How we Went about Teaching our Youngest to Read in our Minority Language

You might be curious to know whether there is a difference between teaching to read to each of your children.  Or maybe you think there is no such difference.  In my case, the latter could be nothing further from the truth: teaching to read to each of my daughters was a wholly different adventure as both have different personalities, but also because I gained in experience.  So much so, I almost feel guilty not to have been as efficient with my eldest.

Though my posts usually try not to focus too much on our personal experience as a family, I thought that compiling the resources and ideas gathered on my latest literacy experience with my youngest could help other parents embarking on this adventure.  Please bear in mind that though I taught my daughters to read in a minority language that might not be the same as yours, the content of this post can hopefully be a source of inspiration for you. Some ideas you might be able to tweak to the specificities of your minority language.

Laying the foundations

The adventure of teaching to read to my youngest started in a very similar way to what I did with my eldest: exposing my little one to the Alphabet song from toddlerhood. I also threw in some sensory letter tracing activities, letter tracing wipe clean books and line tracing worksheets to get her used to having “activity time” (a.k.a minority language homework) with her sister, paving the way to a future literacy homework routine.  

And once she knew the alphabet song off by heart, I introduced this Phonics song, which had a massive success with her.  At around the same time, I introduced captive reading in the loo, with a letter and illustrations of words beginning with it. 

I had in mind to use the Read Write Inc method, as I had done with my eldest, but was waiting for her to learn to read in the Majority Language first.  In her school, they begin this at around age 6. 

However, in April 2020, at the beginning of the lockdown, I was presented with the opportunity to join La Academia de SpanglishEasy.  This course is run by my fellow blogging sidekick Raquel from SpanglishEasy, who is a primary school teacher in the UK.  On her course, she helps Spanish-speaking parents raising bilingual to teach English phonics to their children using the Read Write Inc method.

This opportunity combined with my youngest’s interest made me change my mind and not wait for my daughter to learn to read in the Majority Language first.  To be honest, it was not a big concern to me as I felt from my prior experience with my eldest that starting to read with the minority language makes no difference.

Getting started

In the beginning, I made the most of the lockdown to create a daily sort of mini-schoolroom moment with my youngest, which would last 20 minutes at most.

I would recreate a classroom atmosphere by placing a whiteboard, a little chair, the Read Write Inc sound friezes on the wall, magnetic letters on the whiteboard and sound flashcards in a corner of our living room.

In this little workshop, I organised several activities.  The activities evolved as my daughter progressed, but to give you an example:

  1. Working on sounds:
    1. Revising sounds previously learned by going through the flashcards and doing it a second time round racing through them.  
    2. Introducing 1 or 2 new sounds each week.  These would be added at the end of the revision on the first day, but would then be mixed with the other sounds revised.
  2. Oral recognition of 3 CVC words – CVC is short for Consonant-Vowel-Consonant words.  I would put up 3 CVC cards (e.g: cat, pin, ten…) that used the sounds we had learned, and my daughter would have to sound the letters out and tell me the word they made together. This was a way to work on the blending of each sound into a word.
  3. Visual recognition of these words’ sounds using flashcards – I would ask my daughter to look for the CVC’s letters in the deck of flashcards to recreate the word and put the cards up on the whiteboard.  Once up, she would have to sound each flashcard out to check how they blended and if they made the correct word.
  4. Independent writing using magnetic letters – I would ask my daughter to write 3 CVC words using the magnetic letter. To keep it easy for her, I would only provide her with magnets for the sounds already learned.
  5. A playful moment using a phonics app or boardgame.

Besides these mini-schoolroom moments, I would make the most of playing opportunities.  For instance, whilst tidying the foam playmat, I would work on blending sounds which my youngest resisted in our mini-schoolroom time. I would play literacy games such as Brainbox ABC.  Even if it was short (a round lasts 10 mins), the game helps to seal the knowledge in the child’s mind.

