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How to Teach a Child to Read

Updated on September 24, 2012

How to Teach a Child to Read

In this lesson, we overview wisdom learned in the study of psychology. Formatting and organizing your teaching to match the way the brain processes and stores information will make learning to read easier for your child and for you.

We are going to use three basic psychology concepts: chunking, the magic number, and depth of processing.


When the mind learns, it takes individual bits of information and "chunks" them into larger pieces of information. For example, b+o+y becomes "boy" after learning. The brain chunked three letters to become one word. This new chunk then becomes a piece to be chunked into a larger item such as "Every good boy does fine," a music mnemonic.

To take advantage of this knowledge, break down your goal into small enough portions to be chunked.

The Magic Number in Short Term Memory

Short term memory can hold 7 pieces of information, on average. The great majority of people have a short term capacity between 5 and 9. Psychologists call this 7 plus or minus 2.

Combining this with the chunking knowledge, break the alphabet into sections of letters of about 7. For example, a through g are seven letters. And h through k are four letters. L through p are five letters. After your child learns these three sets, they can be combined into a through p. Repeat for the rest of the alphabet.

Once the alphabet is learned, start with words. Teach words in groups of 7. This is because the mind can hold these 7 in working memory. Once these 7 are learned, move on to the next set of 7. Once set two is mastered, return to set one for a refresher, then repeat set two. After the two sets are reviewed, start a new set of seven. Keep adding sets and returning to previous sets for review after each new set is mastered.

Depth of Processing

One of the best known secrets of learning is singing. Even the Marines use singing as a memorization enhancer. Processing information facilitates recall and learning. Challenging your child to process the new information cognitively will promote learning. Think of questions to ask. Which letters have humps? Which letter is your favorite? Which letter comes after m?

And, we all know the alphabet song. Inventing other songs will help your child to learn as well.

Tips to Help Children Learn

  1. Breakfast: Children who eat breakfast have a 9% increase in attention and a 7% increase in learning over those who do not eat breakfast.
  2. Regular physical activity: Exercise increases the health of the entire body as an integrated whole. Increasing blood flow through muscles also results in blood pumping through organs and the brain.
  3. Sleep: Regular sleep, and sleep during the appropriate hours, stabilizes hormone production. This has a positive effect on overall physical and mental health.
  4. Regularity: A normal routine will condition the mind and body to prepare for the learning sessions.


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    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Love the information on "chunking" and using song to help children learn letters on their progress to learning how to read. Thanks for the answer, Steph