The similar-looking word test

43 Replies

Clients who seem to read well, but spell poorly, are often referred to our service.

Their word-level reading is rarely as good as it seems. While they’re reading connected text, they’re relying on their oral language skills to help them identify the words. Take the supporting context away, by asking them to read lists of words, and they’re usually much less accurate. Their pseudoword decoding/word attack is also often quite weak.

Often, such readers are paying attention to the beginnings and ends of words, but not the middles, so they read ‘compete’ as ‘complete’ or ‘waited’ as ‘wasted’. Sometimes they get the identity of the letters correct, but not their order, so they might read ‘felt’ as ‘left’ or ‘bets’ as ‘best’. Sometimes they aren’t paying close attention to the number of letters, so they read ‘splint’ as ‘split’ or ‘scuff’ as ‘scruff’.

This doesn’t affect how well they can comprehend easy books. When books get harder, and/or contain a lot of new vocabulary, it starts to matter more. Their ability to read aloud accurately is also affected, so they usually prefer to read silently, and resist reading aloud to others (which they need to do to become more accurate).

To explore this problem with clients and their parents, and encourage close attention to the identity, order and number of ALL the sounds/letters in words, I sometimes ask clients to read some similar-looking words, like these ones (I just pick a few, depending on the client’s age and skill level):


If you’re working online, there are some similar-looking word activities here. Take care when testing skills in this area with kids who are highly sensitive about their reading skills. They won’t like it. However, it’s a useful way to demonstrate that reading and spelling are closely related, and persuade kids who don’t care much about spelling that better spelling will also improve their reading.

When someone confuses similar-looking words, and makes lots of spelling mistakes, it shows that their word knowledge is a bit ‘fluffy’, and lacking in detailed/precise knowledge of the three main things we need to know about a word:

  • The identity, order and number of sounds/speech bits (phonemes),
  • How these are represented by letters/letter groups (graphemes, prefixes, suffixes, joiny stuff),
  • Meaning(s) and use(s) (semantics, morphology, syntax), which are part of the oral language system.

According to Dr Charles Perfetti’s Lexical Quality Hypothesis, skilled readers’ representations of words in memory are of a higher quality than the representations of less skilled readers. You can watch him talking about his work here.

Finally I’d like to say that even skilled readers can mix up similar-looking words, and that a DIGRAPH is a phonics Thing, but a DIAGRAPH is a drawing Thing. You’re welcome.


43 responses to “The similar-looking word test”

  1. Eleanor Pearson says:

    This is fascinating and describes my son to a tee. He struggles with spelling but I haven’t been sure how to help him because his reading seemed fine. But now I realise he struggles with his reading too! Thank you!

  2. Kate Hopkins says:

    So to help address this would word level reading tasks be an option?

    • alison says:

      Any task that drives kids’ attention to the sublexical level should help, I guess, so single word reading is one of the things they can do (I use our phonics playing cards a lot for this, and between games we pause and spell some of the words) but the most powerful way to really nail down the sublexical aspects of words is by working on their spelling. We need a whole lot of new spelling games, though, I am getting very bored with mine. Can you think of some?

      • Kate says:

        I use yours a lot too, Wordwall, which I know you use, is great, The talisman and Little Learners Love Literacy Snatch and Grab cards are great too. And rather than just playing, drawing attention to specific detail before playing is worthwhile.
        Always looking for more too!

  3. Cathryn says:

    Thank you. I have seen this problem many times with the Tier 3 students that I work with here in NZ. NB. Usually these students come from Balanced Literacy schools, and have been the victims of 3 cueing! I am looking for ways of undoing these habits, particularly to improve word reading accuracy in connected text…where they typically are so busy trying to decode, they are unaware that they are not making any sense (i.e. the cognitive load is too great).

    • alison says:

      Yes, it’s so unfair that so many children are taught to look at the first letter and guess at school, and then when they aren’t succeeding, they come and see someone like me who tells them NOT to do that, and to read right through the word, and say the sounds aloud as they write their spellings. They have to go back to reading aloud and putting up with an adult constantly pulling them up on accuracy after years of getting away with masquerading as a strong reader because they don’t read aloud. They have to read simpler texts till they have consolidated all the main patterns, and do lots of spelling and other activities to drive their attention to the sublexical level, so they can really nail down all the words. They should be learning good habits from the start.