Over time, once the sounds had sunk in and blending came in, I included games to consolidate that knowledge, before eventually replacing this mini-schoolroom format by just games and worksheets and a LOT of reading.

The resources and activities

So this time, with my youngest, I ran through the Read Write Inc method with a lot more knowledge and activity ideas to make the process a lot more fun for both of us.  Should you wish to embark on a similar literacy project, here is a compilation of all the resources and activities we have used and done.  

  1. Read Write Inc.: My Reading and Writing Kit: Early sounds and Blendingconcentrates on Speed Sounds and is the first pack in the series.  The speed sounds are the sounds made by a single letter (m, a, s, d, t, etc…) and they also include the first digraphs (2 letters making a single sound together such as th, ng and nk).  Here are the activities and resources used for this stage:
    1. Activities & Games
      1. Reading words using lettered lego blocks.
      2. Sensory activity with magnetic letters hidden in lentils to be matched with the alphabet on the whiteboard. 
      3. Jolly Phonics Activity Book – These activity books are very colourful and involve a wide variety of activities and stickers, which my youngest was crazy about.  A very nice resource to have to get your child started working with books.
      4. Pretend class with an older sibling – when my youngest was not motivated, I would enlist my eldest to play as another pupil.  We would be revising flashcards and writing words on the whiteboard.  It did not last long but the fact that we played pretend school all together created a little learning momentum.
      5. Brainbox ABC – as mentioned earlier in this post.
      6. TheMeasuredMom ending blends game – If you do not yet subscribe to Anna’s newsletter you had better head over there quickly!  Anna has wonderful resources, some of which she offers for free to her newsletter followers in her free resources library.
    2. Reading resources
      1. Captive reading in our loo, starting with very basic short sentences.
      2. Tricky word flashcards – Mine were provided by La Academia de SpanglishEasy, however you can easily design your own ones from word lists found on the web.
      3. CVC cards – Mine were provided by La Academia de SpanglishEasy, however you can easily design your own ones from word lists found on the web.
      4. Early reader books of the appropriate band level from the book series listed further down this post.
    3. Media resources
      1. Alphablocks – This cartoon series has had a huge positive impact on my youngest.  She picked up so much from it and it supplemented her learning beautifully.
      2. Teach your monster to read app – I relied a lot on this wonderful app that is available for free from a browser but that is frankly worth it’s little fee (no ads nor additional pay-in options).  My youngest adored it and it definitely helped her heaps. There is an option to set the sounds we want, which is fantastic to supplement your day’s class with a game centred on the same sounds as those worked on that same day.  For more information, you can read my review of it: Resources in English – “Teach your Monster to Read” App..
      3. Jolly Phonics songs on YouTube and Spotify – Though I did not follow this method, this was an incredible resource to supplement our learning.  The songs are catchy, and I could play them on Spotify at any time of the day or whenever my daughter asked for them.
      4. Nessy Learning’s Hairy Phonics apps – though I do not find them as good as Teach your Monster to Read, they provide variety and contribute to giving a fun dimension to phonics learning.
  1. Read Write Inc.: My Reading and Writing Kit: More sounds and blending  is the second pack of the RWI method and contains early reader books specially designed to match the flashcards learned.  It uses a colour code that helps parents and little learners to recognise words’ nature (tricky or decodable words).  This stage is supplemented by La Academia with a very interesting sound set nicknamed “1.2”, that is specifically designed to bear in mind that little Spaniards do not approach sounds in the same way as little native British learners (e.g: “th” avec 3 different sounds: /th/ as in thumb, /z/ as in feather and /t/ as in Thomas).  Here are the activities and resources used for this stage:
    1. Activities & Games
      1. Cheeky letters – My youngest was very perplexed by some letters having several sounds.  To help her, I had her punish these “Cheeky letters” by sending them to the corner.  She absolutely adored this game!  Which child does not enjoy having the ultimate grown-up power of punishing?! 😉 
      2. Copying texts using magnetic letters – Simple hands-on activity that requires little material that can easily be found in your home.
      3. Lollipop sticks – designing pretty lollipop stick pointers for the child to use when reading can help make reading more appealing.
      4. Brainbox ABC – same game as mentioned earlier in this post.
      5. Speed Spelling (formerly known as Pass the word) – A game that can be adapted to be done at this level by simply using it as a puzzle rather than a racing game.
      6. Match and spell (2 levels)- another wonderful Orchard game to get the little hands on words and their spelling.
      7. Phonics worksheets – so many can be found on This Reading Mama’s and The Measured Mom’s free libraries.  Wonderful resources to have.  Teachers Pay Teachers is also an excellent place to search for some more ones.
      8. Hungry monster game – reading the Bossy R sound with homemade monsters.  Make sure to bring your monsters to life by making plenty of funny monster sounds, flapping their mouths as they gobble the right words and spitting mimics when it is a wrong word… huge fun ahead!
