HOW TO CUE A BEGINNING READER

What is Cuing?

Cuing has two different meanings when it comes to beginning reading.  First, a beginning reader uses three types of information or cues (meaning, structure and visual) to read accurately.  Second, cuing refers to providing very specific prompts to your beginning reader when she comes to a word she does not know.  The prompts, or cues, have two purposes: your cue is meant to help your child to figure out the unknown word and your cue will help your child to internalize the word attack strategy you are suggesting, or modeling.

Three Types of Cues – Meaning, Structure and Visual

Readers use three types of information to read unknown words.  They can:

  1. use meaning.  The reader uses the book’s illustrations and her own life experiences and knowledge to figure out what makes sense.  This is the first word attack strategy that a child will become proficient at because it does not require any knowledge of letters and their sounds.
  2. use the grammatic structure of the sentence.  The reader uses her knowledge of how sentences are formed to decide what type of word (noun, verb, adjective) fits.  A non-reader inherently knows a lot about the structure of the English language from her years of experience as a listener and speaker.
  3. use visual information.  This is the most sophisticated word attack strategy because it requires alphabetic knowledge.  At first a beginning reader may only look at the first letter in a word, retrieve that letter’s sound and use that information to identify the entire word.

In reality, readers, especially proficient ones, use a combination of all three types of information to read unknown words.

Examples of Successful Use of Cues

Meaning – Text reads: I like apples.  I like bananas.  I like oranges.  The child can read the words apples, bananas and oranges because she looks at the illustrations of the shopping cart and sees the fruits.  Since all three words are nouns and fruits, the child may be using a structure cue, as well.

Structure – Text reads: Sam walks to the store.  The child can read the word walks because she (subconsciously) knows a verb or action word fits in the sentence.  She may also be using a meaning cue if she noticed that the illustration shows Sam walking.  If she noticed that the word begins with the letter w and its sound is /w/, then the child is using a visual cue too.

Visual – Text reads: When the baby gets tired, he is cranky.  The child decodes the word cranky by breaking the word down into chunks that she knows.  She recognizes and can sound out the cr and the -ank and even though she is baffled by the -y, she has enough visual information to decode the word.  Once she reads crank in cranky, the child uses a structure cue and knows that an adjective fits in the sentence.

Cues/Prompts to Use When Your Child Gets Stuck

Meaning

  1. Look at the illustration.  More specifically: What is the dog doing?  Where is the boy going?  Does the baby look happy or sad?
  2. Refer to something your child has experienced or knows: What tools do you use when you’re painting? (paintbrush, easel, paints)  How do you feel when someone does not share with you? (upset, sad, mad, angry)  When you do leave for school? (in the morning)

Structure

  1. Often these errors sound wrong.  Ask your child (and possibly reread the sentence containing her error), “Does that sound funny?”  If your child needs more support, reread the sentence substituting “blank” for the word she misread.  What word fits in the blank?

Visual

  1. Look at the first letter.  What is the letter’s name?  What sound does it make?  Try rereading the sentence and using a word that starts with that sound. 
  2. Do you notice any word families or chunks in the word?
  3. Where is the vowel in the word?  What sound does it make?
  4. Sound out this word, letter by letter.  You may have to repeat the segmented sounds again for your child to hear the word they form.  Blend the sounds to form the word. Again, you make have to model this.
  5. I know you know this word.  Take a moment to look at it closely.  If your child needs more support, you can reference the book, sight word card or sight word book that contains the given word.
  6. This word is very similar to a word you know.  Show the child the word “boy.”  What is this word?  Yes, it is “boy.”  Notice how the word you’re reading looks like “boy,” but has a “t” at the beginning.  What sound does a “t” make?  Then, what word is thatYes, it is “toy!’

Learning a systematic and sequential approach to visual cuing is complex.  Reading specialists are highly training in this approach; however, I have found that parents can learn to be more skilled at cuing with minimal training and support from a reading specialist. 

It is okay, and sometimes preferable, to tell your child the unknown word.  Working on cues with your child will teach her how to become a more independent reader, but it can also take a lot of time, which takes away from your child’s enjoyment of reading the book, fluency and comprehension!  Attempt to find a balance that works for you and your child. 

Watch these videos on the Parent Literacy Partners website to see cuing in action!  Notice how the adult monitors the child’s engagement and frustration and uses this information to determine whether cuing or simply giving the child the unknown word is more appropriate.

Parents: What cues have you used successfully with your child?  When do you feel stumped by cuing?

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