a-part, ap-art, apar-t as they are reading. These may be new words, words still being learned, or known words that appear in unexpected places, e.g. I can hit the ball like Jack.

Competent readers break words in many different ways so we encourage our Reading Recovery students to do the same. There is no one “best” way to tackle a difficult word, and children who are flexible in their attempts have the most success. Efficient readers do not read letter by letter (t-h-a-t) but rather quickly group letters into chunks (th-at). Children work out ways that work for them. Early in the series of lessons, Reading Recovery teachers model breaking the onset and rime (e.g. c-at, gr-een, go-ing) but we also encourage students to be flexible.

It is easier to learn how words work by observing those that are already known, e.g. Student A can already write Dad. He is given magnetic letters to make the word Dad and shown how to break the word into 2 parts- D-ad. Gradually the student is asked to break other known words into 2 parts. Any break is acceptable. The student is learning that words can be broken into parts and put back together. (Which is what we do as we are reading and writing.)

By taking apart known words, children learn how to look efficiently at letters or letter clusters (e.g. ay, ing, er, ight) within words. chunkingIt is important that their eyes are moving left to right across the words because that is what the eyes do during successful reading.

The writing section of the lesson also supports word analysis (learning how words are put together). When children can write a word correctly, letter by letter, we can give them opportunities to do it again and again more quickly. In doing so, children are learning to pay close attention to scanning all the parts of the word in order and recognizing those details as a pattern.

As you are listening to your child read, observe what the child is saying when she is trying a tricky word. Is she saying the parts in order? If she says g for dog you will know she is not looking from left to right. If he says d-a-y  instead of d-ay you will know that he is looking letter by letter instead of using chunks of letters that go together. Be careful of saying ‘sound it out’ because that usually calls for saying each individual letter. An alternative is to ask- Can you say the beginning? Can you say more? (E.g. st-op, l-ike, sw-ing, tr-am)

Also be careful of always asking the child to find a small word within a bigger word. It will work for words such as to/day, but becomes a problem when the child says the me within co/me.

Based on an article by Elizabeth L. Kaye, Trainer, Texas Woman’s University http://twuread5503.pbworks.com/f/JRR_8.1-Kaye.pdf  Refer to the link to if you wish to read more.

Taking words apart is also taught during the cut up sentence component of the Reading Recovery lesson.

cat-chMore information about Word Work The Reading Recovery Way can be found on the Useful Links page.

Reading punctuation

What is punctuation for young readers?

Our students typically see capital letters (Anna, Toytown), full stops (. Also called periods.), question marks (?), commas (,), talking marks (“ ”)and exclamation marks (!) in their early books.

Why is punctuation important?

punct stratImage from: http://displays.tpet.co.uk/?resource=876#/ViewResource/id876

Students need to learn how to read the punctuation as it affects how they sound as they read aloud, and it helps them to gain meaning.

I have had more than one student who has thought that reading the punctuation means saying: ‘I can run fullstop’.

A student who correctly reads the punctuation knows to:

  • stop to take a breath at the full-stop at the end of the sentence,
  • pause (little stop) at a comma, (Good hit, Jack.),
  • change the voice for a question, (usually the voice is higher at the end of a question- Where is it?),
  • change the voice for a character when reading the words between talking marks, (Billy said, “I can hit the ball like Jack.”),
  • and add excitement to the voice when there is an exclamation mark. (Stop!)

Students also learn to read words that are bold or in italics louder than the surrounding words. (This is my car.)

To learn more about reading the punctuation click on the pictures to take you to some YouTube videos from LearnZillion.

punctuation video pic

 Stopping at end punctuation marks while reading Lesson 1 of 5



 Change voice to match end punctuation marksLesson 2 of 5  punctuation2




 Pause for in-sentence punctuation marksLesson 3 of 5



 Notice all punctuation while reading. Lesson 4 of 5 punctuation4



punctuation5 Read fluently by monitoring reading progress. Lesson 5 of 5   

What is self monitoring?

pointing and reading boySelf-monitoring is being able to check that what you are reading makes sense, looks right, and can be said that way. When you are self monitoring you are connecting with what you are reading. You know when you have made an error and you stop, reread, and try to fix the problem.


As students are learning to read, they often guess some, or all, of the words. Some students ‘sound like good readers’ but they are not self monitoring the look of the words.


Text:         Sam ran and ran.sams race

Student: Sam’s in a race with all the kids.

Student 1 was not self monitoring. He looked at the picture and invented the story without paying attention to the number, or look of the actual words. He needs to learn he has to match spoken and written words.


Text:         Mother Bear’s red scarf went flying away in the wind. red scarf

Student:  Mama Bear’s scarf went flying away in the wind.

Student 2 was not self monitoring. The sentence made sense and sounded right, but she was not carefully checking the look of  ALL the words.

Some students concentrate on the beginning (or other) letters to guess a word, and do not check that what they read makes sense or could be said that way.


Text:         The little cat is in the big tree.cat tree

Student:  The like cat is it the big tree.

Student 3 needs to understand that the purpose of reading is to get a message from the author. A mistake has been made if the reading does not make sense or sound right.

When students are self monitoring they are able to identify that an error has been made. They may look puzzled. They may ask for help. They may reread to have another go.

If we always do the self monitoring for the child by telling him /her when an error has been made, we are not allowing the child to develop ways of self monitoring.

You can encourage your child to self monitor by not always showing where the error is, or telling the correct word. Instead you could use prompts such as:

  • It could be __________, but look at ________. (1st letter etc.)
  • Check it. Does it look right and sound right to you?
  • You almost got that. See if you can find what is wrong.
  • Try that again.
  • Something wasn’t quite right.
  • What’s wrong with this? (Repeat what child said)
  • You said _________. Does that make sense?

Attempting the new book

readingbookAt the end of each Reading Recovery lesson a new book is introduced to the student. The student holds the book and  looks at the pages to get the meaning of the story, tries out new language structures and vocabulary (e.g. Where oh where is Teddy Bear?), and sometimes locates a few words (e.g. Can you find the word for present?). (See Book Introduction)

After the introduction, the student does a first reading of the new book. During this reading the teacher provides support, if required. The book has been carefully chosen by the teacher because it has a few new challenges for the student. It should not be too easy or too hard. The support will look different across each lesson based on the student’s reading actions. If the student gets stuck, the teacher will prompt the student to try a known strategy.

The teacher may prompt the student to:

  • search the print and pictures for clues,
  • reread to regather meaning,
  • discover how words look (e.g. This word looks a bit like {a known word}.),
  • problem solve (What else can you try? Reread. Take the word apart. Skip the word and go back.),
  • check his/her reading (Did that make sense / look right?),
  • self correct (locate and fix the error),
  • and think about the story (What is the author telling me on this page?).

Some small errors may be ignored by the teacher. This leaves some reading work for the child to try to solve independently on the next day’s running record.

Click on this picture if you would like to view a YouTube video about the Introduction and First Reading of a new book. 

first reading