      9. Words hidden in lentils – a quiet sensory activity to get reading.
      10. Secret messages – Kids love secrets and this one never fails to motivate them to read! Some can be found on the web, otherwise you can design your own with a colour code.
      11. Writing words using fun resources such as colourful letter beads – kids like to faff about with pretty things, and what better than to engage them into creating their own words with colourful lettered beads?
      12. Shooting new sounds using a ball – my daughter’s hand-eye coordination was too immature for this and made the game a bit too hard for her.  But another student from La Academia suggested putting paper clips on the flashcards and using magnetic fishing rods.  That was a hit!
      13. Using the Read Write Inc Handwriting Workbook and rewarding the pages done with a sticker of your own.
      14. Tricky words race – Using our tricky word flashcards I created a sort of race track in our living room or kitchen.  My daughter then had to race through the room reading each card correctly along the track, and she would have to start all over again whenever she got a word wrong.  This can also be done with CVC cards.
      15. Tricky Words quiz – a simple quiz game.  I would either ask my daughter to read the words as quickly as possible or I would put the timer on for 1 minute to see how many words she could read in that time.
    2. Reading resources
      1. I included short texts in my daughter’s daily life, such as on: 
        1. her blackboard
        2. our bathroom mirror using a chalk-marker (this is an example for my eldest),
        3.  our fridge.
      2. Captive reading in loo – Our captive reading evolved and took the shape of an “Early Reader books box”.  In the beginning, I would only print a new The Measured Mum or This Reading Mama little phonics book every time she read the previous one.  This created a certain exhilaration in my daughter who read each book eagerly and made sure I knew that!  Being on her own in the bathroom, I believe she enjoyed taking the time to decode on her own and it greatly benefitted her reading skills. The novelty eventually wore off but it was a very effective thing to do. I did put away the box and took it out again from time to time to renew her interest even if it was short-lived. 
      3. Tricky word flashcards – our flashcards evolved alongside my daughter’s progress.  At one point, when my daughter was very interested, I introduced 10 new trickies a week.
      4. CVC cards – our flashcards evolved alongside my daughter’s progress.  However, she quickly grew sick of flashcards, so I concentrated on the Trickies.  For the words, I replaced the CVC cards with books, which appealed a lot more to her, as it felt like she actually could read.
      5. Early reader books of the appropriate band level from the book series listed further down this post.
    3. Media Resources  – The same as used with RWI’s Pack 1 
  1. Read Write Inc.: My Reading and Writing Kit: Becoming a reader is the 3rd and last pack in the method.  It introduces the more complex sounds that are made of digraphs.  At this stage, we no longer had the mini-schoolroom sessions.  The sounds were essentially picked up through reading together and activities.  Here are the activities and resources used for this stage:
    1. Activities & Games
      1. Sight Word Swat game – Recommended to me by another mum on the La Academia de SpanglishEasy course, it is a very fun game to have.  In the beginning, I restricted the number of “flies” so as not to overwhelm my daughter, but I added more words as her confidence grew. It is an easy game to sneak in your day.
      2. Songbirds Activity Books – these activity books are based on an early reader book series we have.  As a result, my youngest enjoyed them thoroughly.
      3. Inspired by a game in one of the Songbird Activity books, I designed our own homemade boardgame to read and write high frequency words.  You can read more about it in my post “Homemade Resources – High Frequency Words Board Game”.
      4. We have on the occasion played the basic side of Junior Scrabble.  My youngest seemed to enjoy playing a more sophisticated game where she could use her knowledge.
      5. Tricky cards – as mentioned above though over time my youngest could not stand the sight of flashcards anymore, so I eventually stopped.  Her extensive reading provides ample opportunities to come across high frequency words.
    2. Reading resources
      1. My own flashcards for more complex sounds – I could have got the Read Write Inc’s set 3 flashcards, but my youngest had grown tired of the RWI flashcards, rejecting them systematically.  So to catch her attention, I designed my own, picking illustrations from our own books.  The fact I designed them specifically for her from the book series she loved most really caught her attention.
      2. Book Basket – As her reading skills developed, I added a basket of early reader books in the living room with the aim of reading one a day together (we had a little reward chart to keep track) and as she moved up levels I put the lower levels in another basket in the loo, to replace the little book box.
      3. Early reader books of the appropriate band level from the book series listed further down this post.
      4. Children’s books with very simple words and little text to start with, for example a word book. We began with Usborne’s Lift-the-Flap Word Book and as my youngest built her confidence she picked other more complex books such as the Mr Men and Little Miss series.
    3. Media Resources  – The same as used with RWI’s Pack 1. 