      • Mary Keating says:

        Alison, I don’t agree with everything that goes on in classrooms but I don’t believe teachers teach children to read the first letter and guess the rest of the word as you claim. Kids were doing this in the 1950s (believe me, I’ve been there) and were taught using the same methods used now in teaching phonics. Some lines from Grade 1 1956: “b pushes a wheelbarrow and d has a bag on his back” and “sound it out”. Today, they are taught to read aloud – I wish they weren’t – because it’s all about ‘fluency’ and ‘expression’ when in fact they need private time to decode. Voices are pitched high and low as if that is the most important aspect of reading. I am putting forward the viewpoint of a teacher in my comment. …and I still hope that ‘beige’ is not on your word lists for children under 12 years.

        • Rebecca Popic says:

          Hi Mary,
          Whilst things are changing in schools (and I see lots of really great things), old habits are really hard to break.
          I have within this last year (in a school that is very much trying to do phonics) heard a teacher say (with a decodable book in front of the child) to look at the picture to figure out the word rat…the teacher did not say to look at the letters in the word, let alone sound them out…unsurprisingly the child guessed a great many things from the page which needless to say was not ‘rat’…

          • Mary Keating says:

            Rebecca, without a doubt. I’ve seen this many times too. The beautiful pictures must be the most expensive part of producing a book and it has been a goldmine for Whole Language proponents. I never think of the pics as part of the context. I say to students ‘we are reading the words, we are not reading pictures’. If we think pics are so important to message then lets go back to pictorial communication and I mention to the child the Ancient Egyptians. I did my first teacher training as a secondary teacher and learnt all about WL theory. In all my innocence I thought WL only applied to secondary school. I was totally shocked when I went into primary classrooms not long after I qualified to find WL in primary. I thought then and still do that it is a mistaken methodology. I have read that it works well in Montessori environments, perhaps because of the low numbers.

        • Kim says:

          Hi Mary,

          I notice in your reply to a comment that you seem to suggest That whole language or balanced literacy approach works well in a Montessori environment.

          I am a certified Montessori teacher ( primary ) currently working as a learning resource teacher in an AMI certified Montessori school and I can definitely attest to the fact that the Montessori method is designed to teach reading and writing through a structured phonetic approach. When this does not occur it is due to a misunderstanding of the method. 3 cueing or guessing should not ever be happening in a Montessori environment with well informed guides.

  4. Thanks as always Alison – your way with explaining complicated ideas for readers/parents who don’t have an educational or speech pathology background is excellent. I love reading your blog and sharing your knowledge with others – excellent content always!

  5. Elizabeth Stewart says:

    What a great assessment Alison. I see this a lot with my ‘balanced lit’ readers coming up from prep who are taught to use first letter, look for parts they know, think about what would ‘make sense’ etc rather than decoding left to right. Unfortunately BL teachers will then use this assessment to back up the importance of teaching students to use context to read the word as without it they will read the word incorrectly. How do I counter this argument.?

    • alison says:

      I think I’d just look blankly at any BL teacher who argued that the solution to poor word identification skills/poor lexical specification was to just ignore them and keep fudging words from context, especially when you consider the impact on spelling. Kids need both good word identification/spelling skills AND good oral language to read really well, and relying only on good oral language skills isn’t balance at all, it’s totally lopsided. Hope that makes sense. Alison

      • Mary Keating says:

        Excluse my ignorance but what is a BL teacher? I suppose the L is for literacy, and the B?

      • Mary Keating says:

        Right. Got it. Balanced Literacy. A reasonable bridging theory perhaps from Whole Language and back to phonics. BL can work in logical ways in classroom teaching Alison. If a child read ‘complete’ instead of ‘compete’ when the text is about children participating in a race, I would ask myself as the teacher whether the child understands the context and what they have already read. Context-testing can have a reverse function.

  6. Debra says:

    Great article! Another reason why the importance of reading aloud needs to be a regular part of every parent/child relationship.

  7. Mary Keating says:

    Great information and very true. I find often that children who spell poorly, read fluently but with errors (consistent with the post), have what I call slippery articulation.

  8. Andrea Sellar says:

    I definitely have a few students who fall down in this area of reading which then this transfers to their spelling.
    Most of them have strong phonemic manipulation skills but possibly aren’t paying close enough attention to the order of sounds and unstressed syllables when it comes to writing.
    Any recommendations on how to tackle this in sessions. would be appreciated.

