If You Want To Perform Magic, Teach Reading

Learning to read is a magical process: we recognize letters and assign them sounds and then smash the sounds together into words. Then we read many words in sentences and in paragraphs, not only decoding the them but extracting meaning from them.

It’s pretty trippy if you dwell on it too long.


Seeing as learning to read is basically magic, that means we reading teachers are magicians. Or something. It certainly feels like we have to perform a few sleights of hand to get the job done.

A looooong time ago I published posts about why teachers deserve presents (click here and here to read them if you want). I want to add to the body of evidence for that stance and maybe offer parents an explanation as to why reading with the kids is frustrating as hell sometimes.

Let’s start with “words that don’t follow the rules.”

Phonics instruction is all about rules. Bossy E at the end of a word makes the vowel long. Sh says shhhhh. When two vowels go a walkin’, the first one does the talkin’.

That last one is about vowel teams – if two vowels are next to each other, the first is the voiced one (a long vowel sound). Now look at that Fry meme up there again. See the two vowel team words?

Learn and read. Only learn doesn’t follow the rule. If it did, you’d read “ear” in the middle of it.

And sometimes read doesn’t follow the rule either.

read lead

I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I suspect I say something to the effect of “this word doesn’t follow the rule” about 3,487 times per day.

There are also some letters, blends, and digraphs that have more than one sound. “oo” can be like in look or in hoop. S can sound like an s or a z. “ough” can make a long o sound, the oo like in hoop sound, or sound like ruff.

So finding rhyming words in text isn’t as easy as one might think.

ow words

These rules/non-rules can lead to adventures in pronunciation too.


A student asked me today how to know when “oo” says which sound. I said you have to use the context of the sentence – which doesn’t help if it’s a new-to-them word. So I told him as he goes through school and life, he’ll learn more words all the time.

In the meantime, I’ll help him and the rest of his group learn that word in Charlotte’s Web is pronounced muh-nooer, not man-yur.

7 thoughts on “If You Want To Perform Magic, Teach Reading

  1. You are right, Allison, learning to read is difficult and teaching kids to read is challenging. Now it seems that children learn word recognition rather than the old sounding out method I learned at school (not that long ago). I don’t think the new system is better at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Words are hard 😦

    Throw into that the fun of regional dialects, and they become even harder. I’ve had people from some parts of my country *literally* not understand me because of local pronunciations, and if you travel in a 25 mile radius around my Place Of Being, you’ll encounter a handful of noticeably different accents.


    I would disagree with your statement about teachers deserving presents. Good teachers deserve presents. The bad ones (and I had one or two, during my space-youth, whose sole purpose seemed to be to crap on a child’s self-esteem and make them feel stupid in the process) deserve a a swift kick out the door.

    Liked by 1 person

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s