Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Reading Rules and Tools

  • Peggy M. Wilber, M.Ed
  • 2004 26 Jan
Reading Rules and Tools

One day, the following email came to me from a Dad, "My son can read the word Zacchaeus but he can't read the word because. Can you tell me any tools of the trade to teach him how to read because?"
My reply was, "Because is harder for your son to read because he cannot see a because! In his mind or at least in his Bible storybook, your son can see Zacchaeus—he's a wee, little man."
I went on to say that there are two types of words that children read. The first create mental images such as cat, running, or porcupine. These are easier to learn than words that do not create mental images. Other words are "connectors" such as, there, should, and because. They help comprehension by connecting nouns, adjectives, and verbs into meaningful sentences.
One good way to teach a child a connecting word is by hooking it to a noun. For example, Dad could write a short phrase, "because Zacchaeus was small," on a note card. Now the word because makes sense. His son will be more readily able to learn how to read because.
What other "tools of the trade" can parents use to help their children learn to read? The top three are: The 1 in 20 Rule; To, With, and By Reading Technique; and How to fix Reading Mistakes. Let's look at each of these:

The 1 in 20 Rule
 Your child will learn to read faster if she reads appropriate selections—not above her instructional reading level. How can you know what your child's instructional reading level is? Just follow the 1 in 20 rule: choose material that your child can read with no more than one mistake per twenty words.1
 Many parents balk at this by saying, "He should be reading at his grade level," or "The books should be at his age level." It will actually slow your child's progress to make him read above his instructional level; in fact, all he does is practice bad reading!2 Don't hand your child a book above his reading level and say, "Read this for fifteen minutes," and then walk away. No, no, no! You are just teaching him to hate reading. Watch out, his behavior will quickly reflect that!
 In reality, most children do a great job choosing books at their own reading level. When your child is giggling at Garfield cartoons, just smile and know that her reading skills will improve. She is a good job of practicing fluency, reading for comprehension, and speeding up her recall of the 100 most common words that make up half of all print.
 It is far better for your child to spend thirty minutes per day reading books at or even below her reading level, than for her to spend ten tortured minutes practicing bad reading above her reading level.

To, With, and By Reading Technique
How do you help your child learn to read the harder materials? The To, With, and By reading technique is your best bet. It looks like this:

Mom says to her son: "Don, I am going to read something to you. Listen, because after that you're going to read it with me."
Mom chooses one paragraph of two to three sentences. She runs her
fingers under the words while she reads. Don looks at the words and
listens to her voice.


Mom: "O.K. Read it with me."
She reads the same paragraph, at a normal speaking speed. Don is
probably saying every third word with her. They do this twice.


Mom: "Now, I want you to read it by yourself." Mom runs her fingers
under the words while Don reads them. Her finger keeps a lively pace and doesn't slow down. Don reads the selection twice, and it sounds pretty good the second time.

"He is memorizing the words," you might say. Phonics is necessary to jumpstart
your child into reading, but he must repeatedly see the same words to learn them. A good reader uses a fraction of a second to recognize and recall memorized words while he reads. Otherwise, reading using only phonics would be much too slow, and your child would not be able to remember and comprehend what he read.
What else does To, With, and By do for your child?
· It introduces new sight words that he is not able to read yet.
· It helps him to practice new phonic skills.
· He practices sounding fluent—a necessary skills for comprehension.
Do To, With, and By reading technique a couple of times each day with your child. You will quickly see improvement in his reading skills.

How to Fix Mistakes
Many parents tell a child to "just sound it out," when their child comes to a word she doesn't know, or when she misreads a word. It is far better to give your child the word—but in two parts and have her put it together.
A child tends to slow down when she comes to a hard word. Or, she guesses and butchers the word. These can become bad habits and be difficult to break. Help your child fix a mistake by giving her the misread word in two parts, and have her put it together. Then, ask your child to reread the sentence, saying the word correctly. For example, let's say that your child misreads the word, perfect. Instead she says, "present."
Don't say, "That's wrong. You know this word. It's a spelling word!"
Instead, say to your child, "That word is per-fect. Put it together."
She says, "Perfect!"
You say, "Good. Reread the sentence, please."
She says, "The purple pig was perfect."
You say, "Good job!"

Use these great rules and tools of the trade to help your child learn to read better. Your child can even enjoy reading about how wee, little Zacchaeus grew in love and gave lots of money back to people. That's because Jesus was his new friend!

Peggy M. Wilber is a teacher, author, and speaker with a mission of helping children learn to read well. She has been diagnosing and remediating elementary and middle school children's reading disorders since 1987. Her education includes a Masters of Education from Boston University and Certification in Early Childhood Reading Instruction from University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, specializing in integrating reading methodologies.  Peggy has worked alongside the team at Cook Ministries to create Rocket Readers a biblically based reading program designed to teach children to read using Scripture. Visit

1. Edward Fry, How to Teach Reading: for Teachers, Parents, and Tutors (Laguna Beach: Laguna Beach Educational Books, 1995), 20.
2. Edward Fry, How to Teach Reading: for Teachers, Parents, and Tutors (Laguna Beach: Laguna Beach Educational Books, 1995), 10.