    • alison says:

      Hi Andrea, I think my main recommendation is to get them to say all the words aloud slowly as they write them, as that helps them track where they’re up to and remember to write something for every sound. The kids who fudge the middles of words aren’t really working their way all through the word, they’re trying to get by with just visual snapshots. But you probably already know that. I spend my life saying ‘I can’t hear you!’ when kids are writing. All the best, Alison

      • Jo says:

        I would love tips for this, too. I have some great readers in grade 1. We use decodable texts but the spelling term review showed that they have not consolidated many things already explicitly taught, such as ff,ll,ss or correct k spelling choice and tch/ch. However, something I am still trying to figure out is how to get them to spell correctly when the word has a schwa. If I say it in my spelling voice, this helps but I don’t do this for assessments. Words like muffin, possum, dolphin are being spelled with incorrect vowels and sometimes one middle consonant. Other errors I think they are just not double checking their work. If I explicitly say, “these are flossy words”, they concentrate and check they have double letters after the short vowel.

        • Mary Keating says:

          Grade 1?? And you are doing these words and spelling patterns in Grade 1? Writing and reading are very different skills and writing will lag a long way behind reading. I think you are expecting a lot. So if these children are absorbing a quarter of what you are teaching in writing tasks, I suggest you be as pleased as punch.

    • Mary Keating says:

      I have two techniques that spring to mind that I use with this behaviour: 1. change vocabulary used. I say “read across the word” and child points under the word in a progressive movement. I often demonstrate. 2. in support activities, ask child to “draw a red ring around the words with ai in them”, or whatever the letter combo is. I call this a vowel team for children. This reinforces the position of the vowel team. I ask child to read the word and write the word, often in a list. All reinforcement actions. This also sends a message to the child that it is important to learn it. They actually enjoy finding the words and circling them. Some get excited. They think they are playing ‘spot the word’. You can use a “draw a green ring around….” for another combo.

  9. Michelle says:

    I’ve often seen this lack of “reading the middle”of words in older students. Often they have had early reading difficulty in their past, but sometimes, it wasn’t so severe as to require intervention. In the past I’ve attributed this kind of poor reading to a lack of attention to detail, impulsivity, and attention issues. In fact, many of the students like this do have comorbid ADHD. But lately I have been thinking that it’s not really their attention. I’ve described their reading skills as soft – not solid. These students have poor spelling and word reading skills, but often decent fluency and comprehension. This deficit also rarely gets picked up in people who have strong verbal skills and excellent reading comprehension. It’s difficult to detect since they get by just fine, or so it seems. What do you recommend?

    • alison says:

      Hi Michelle, yes, they’re the kind of readers who get called ‘Compensators’ by David Kilpatrick, they get by but are not achieving to their considerable potential, as often they have above-average oral language skills. I recommend lots of work on spelling, and teaching them to say words slowly and write what they hear/feel in their mouths, as that’s how they will ‘flesh out’ the details of identity, order and number of sounds/letters in words. Some work on prefixes and suffixes also goes a long way, as once they know the main ones, they can spot them at the start and end of words, and then look past them to the middles of words and stop mixing up similar-looking bases.

  10. Susan Mahar says:

    Sorry Alison but this article represents everything that is wrong about the ‘Science of Reading’. To suggest children (or adults) who read and comprehend well but who have not mastered standard spelling are somehow reading failures, or will eventually be, is gobsmacking. Where is the evidence?
    There is evidence that sounding out, or even naming lists of words does not mean children will become fluent readers. (That’s been my experience too) Spelling is not reading and reading is not spelling! Spelling improves as children read and write, especially in areas of interest.
    If a child is reading and understanding meaningful text as one of your correspondents suggests what is the point of having him or his parent feel he is a failure? What is the point of trying to prove he is not looking at whole words as he reads? There is plenty of evidence that good readers do not read word by word. They skim through text and re read if something doesn’t make sense. Let’s keep readers reading!
    As a rule spelling should not be taught in the context of reading though it may sometimes be appropriate to point out a meaningful part of a word or a pattern, depending on the child or the situation. Spelling is generally taught very specifically with developmental levels in mind. and often related to topics of interest.
    By all means support children in their learning but let’s not confuse kids and their parents by undermining what’s happening in schools. This causes a lot of anxiety. Experienced teachers know there is no place for undermining other teachers.
    When I retired after 35 years in the classroom I agreed to tutor some neighbourhood kids but only after I had spoken to their class teachers and explained what I planned to do which I hoped would compliment their classroom approach. I was prepared to adapt what I did to fit in. There is no value for kids, their parents or teachers in criticizing the local school.
    I have read some surprising outbursts from SOR advocates ranging from ignorant to vindictive and I have come to the conclusion that all kids and their parents would be much better off if they understood children are developmentally very different: it is not reasonable to be told you are dyslexic at five, six or seven because you have not mastered standard spelling, because you confuse b’s and d’s, or because you recognised the word ‘that’ on one page but misread it on the next etc etc. Reading is complex but with a meaningful program of interest designed by an experienced classroom teacher, and targeted support where necessary, kids read. There is no one way fits all. Unfortunately well intentioned intervention by non-experts can cause unnecessary problems.
    Speech pathologists have traditionally done a brilliant job helping kids articulate sounds – we all know well developed oral language is critical for early learning. However they are not reading experts.
    PS. And I would never claim to know more about speech pathology than they do.

