6 Activities to Help Children Remember Words

Teaching a child to read relies on a good memory for kids to recognize words and place them in the context of that they are reading. (Download this document for a description of all the techniques needed to teach a child to read.)

The following are some activities you can use with your children to help them remember words and learn to read.

  1. Select a book that your child can read relatively well, but not perfectly (e.g., he or she reads the material with about 90% accuracy).
  2. Select two sentences from the book and have your child read them aloud. If there are any errors, offer the necessary correction.
  3. Using a computer or paper and pencil, show the first two to three words of the first sentence to your child. Then cover them and ask him or her to write the words that were shown. Continue in this way until the complete sentence is reproduced.
  4. If there is an error, or if your child fails to write the set of words that you have shown (for example, he or she keeps asking to see the words), immediately stop the writing. Then either delete from the computer what has been typed or remove the paper on which the writing was being carried out. Following that, start the sentence from the beginning. In other words, the goal is to have the child reproduce the entire sentence accurately—without having an error at any point. The accuracy requirement includes accurate punctuation and capitalization.
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 with the second sentence.
  6. About 30 minutes after the two sentences have been accurately reproduced, using either the computer or paper and pencil, have your child return to the writing. You are going to be asking him or her to rewrite one of the two sentences, but this time, the writing will be only via dictation (in other words, you will not be showing a model of the words—but simply dictating the words of the sentence). If your child has no more than one error, the session ends. If there is more than one error, you immediately stop your child and then repeat steps 3-5 above.

It is ideal to carry out this activity about three times a week. As the child progresses, you can use higher level books—so that the words and sentences are longer and more complex. In all cases, however, the child should be able to read the material with about 90% accuracy.

The practice is generally maintained until you see that your child’s independent writing (e.g., writing journal entries, reports, etc.) has improved and he or she is writing with high levels of accuracy. In most cases, three to four months is sufficient. The good news is that once accurate memory for words is established, it remains. You need not worry about the child losing what he or she has gained to teach a child to read.

Of course, children are often not used to demands for “perfect writing” and initially they may resist the rigor it requires. But if you do this in a calm manner on a regular basis, the results can be astounding. And the success and ease that the children experience provides phenomenal motivation.

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