Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Very Simple Reading Lesson

A very simple Charlotte Mason-style reading lesson: no printing, cutting, or prep required.  Do you have some movable letters, a book of nursery rhymes, and a pencil and paper around?  Ask your beginning reader to bring them to you and you're ready to begin!

I flip to a page of our Mother Goose book and choose a poem for this week.

This first word is come.  Do you know that word?  Come here.  Time to come and eat dinner!  He is going to come to the party. 

Get a really good look at it until you have a picture of it in your mind.  

Now let's write it in the air together, looking at the letters.  

Let's write it in the air together with our eyes closed.

Now I'm going to cover it up--how many times can you find it in this poem?  

Now can you spell it with your letters without looking?

This next word says out.  You know what that means, right?  

"Like I go out the door!"  Yes, that's right.

Let's take our mental picture.  Air write.  Spell with your letters.  Check if you're right.  Where else do you see out on this page?

You will see out in lots of bigger words too.  For example, what if I put an SH in front of out.  You remember what sh says, so sound it out all together--that's right, shout!  

Let's start a column in your word notebook for those words.  Tomorrow we'll see if we can find some more words that have out in them.

Now what's this next word?  Yes, to.  That's one you already know!  Yes, you can write it there also if you want.

Let's move on to the next.  You can sound out this one:  yes, that's right, play.  Mental picture.  Find more on the page.  Air write.  Spell with letters.  Add it to your word notebook.

Can you think of a word that rhymes with play?

"Stray!  Like that book we have, The Stray Dog."

Yes!  That's a good one.  So let me show you how to spell stray.  We want to keep the ay part and add a new beginning: S - T - R - ay.

Now I bet you know how to write the and dog, right?  That means you can spell the whole book title with your letters, and you can add it to your notebook.

Let's see if we can make some other words with ay.  What if I put B here?  Bay.  D here?  Day.  M here?  May.  S here?  Say.  Let's add a little line of ay words to your word notebook, now that you know so many.

Do you remember what our first word is?  That's right, come.  Why don't you spell that with your letters again and you can add it to your word notebook too.

Now can you read the whole title of this poem on your own?  Take a look at the next line.  What does the second half say?  Yes, come out to play again!  Tomorrow we'll go over the words in the first half and then you'll be able to read the whole thing.


And that's it!  Ten minutes, tops.  In that ten minutes, she has done a bit of word building, a bit of sight reading, covered a common diphthong and digraph (with nary a flashcard or textbook), and practiced spelling (and penmanship too!).  But I just think of it as introducing her to some good word-friends and a lovely rhyme.


  1. Great idea. Love it! What age is this activity for?

    1. These reading lessons would come after a child knows his letters and the sounds they generally make. So it depends less on age and more on what stage they are in the reading process--which varies so much from child to child!

      Lots more information about CM reading lessons here if you are interested:

      Hope that helps!

    2. Yes thank you! Can't wait to try these out. :)

  2. I found in trying this with one of my children that there was a big problem in retaining the words from day to day. It felt like each day we had to learn the same words over and over again, which was frustrating and demoralizing. It didn't seem like we were accumulating a word bank at all, and even though he could see the words in his book and knew that he knew them yesterday, they just weren't available to him on a subsequent day. It ended up being very discouraging for him.

    What I ended up doing for him that worked well was to privately keep lists of word families I had introduced him to, and then have him work on building as many of the words that use that root as he could think of using a moveable alphabet. We would work on several word families a day, sometimes adding a new one, but also repeating word families. Gradually they started to become friends, and eventually it all started to make more sense for him. At this point, two years later and at age nine and at the end of third grade, he reads extremely well, although his spelling and independent (that is, non-copywork writing) is absolutely atrocious. He's making progress on that front though, and is gradually getting it.

    Perhaps I was doing something wrong in how I was introducing the words as we went through the poem (although I was doing exactly what you described) but I am not sure that's the case. I think that some children have a very hard time building and retaining that sight memory of a word or a word root, and that can be quite an impediment in their reading development.

