What I do when I listen to FS2/Y1 children read

Once again, a post prompted by a twitter conversation. This is what I do each time I read with a child. Hardly rocket science, and I’m sure unsurprising – but this is how I do it, always using sounding and blending as the way in, and pictures/context to follow up in various ways.

1.Find child’s book bag & look at status of books/diary: do they need a new book? Where are they in the book, if not? Any relevant comments in the diary from carers, teacher, TAs? Consult with teaching staff about any issues arising (often at  later point, if decision not needed prior to session). Get a selection of possible new books to read if need be.

2. Find child, chat with child about whatever’s in their head.

3. If a new book is needed, get child to choose from the selection (let them know they can take the others home if they want to as well). I make it a bounded choice, but choosing a book for themselves generally gets even reluctant readers interested.

4. Listen to them read. This involves beginner readers sounding out words and learning to blend them, and more confident readers reading straight off but sounding out words they’re not sure of. Once a page(ish, depending) has been read, we tend to chat about what has happened so far, and – look – the squirrel is up the tree in the picture, etc.

5. I always ask at some point about what the child likes about the book, what sorts of stories they like, etc, partly so I can choose books which are likely to appeal to that particular child.

Some children get the sound/blend process straight away. Others find it harder, and if this is the case I do the blending quite a lot of the time at first, modelling the sound-to-blend, and gradually they get it. On rare occasions a child may be unable to hear the word from the blended sounds: on these occasions I use further prompts such as going back over the sentence, or, even more rarely, a picture to make sure they’ve understood (if for instance I feel there may be accent issues causing confusion and preventing them from connecting the sounds with their own vocabulary).

I do sometimes tell them words that they don’t know, but the way in is via the sounding and blending process – I model the whole thing.

If progress is slow, the balance in the session is towards chat and talking around the story – my main aim is for the child to feel that we’re finding out about the story together; when they read, this is always via the route of sounding/blending, but if that’s hard going I use general chat and modelling to maintain a feeling of momentum, and interest from the child.

I often ask the child if they want to carry on or not – sometimes they might seem really to be struggling, but when asked they smile and bounce and say Yes, yes, carry on! (That is, they were just concentrating hard and not, as had appeared, miserable!) NB If a child wants to stop, we stop. I’ve found that reluctant readers respond well to this and actually want to come and read next time! I think it’s a question of their sense of control, or reverse psychology, maybe.

The next broad stage of reading tends to involve focus on sounds that may be conceptually trickier for a particular child: split digraphs, or the need to decide which ‘oa’ or ‘oo’ or ‘ou’ sound is right in order to make the word they need to read. If there is a word that a child hesitates over, and it becomes clear, for example, that they aren’t clear how to cope with i_e in a word (of course this is done in class, but doesn’t always stick), then we break off and I do some writing of examples on scrap paper, showing the sound in various words, and helping them work them out. I keep it as short and simple as I can.

[Edited to add: I stick to the newer decodable books for absolute beginners, partly because there are more books of this sort in the lowest book bands, then later on I look through the older books before handing them out, to check the vocabulary in relation to the number of familiar ‘learned’ sounds: the further on in the book bands, the easier the cross-matching becomes, of course, and some books I just don’t use).]

If a child is a very confident reader, they tend only to need a bit of prompting to slow down, sound out unfamiliar words and listen: the main work tends to be on rarer sounds and multisyllabic words – techniques of breaking longer words down to sound out in chunks – and talking more about the interactions and events in the more complex stories – Why do you think they did that? What do you think she is feeling? etc. Often children will have questions, and offer unprompted analyses of what’s going on.

Free readers still need prompting/help with some unfamiliar words: they are coming across much less common vocabulary, and rarer orthography, so the technical work tends to be on recognizing morphemes, to break words down & work them out – I tend to chat to them about examples of (eg) un- or -less, etc, and they generally give examples that come to mind as we’re talking. [Edited to add: in a sense this is an extension of the ‘two-pronged approach’, since we’re looking, one-to-one, at reading techniques which come much later for many children.] With the free readers, on Famous Five etc., it tends to be much more a case of talking about the book in relation to comprehension, structure, characters, plot, etc. They do tend to like going back and showing me new words they’ve found out the meaning of, too, though.

[Edited to add: although I know that in many schools bigger chunks of words – prefixes, suffixes, etc – come under ‘Phase 6’ of phonics-based teaching, I find myself needing to talk in those terms with children at points when the class teaching might be focussed on phoneme-based work. Again, it seems Debbie Hepplewhite has already thought a lot about this issue, as you can see from her post here. I’ve ended up treating the role of bound morphemes as a parallel strand to pick up as needed – probably because it’s what I know, so it’s the easiest way for me personally to explain some aspects of words and reading to the children.]

Once we’ve finished a session – which is variable depending on how much the child wants to read (within a window of up to 15-20 minutes) I write up what we have read, and put comments relating to the child’s responses to the book plus brief notes to explain a particular technical issue we looked at. This is for the parents, but also for the teaching staff’s reference.



2 thoughts on “What I do when I listen to FS2/Y1 children read

  1. I was truly delighted to discover your post about hearing children to read – firstly because it is a really good description of high-quality reading support, and secondly because you have found my suggestions helpful and even referred to them.

    So what I have followed this with is to write a post on my message forum referring to your post as follows:


    Thank you for taking the time and going to the trouble of writing your description which I think will be very helpful to other volunteer readers.

    And thank you for acknowledging my suggestions for a better way forward for phonics provision!

    Kind regards,


    • Thanks Debbie – it seems to me to be an absolutely essential part of the process; allows me much more flexibility but still focusses on the language in a way that coheres with the other work that’s going on in class.

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