There’s no one best way to teach young students how to read. Learning to read is a developmental process that takes time. Every child learns differently, so it’s important to incorporate different teaching strategies to hold their attention and keep them interested in learning.

Teaching students to read doesn’t always have to be about formal lessons or worksheets. In fact, sometimes the best lessons are learned when children don’t even realize they are learning. Here are some practical ideas you can incorporate into the classroom to help your students become independent readers.

1. Display letters and words around the classroom

Children are naturally curious. Displaying different words and letters around the classroom encourages students to ask questions about the words and learn without even realizing they’re learning. Try labeling objects around the room like windows, doors, chairs, and whiteboards, or pinning words like ‘black’, ‘red’ and ‘blue’ to the wall, with the font being in that color. Children will learn to associate the words with the objects they see.

2. Create word families

Word families are words that rhyme. Teaching students about word families helps them see patterns in text and encourages them to begin reading by grouping sets of letters within a word. Once they recognize the word ‘hop’, they’ll be able to find patterns in rhyming words like ‘top’, ‘pop’ and ‘stop’. A fun way to incorporate this activity into the classroom is by playing a game using a corkboard. Write a list of words on the left-hand side, and the second list of words that rhyme with them on the right-hand side (you could even try using a theme for the words, e.g. Christmas-related words in December). Place pins beside each word and have students link a piece of string from the pin of a word on the left, to the rhyming word on the right-hand side. Not only is this a fun activity to help students learn about word families, it also helps develop their fine motor skills.

3. Play decoding games

Decoding is the process of sounding words out. Once a child has learned the sounds that each letter, or group of letters, make, they’ll be able to begin putting words together. Learning to decode is an important step in learning to read, as the more students decode words, the more quickly they’ll be able to automatically identify words. To make the process of decoding a little bit more fun for students, consider incorporating games into the process. This can be as simple as buying little finger puppets for the students and having them wear them while pointing to the letters as they sound them out.

4. Teach phonemic awareness

Phonemes are the smallest sounds in the English language, made of consonants, short vowels, long vowels, and digraphs like ‘th’, ‘sh’ and ‘ch’. Children must learn how different letters make different sounds. For example, the ‘a’ in ‘table’ is a long vowel, as opposed to the short vowel ‘a’ in ‘sack’. Phonemic awareness means learning those sounds and how to manipulate them within a word and is an important step towards helping children to spell and decode. One thing you could do to help bring awareness to phonemes and how to separate the sounds of words from their meanings is to call up children one-by-one using their first names without the initial sound (e.g., [S]arah). The children have to figure out who’s name has been called and what sound is missing.

5. Play ‘fish’ with sight words

There are some words that are difficult to decode phonetically because they don’t follow the rules of phonics. These are known as ‘sight words’ and are most common in the English language. These words need to be memorized rather than sounded out, and there are a number of fun memory games that you can use in the classroom to help kids do this. ‘Sight words fishing’ involves using magnetic fish cut-outs with words on the back of them. Students fish using a magnetic rod and read the sight word out aloud from the back of the fish they’ve picked up. The repetition of the game helps the students master the words and is a lot more fun than reading words from a printout.

6. Word search bingo

Reading to children helps them develop their language and listening skills and prepares them to understand written words. However, some children lose focus when sitting still and listening, so it’s important to find ways to keep them engaged. One way to do this is to create a bingo game. Hand out sheets of paper to the students with a list of words from the chapter of the book you’re reading to them. As you read the book, the students will circle the words from the sheet they hear. At the end of the chapter, have the class discuss what words they found.

7. Help children love to read by making it fun

As teachers, the ultimate goal is to foster lifelong reading skills in students and create children who love to read. Memorizing words is only a starting point. Every child learns to read differently, but ultimately, keeping them engaged in learning is the best strategy. Getting children excited about learning to read through games and interaction is something that every primary school teacher can incorporate into the classroom.

If you’re looking for more ideas, LiteracyPlanet offers a comprehensive and engaging program that is designed to bring out the best in every student. For more information about using LiteracyPlanet in schools, head here.