    • Mary Keating says:

      As I commented a few minutes ago to Alison about my Grade 1 1956 recollection: ‘b pushes a wheelbarrow and d has a bag on its back’. Always with beautifully drawn pictures in coloured chalk.

    • alison says:

      Hi Susan, I always give lots of positive feedback and credit to people who are reading connected text well despite relatively weak decoding/word identification, as they are making the most of what they have. However, they don’t come to me unless they are seeking help with spelling. Pointing out there is a connection between good spelling and accurate and confident reading (especially reading aloud) is both truthful and often motivating and interesting to clients, especially once we’ve had a few sessions and they realise their skills are improving. You can’t seriously be suggesting it would be better for me to be untruthful, and not seek to assist them with more accurate word identification, when this would take the anxiety out of reading aloud, and improve their silent reading?

      It’s actually demonstrably false that “There is plenty of evidence that good readers do not read word by word. They skim through text and re read if something doesn’t make sense.” That’s what the late Kenneth Goodman and colleagues said, but eye tracking studies and other scientific research have comprehensively debunked their ideas. This web page explains about eye tracking:, plus here is a fairly comprehensive summary of the current reading research:, and I also suggest that you listen to the documentaries by Emily Hanford you can find here: Or if you want the neuroscience angle, try Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain: Maybe libraries have a copy if you don’t want to buy it.

      I won’t go through the rest of your comment and respond to each part of it, as the gist of it is “shut up and stop criticising schools, what would you know, you’re only a speech pathologist”. Which of course you are quite at liberty to say, but it is quite rude and ill-informed. I first worked in the education system in 1989, spent a long time trying to effect change from the inside, only criticise teaching methods, not teachers, who are always doing their best despite decades of poor ITE and guidance from departments and publishers, have read a mountain of relevant research and work every day with struggling readers who have been taught faulty habits at school. I always seek to liaise with their teachers and help build knowledge of the high-quality reading research in the educational community, and am yet to find a client (apart from ones with little or no language comprehension) who can’t learn to read, at least up to the level of their oral language skills. I also get constant emails and social media messages from teachers saying ‘thankyou for your helpful information’ and ‘why didn’t I learn this stuff at university?’ So I have no plans to shut up any time soon, it is wonderful to see so many schools abandoning Goodman et al’s nonsense ideas, embracing what teachers and others who do scientific research have discovered about spelling and reading, and putting it into practice in schools.

      • Susan Mahar says:

        Hello Alison.
        You are right, no one is suggesting it would be better to be untruthful with kids and I am surprised you reached that conclusion from my response. I know I suggested spelling is not reading and reading is not spelling and that we need to be aware of developmental differences in early learners – basic stuff. And from what I have read I think Louisa Moats and I would agree on these points. In the interests of ‘balance’ I will read your recommended sites (thankyou) and I hope you might read or listen to Dr Stephen Krashen whose life-long studies and evidence- based views are compelling. There are others I am happy to recommend but when someone dismisses the work of an esteemed academic like Goodman as ‘nonsense’ (Goodman et al in fact!) I can only imagine it is difficult to approach another view with an open mind. I think this attitude is what I find so alarming about SOR devotees – it reinforces my belief that we should all stick to our areas of expertise. Imagine how kids would benefit if we could support each other?

        • Rebecca says:

          Hi Susan,
          Like you I am willing to read widely in the interest of ‘balance’.
          Do you have any particular articles/books by Dr Stephen Krashen that you have in mind? When I googled, it brought up things in the area of learning English as Second Language.
          Unlike Alison, I am not familiar with Goodman either, what particular research articles/books would you recommend Susan, that you think would be key readings to become familiar with his research?

