Is memorizing words learning to read?

Shari - posted on 07/03/2011 ( 13 moms have responded )

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My 5 year old son will be starting kindergarten in the fall and I noticed that some words he seems to be able to "read" or recognize and now my husband says that memorizing words is not a good way to learn to read I feel that essentially reading is memorizing at least in the beginning and later you start learning the specifics? Any thoughts anyone?

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Jane - posted on 07/04/2011

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In the beginning memorizing short words can be very useful. This is called the Look and Say method. An example is learning the word cat, then the word mat, and eventually "The cat is on the mat."

Some people prefer to begin with the Language Experience Approach, where the child draws something and you ask him what it is. You then write a simple sentence about the drawing under it and let the child trace it. For example, a picture of Daddy in his car would have the phrase "Daddy in his car" written under it. This method often makes it easier for kids to start to memorize words.

However, when a child is faced with new words he or she will need to be able to sound them out. A child may recognize the word "can," but may be stymied by the word "cantaloupe." He/she will need to learn at least some phonics, that is the sounds that individual letters make, and how to blend the sounds.

There is also the Context Support Method, where children read books in areas they are interested in (such as my son and his books on trucks). Books specifically written for this method include one or two words on the left hand page for the child to read aloud, and a simple sentence on the right hand page for the adult to read aloud.

Different experts prefer different methods. I was taught by a combination of the first three methods, and was given free range to pick whatever books looked interesting to me. I must say, that I turned into an excellent and devoted reader. In my experience with my children, I find a combined approach really works best.

So actually, you are right in that it is helpful for kids to memorize simple words, but your husband is right in that he also needs to learn the sounds represented by the individual letters and how to combine them so he can read even words he hasn't seen before.

Where the problem with memorization comes in is when a child seems to be reading a book, but has actually memorized the entire text. My son pulled this in preschool and kinder and for quite a while had the teachers buffaloed.

Sylvia - posted on 07/07/2011

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Every kid learns differently, but there are a lot of commonalities. Neither "see and say" nor phonics *alone* is sufficient for most kids to learn to read in English. Learning the sounds the letters make (phonics) is important because you can't memorize every word in the enormous working vocabulary of the typical English speaker (English has an enormous number of words, and new ones are coined all the time). But learning "sight words" is important (a) because they act as signposts on the page for the beginning reader; (b) because English spelling is so totally illogical that you can't always rely on letter sounds (a given letter might make half a dozen different sounds depending on context; how do you know which one it's going to be in *this* new word you're sounding out?), so it's helpful to have some word- and phoneme-level patterns to rely on as well; and (c) because sounding out every word *is not how readers read*. No literate adult reads by sounding out words, or even by sounding out brand-new words letter by letter, or even word by word; you can't grasp the meaning of what you're reading that way. You "chunk" the text in front of you into words and phrases, and you read for meaning. That's what reading *is* -- sounding out words is just *decoding*. Phonics and decoding are important steps in learning to read ... but they're only steps in the process, not the whole process.

I started to understand this distinction in a very concrete way when I was learning to read Hebrew (which I did very late, at around age 12). The way I read Hebrew (which I didn't speak at all and which was written in an alphabet I had only just learned) did not in any way resemble the way I read English, Spanish, or French (which I did speak, and which were all written in the same familiar alphabet). In those languages, I was *reading*; in Hebrew, I was still stuck at the level of *decoding*. It was a real breakthrough when I started to actually *recognize words* in Hebrew, even though (since my vocabulary was extremely limited) I still couldn't read for meaning in the same way -- that was when it started to feel *almost* like actually reading.

So, to the OP ... yeah, recognizing words is good! :D

Quita - posted on 07/04/2011

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Memorizing words at the early stages of reading is called "sight words." There are certain words that good readers just know on sight - the larger the pool of sight words, the higher the fluency in reading. But in really, teaching the alphabet along with the sounds each letter makes and then how to put those sounds together is where any reading program should start. Finally, once kids are decoding and learning sight words, they still need to learn how to read for meaning - lots of kids up into high school even, can decode but still not comprehend a single word!