Our reading resources

Throughout this process, we used the early reader book series we had from my eldest’s time as a beginner reader, but we also added some new ones too:

  1. Biff, Chip & Kipper book series – You can have a flavour of them by visiting Oxford Owl and creating an account (free) to access their free e-books library.  This series was my eldest’s favourite in her beginner reader days.
  2. Julia Donaldson’s Songbird Series – Though I was never a great fan of this book series, my youngest adored them.  They have the advantage of having an activity book series (mentioned above) based on these stories.  My daughter loved having the pair.
  3. Read it yourself with Ladybird – Not my favourite series as I have always found the band level inadequate when learning with the RWI method.  The phonics used per level do not match my daughter’s reading level. However, now that is reading these books are handy to provide her with more reading material.
  4. Jolly Phonics e-reader decodable books – Jolly Phonics has been regularly offering their e-books for free since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.  Though I do not follow this method, these are great reading resources to have to supplement your home resources.  The fact they are on a screen can appeal to your child.  It is also handy as you can have them on your phone and use them whilst travelling or when in a waiting room, providing entertainment to your child and working on their phonics!
  5. Step into Reading – This series came later into our adventure as I only recently discovered them.  They have been a success with my little one.

Though we are well into the literacy path with my youngest reading eagerly, we obviously still have some way to go.

This journey has been exhausting.  A lot more than with my eldest, because I had to be so creative and search for activity ideas (and I am so grateful for the Academia’s private Facebook support group where other students shared a wealth of time-saving resources) and act as a propeller all the time for the last 12 months. However, it has been a once in a lifetime experience and I am so glad I did it.  There is no greater reward and satisfaction than hearing my little one spontaneously declaring “I love reading! I am like Matilda!” (Matilda being Roald Dahl’s heroine of his eponymous success novel).

I hope this post proved inspirational for you and has provided you with ideas.  To close this post, I will leave you with 3 tips. 🙂

Tips:

  • This is my absolute must-do tip: follow phonics hashtags and publications on Instagram.  Instagram is a life saviour as it provides so much inspiration!  And let’s face it, with kids losing interest as soon as novelty wears off, you need tons of ideas!
  • When your child starts to read the first simple sounds, make sure to leave early reader books within reach of their little hands and let their curiosity operate.
  • Create a daily reading routine together – check out “3 little practical tips to incite a resisting early reader to read a book” for ideas to motivate your little budding reader.

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