Research shows that intrinsic motivation is essential if students are to learn to read well. That is, the motivation to read must come from within. Bribing children with extrinsic motivators stickers, candy, or pizza simply does not help them learn to read. In fact, extrinsic motivators or bribes can actually discourage children from reading. Intrinsic motivators that work include hands-on learning techniques. For example, children could make a project based on a book—a puppet, a pop-up book, or a costume based on a book character. Hands-on learning also improves comprehension. Similarly, creative art therapy ties simple craft projects to reading skills and turns them into intrinsic motivators.
To learn to read, children must start with phonemic awareness, that is, knowledge of letter sounds. If the child does not understand how to break words down into letter sounds and then put those sounds back into a pronounceable word, not even the most creative project will teach a child to read. Explore phonemic awareness and letter sounds first. Then, introduce simple vowel clustered stories. We must teach children to read one step at a time.
Chapter 4 of my book, After-School Prevention Programs for At-Risk Students, gives more information about intrinsic motivation.
Reading, spelling, and writing (creating sentences or a paragraph or more) are all interconnected in the brain. They should all be taught, starting in kindergarten, throughout school. If a teacher uses vowel clustering, a beginning student can learn to read, spell, and write a vowel-clustered sentence. Vowel clustering teaches phonemic awareness (working with letter sounds).
For example: While teaching the short a vowel sound on the first day of class, you can teach students to combine the word at with various consonants and spell a list of words by just using at. Examples would be at, bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat, and vat. Children can practice pronouncing, spelling, and writing these words.
Then, you might ask the children to write a story. Tell them they are only allowed to use at words. You'll need to allow the and a just to make sentences complete.
Example: The cat sat at a mat. A fat rat sat at a hat. The cat spat at the rat.
The children can then add to this story when they learn an. They might add:
The rat ran. The cat ran at the rat. The rat ran faster.
Young children do not need long complicated sentences. They do need to learn vowels.
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine is a program designer with many years of experience helping at-risk children learn to read. She earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counseling) from the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.