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Lisa - posted on 06/26/2014

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My daughter learned all of the main sounds each consonant and vowel made before she was two years old. We made up songs about it. It made perfect sense to her, that the dog goes woof, the cat goes meow, and the letter "A" goes AAAAY and AHHHH. By the time she was four, she was sounding out words and reading very fluently for one so young. At five, she reads long three and four syllable words, understands letter blends and some oddities of the english language. I would say that most of her reading is by sounding out, although she has quite a few sight words in her memory. Sounding out is another way of 'decoding' symbols and is an important skill for many other learning areas. It is an integral method the brain uses to comprehend. Our school system uses phonics.

Jennifer - posted on 09/15/2012

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I don't personally believe that is learning to read either. Of course, its not a bad thing.. But if a baby always sees a big sign that says COOKIE and gets a cookie immediately after, they will remember the IMAGE, they can't read though. If they see the COOKIE sign and always get a plate of spaghetti immediately after, it will be the same. Its a visual association. Babies under a year do this, its the same as seeing the actual cookie jar. You know what I'm saying? They are not sounding it out. I wouldn't be worried, everyone goes at a different pace, but your son isn't reading. But not a bad place to start..

Jeannie - posted on 07/08/2011

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memerizing word is a way of learning my daughter will be going to 1st grade and thats how they taught her not by knowing how to spell them

Tara - posted on 07/07/2011

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I wanted to add something quick. I see people saying that "sight words" are common words in a sentence, but that isn't really true. Here, "sight words" are common words, but also words that have several spellings (their, they're, there..etc.) and even words like "everywhere" and other compound type words. But that could just be the way our schools teach.

Gina - posted on 07/07/2011

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Kids at that age start to learn how to read by learning "sight words" Common words that are used often in sentences like "If, but, and, are, is" and things like that. By memorizing these words they learn to read. Even if it's a short story with little words and they "Memorize" the story, they can still point to each word as they tell you the story and they will associate the sound of each word with the appearance of the actual word. Make sure they point to each word though as they say it.

Tara - posted on 07/06/2011

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Honestly, this is how they teach kids (here) to read now. They're called "sight words" and kids are expected to memorize them. They don't really teach phonics anymore (here anyway), which has actually made it difficult for us to help our kids learn to read (7 and 5 years old). We grew up with phonics, so we are still trying to figure out this sight word thing. But yes, memorizing is pretty much the only way they learn to read early on.

Michelle - posted on 07/06/2011

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Children learn and memorize their basic sight words these are words they don't need to sound out, but as a general rule sight reading can only get you so far, at age 5 memorized words are all they have unless you have started phonics with him which hopefully they will start using with him in school. What he is doing is exactly that the beginning stages of reading. Be proud of the words he can point out and keep reading to him.

Teresa - posted on 07/05/2011

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My mother read to me daily, and I had my favorites. She would try to skip pages, but I would tell on her. I could read by age four, and it wasn't from sounding out the words. Now my son can memorize his spelling words, but sometimes reading the same word just on a different page he doesn't get it. He HAS to sound it out. Although, he knew W-a-l-m-a-r-t spelt Wal-mArt by age 2! Every child learns differently.

Shari - posted on 07/04/2011

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wow thank you i hadn't thought of it from that angle reading is such second nature to me i am almost stumped at how to teach it

Ginger - posted on 07/03/2011

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memorizing is the way one learns anything! Learning to memorize the letters as they sit together then elongating that with extra letters is how we learn words. Learning the meaning of those words is the next step in reading. A child is learning words ALL the time.

In verbal format. They learn that that thing over there is a chair and we sit on it. Taking the letters that form the word 'chair' onto a notecard, and placing it on a chair creates an atmosphere of correlation. The child learns that that 'thing' is a chair because you said so... and then learns how to share that by the letters forming the word.

If your child can read certain words, nouns etc...ask him to point to it or tell you what it is...connector words like 'the' , 'and' , 'is' etc are a part of memorizing...and the actual meaning and use of those words will come later... the fact he is getting it now is wonderful!

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