Once upon time, a group of researchers set out to discover how humans learn to read and what variables lead to strong and weak reading skills. After working tirelessly across decades to discover the underlying truth about reading, the researchers discovered that there were 6 robust elements required to read successfully. Upon discovery, they were given the title (excuse the pun): The Big 6 of Reading (Konza, 2014).
It didn’t take long for The Big 6 of Reading to gain a reputation. The Big 6 were wonderous elements that worked together harmoniously to allow humans, young and old, to decode written information and apply meaning to words. The researchers acknowledged that while the skill of reading was challenging for many, (particularly children), harnessing the powers of each element was helpful to treating reading difficulties, overall.
These days, schools like to discuss the various components that are critical to reading success. For example, while schools usually have a school-wide reading programme, they also offer literacy support groups available to those who need additional input to thrive. Speech Therapists, in addition to the schooling team, may recognise one or more components of the Big 6 as impacting an individual child’s ability to successfully read. My experience is that a strong understanding of the Big 6 can inform a treatment plan for reading intervention.
Here at TCP, we have good knowledge about the Big 6 and we would like to impart that knowledge to you! Continue reading below to discover the wonders of the Big 6, including tips and tricks you can try at home to support your child to access each area!
There are six areas essential to effective early reading instruction:
(1) oral language
(2) phonemic awareness
The basics…Teachers and parents must recognise the link between oral language and reading. Children with true oral language difficulties are vulnerable to continued literacy-learning difficulties. That’s why early intervention for language-based delays and disorders is critical. Oral interactions, that is, increased exposure to complex conversations, equips children to tune into language structures and rich vocabulary. Therefore, my advice: talk-talk-talk and have conversations before, during, and after shared-reading experiences to best bridge gaps!
Try it at home…
- You don’t need to read books word for word with your little ones. Instead, try discussing what you see on the pages and inspire conversation from the story!
- Create play themes around favourite literary characters.
- For early learners, incorporate use of props (e.g., puppets) to have and hold throughout reading. A puppet can talk about what’s happening in the story and be a starting point for conversation.
- Ask questions about the story – not too many (we don’t want to take away the fun!) – about what is happening. For example, “Wow! Where are they now!?” “Why did he do that?!”
- Be a detective, and make predictions about what might happen next in the story.
- Adjust YOUR language to your child’s language learning level during conversation.
The basics…Phonemic awareness refers to the specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Activities such as sound segmentation, e.g., the word cat has three sounds (‘c-a-t’), or sound identification, the word ‘dog’ begins with ‘d’ and ends with ‘g’, are phonemic awareness skills. Phonemic awareness, or sound awareness, is a critical precursor to literacy success, just like oral language proficiency.
Try it at home…
- Play sound games like I spy with my little eye, but substitute sounds instead of letters. For example, “I spy with me little eye… something beginning with the sound, ‘g’”
- Make a surprise bag filled with toys. Take one toy out at a time and guess the first sound it starts with.
- Practice nursery rhymes that have rhyming words in them, and explicitly identify the rhymes.
- Get tactile! Use your hands and feet to stomp and clap out the number of syllables or sounds heard in the word. For example, clap two times for two syllables in the word ‘robot’ (ro-bot) and three times for three sounds in the word ‘bed’ (b-e-d).
The basics…Phonics involves recognising the relationship between sounds and their spellings (letter correspondence). The goal of phonics instruction is to teach children the most common sound-spelling relationships so that they can decode, or sound out, words. The Rose Report, (2006), which was an independent review of the teaching of early reading, proposed that synthetic phonics instruction was the most direct route to learning to read.
To-do: Check with your schooling team about how reading is taught and whether a systematic synthetic phonics approach is used! *The Analytic approach is no longer favoured.
Try it at home…
- Use letter tiles (e.g., magnetic tiles) to mix and match letters. You can create simple words (for a spelling task), decode simple words (for a reading task), or play simple guessing games with letters vs. sounds (for a basic letter sound correspondence task). You can alternate letters to use regular or irregular spelling.
- Search-and-find Visual Activity: ask children to search for pictures of words that start with an individual letter.
- Tactile/Sensory activity: pour sand or shaving foam into a tray. Have fun writing specific letters or words into the messy surface.
- Kinetic activity: race around the home finding and collecting hidden letter cards. Bring the cards back to an adult and create ‘secret messages’ with the letters.
The basics….Fluency is defined as the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and expression. Fluent Reading, whether aloud or silent, must occur before a child can understand what they read.
Try it at home…
- At this stage, use supportive language with your child while practising fluent reading.
- You may like to match fluency practise activities at home with the reading texts suggested by the classroom teacher.
- Think about decoding words at the word, phrase, sentence and paragraph level; adapt to your child’s needs.
- If your childing is already decoding words and phrases, build their speed and accuracy through reading aloud familiar passages and matching their rate to an adult’s rate. Don’t be afraid to repeat the same passages a few times.
- Discuss where pauses occur in sentences and practise breathing in the right places.
The basics…Vocabulary, learned indirectly or directly, is all about word knowledge. “If a child knows the meaning of a word, they are more likely to read it and make sense of it within a sentence”, (Konza, 2014). Children with oral language difficulties and limited exposure to rich vocabulary may have difficulty comprehending words on the page, and thus, reading to learn. Direct vocabulary instruction is required to help these children along.
Try it at home…
-Choose your child’s favourite book and compile a list of all the amazing descriptive words (adjectives or adverbs). You may wish to create a ‘word bank’ list associated with new books.
-Discuss the meaning of any new and challenging words with your child. Here, you should give a simple definition and an example of how the word can be used in context.
-During a teaching session, repeat new vocabulary words 14+ times in order for your child to best retain it. This means bringing the word up in everyday conversation and referring back to it.
-Make an action (gesture) to remember a new word, e.g., stomp feet = ‘exasperated’.
-Write a sentence that features the new word in context.
-Discuss synonyms and antonyms of challenging words.
The basics…The final element of the Big Six, is, Comprehension, which is underpinned by oral language development and vocabulary acquisition. Reading to learn, as opposed to learning to read, is a significant milestone for a child. Children who can comprehend written text are accessing information on a deep level to gain an array of information. Comprehending text is the ultimate goal of reading, and becomes a lifelong skill.
Try it at home…
- For narrative texts, highlight and discuss main parts of the story (story grammar knowledge), e.g., characters, setting, problem, sub-problems, attempts to solve problems, climax, resolution. Use visuals and colour-coding systems to support learning.
- Highlight unknown words in text and learn these (see Vocabulary section above).
- Create mind-maps for important information gained from the text; this can be very structured or informal.
- Discuss the main purpose or idea of the text.
- Discuss the child’s likes or dislikes about the text, e.g., what was super funny or surprising about the text?
- Ask comprehension questions, e.g., ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘when’ questions related to the text.
- Deconstruct components of the text and relate back to real life experiences.
Credit: Ava Duszco, Speech and Language Therapist
Konza, D. (2014). Teaching Reading: Why the “Fab Five” should be the “Big Six”. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(12).
Rose, Jim (2006). “Independent review of the teaching of early reading” (PDF). Department for Education and Skills. Retrieved 2011-08-24.