Being able to find things is an important skill for everybody. Sometimes a young reader needs to be a bit of a detective and hunt for words they already know while they’re reading. This behavior is called Locating Known Words. Dr. Marie Clay called these known words “ islands of certainty in text. ” (Clay, Becoming Literate: The Construction of Inner Control, p.172). When beginning readers are reading unfamiliar text, encourage them to look for words they recognize. As a teacher helping a child use “ locating known words, ” ask yourself these two questions:
- Does the young reader recognize a growing core of high-frequency words?
- Does the student know how to use them in reading and writing?
Although the English language has millions of words, over 50% of non-technical text is composed of the same approximately 100 words. These words are often difficult for young readers to learn because they are phonetically irregular, visually abstract, or because they don’t have easily understood definitions. Learning them is, however, essential for fluent reading. Automatic recognition of frequently used words allows a reader to focus more attention on decoding unfamiliar words, while still maintaining reading comprehension.
Being able to read high-frequency words from a taught list is not the same, for a young reader, as being able to recognize those same words while they are reading a story.
Follow these suggestions to helping young readers gain automatic recognition of high frequency words:
- Teach only a few words at a time.
- Provide opportunities for students to build these words using magnetic letters.
- Use daily reading of simple texts containing these words to let young readers practice locating them.
- Providing opportunities to write the words in simple sentences during daily writing exercises.
- Create a “ new word ” wall in the classroom and play games where students use the word wall as a reference tool.
The ability to Locate Known Words supports the strategic action of Self-Monitoring. Self-monitoring occurs when a student begins to be able to recognize when they make an error while reading. It’s a skill that should be fostered as soon as a child begins to interact with books. Self-monitoring develops over time and is a critical aspect of good comprehension.
For young readers, an essential step toward becoming a proficient reader is the ability to use the sight words they know to monitor their reading. Books with simple text and natural language provide the best opportunities for children to practice this skill.
Use these prompts to help children monitor their reading using words they already know:
- “Do you think that looks like ____ (known word)? ”
- “That’s a word you can read and write. Read it again ”