    1. I'm sure it's true that children vary as to how much scaffolding they need within the context of these lessons--how quickly they can move through, how often they need to review, how quickly they become "friends" and how often they have to have the acquaintance renewed before they get the name right. ;) We definitely review the words in her book often--some days we move on in our poem, some days we practice word building, as you said. For me it has been more effective to have her still "keep" the words for herself and review them in her own notebook, but that might be partly based on the student's personality. Actually what I like about CM's approach is that it does take into account both phonics and sight reading, because from what I have read about learning to read, that kind of varied approach follows the brain's natural tendencies. But yes, this is an example of just *one* simple reading lesson. We don't follow this exact format every time. Sometimes we only review, sometimes we only word-build with the tiles, sometimes we just spend time sounding out words and don't do any word-building at all. I think CM alternating word building days with these kind of sight-reading days, and we usually either alternate back and forth or put them into one day, like I did here. My daughter likes these kinds of days the best. :)

    2. Oh, and I'll also add that just because a child doesn't remember a word after being introduced once doesn't mean that they're not grasping the lesson. If we think of it partly as memory work, memory work takes time. When I read a poem to a child, I'm introducing him to the poem and hoping he'll make a friend--and he does! When he hears it again, he remembers that he heard it, even if he doesn't have it actually memorized until he's worked on it for weeks. So when we see a word she has "met" before and she doesn't remember it, and I tell her what it is, her response is one of delight at seeing it again, "Oh yes, I *know* that one!" Even though she actually didn't. ;) There is a feeling of familarity there that I think is rewarding and effective for a new reader and makes learning contextually worth doing.

    3. I really like how this approach takes into account phonics and sight reading too. I think most programs miss that children need both, because there are so many exceptions in our language.

      I wonder if there was a lot of personality at play here - my son felt like having a word in his handwriting that he knew the day before but couldn't remember now was incriminating, for lack of a better word. And perhaps that's too much pride, perhaps that's because I didn't coach him appropriately and let him know enough that it was ok that he didn't remember the word. I also know that he's someone who needs a lot more repetition than my other kids tend to - at least in some things. Memorizing poetry, not at all - but learning to read and memorizing math facts, definitely. And interestingly enough, he could memorize the poem but still not make the word by word correlation needed to read what he already had by memory. Isn't that interesting?

      I didn't end up using this method with my second son - he had watched his older brother work with the moveable alphabet and the word families, and it seemed natural to do the same thing with him - but he does get annoyed when he comes across words that don't follow the appropriate phonetic rules. I sometimes wonder if I had used this method with him if he would be a little less of a rigid phoneticist! It is one that I intend to revisit in another year or so when I have another little one who will be ready to learn to read, because I think it is so helpful to have both the sight words and the phonetic teaching side by side.

    4. Your point about your son feeling bad not remembering the word is really interestig and a good example that yes, some of this is definitely personality based. My 6yo still feels like they are "her words" even when she doesn't remember what they are right away. I can see how a student could feel otherwise, though. I find the way in which kids' memories work to be really fascinating--and the ways they learn to read too. I'm on my fourth one and no two have been just the same!

  3. This is so helpful. I've been very curious how to make Charlotte Mason's ideas translate into a real world lesson! Thank you for sharing.

  4. Celeste, this looks perfect! The less prep and clutter involved for me, the better! A book and manipulatives, yes please! What moveable alphabet do you recommend? Thanks!

    1. Hi Abigail,

      We have a couple sets of Bananagrams and I highly recommend them.

      They are pleasing to hold (like Scrabble tiles, but a bit heavier) and easy to use. And cheap! Montessori-style moveable alphabets are lovely but much more expensive. And then you're done with reading lessons, you can play the game with them! :)

      Hope that helps.

    2. Excellent! I thought they looked game-esque, and non of the official "moveable alphabets" looked worth the money. Thank you!!