          • Susan Mahar says:

            I’m delighted you are interested Rebecca. I think you will find Stephen Krashen makes it clear his beliefs about language acquisition relate to first language learners as well as second language learners. He has spent a lifetime researching language learning. He and Louisa Moats are of a similar vintage just to remind you that a whole lot of wisdom goes with age and experience, especially for those who consider themselves life long learners in an area they are committed to. As experienced classroom teachers some of us have seen methods recycled over the years but core beliefs remain the same: there is no one-size fits all, and it is critical that kids are excited and engaged in meaningful learning. Unfortunately an over-emphasis on phonics can kill the interest of too many kids. That includes the limitations of simplistic decodable texts with no literary value. Meanwhile publishers are flooding the market with excruciatingly boring instructional kits and ‘decodeable’ material when money would be better spent on quality books and librarians.

            You will find hundreds of Krashen research papers such as:

            – ‘Exposing false claims about reading and reading instruction’. This is a response to a report by the National Reading Panel (USA) in 2002.
            ((remembering we tend to follow the American path)

            – ‘Defending whole language: the limits of phonics instruction’

            You should also look at Jeffrey S Bowers’ report published in the 2020 Educational Psychology Review 32: Reconsidering the evidence that Systematic phonics is more effective than alternative methods of reading instruction.

            As for Ken Goodman – there is a mountain of research. Google it. Goodman is particularly known for his work on miscue analysis.
            I think the worrying aspect of this is that a narrow group of cognitive scientists want to confine all language learners to a prescriptive method originally designed for children with serious learning difficulties, to the exclusion of all other evidence based learning.
            If you are seriously interested Rebecca you may find some thought-provoking ideas. Good luck.

        • alison says:

          Hi Susan, I have actually read quite a lot of what Stephen Krashen, Ken and Yetta Goodman, Frank Smith, Marie Clay, Mem Fox and others have written about how they believe children learn to read, as well as a lots of the mountain of scientific research showing they were/are simply wrong. I was astonished and appalled that when asked about the scientific research showing his ideas were wrong by journalist Emily Hanford, Ken Goodman simply told her “my science is different”. In science, you don’t get to disregard findings that don’t fit with your theory. Krashen has been one of the most outspoken advocates of Whole Language, but Whole Language is simply not an effective way to ensure that all children learn to read and spell. John Hattie’s meta-analysis puts its Effect Size at 0.06 compared with phonics at 0.7, see Even with all the problems of effect sizes, that’s just too big a gap in effectiveness to ignore, and that’s just one way of comparing effectiveness, the three big national inquiries have all concluded that kids need to learn phonemic awareness and phonics to crack our complex spelling code. Kids come to our clinic who have been trying to learn to read for years using Whole Language/Balanced Literacy strategies – memorising high-frequency words, reading predictable texts, learning their ‘letter sounds’ – and they’ve gotten nowhere, but when we give them a proper, systematic, synthetic phonics program they finally start learning, their parents cry and we all say ‘why on earth don’t schools teach like this?’ It’s time they did. Put me out of business. Think of the misery that could be prevented, and the talent that would not be wasted. It is absolute nonsense to say, as Kenneth Goodman said, that reading is a psycholinguistic guessing game. If you haven’t read the work of Linnea Ehri, David Share, Charles Perfetti, Marilyn Jager Adams, Stanislas Dehaene, Maryanne Wolf, Mark Seidenberg and David Kilpatrick, they would be a few of the authors I’d recommend to understand exactly what’s wrong with Krashen, Goodman and other Whole Language theorists’ ideas. The book I’m currently reading might also be of interest, it’s called “Brain Words: How the Science of Reading Informs Teaching” by J Richard Gentry and Gene P Ouellette. They argue that reading and spelling are actually so closely related that you could say word-level reading is spelling and spelling is word-level reading, as spelling is the best way to develop robust, high-quality lexical representations, which are essential for fluency and comprehension. Robust word represenetations is the topic of a session I’m presenting on Saturday, so I’d better stop answering blog comments now and get back to preparing it. Best wishes, Alison

          • Rebecca says:

            Thanks Susan for your suggestions as I like to be widely read (although I doubt that I will ever catch up to Alison). I will be interested to see the robustness of the research for whole language, as I have read much of the research for the SoR, and will acknowledge (as would Alison I suspect) that whilst there are gaps that still need to be thoroughly explored, that the underlying research is sound.
            Just briefly flicking through some of Krashen’s thoughts about phonemic awareness, I don’t think that the research he refers to on PA is denied by those in the SoR camp either, or indeed that students who read more become stronger readers.
            The question for us all is the chicken and the egg, so I look forward to drilling down further into the research Krashen, Goodman & others refer to, as I have read some of the research by the Bowers brothers, and it was always regarding SWI for older students (which again I doubt that that anyone in the SoR camp would question its usefulness for students who are already on their reading journey.) From the information that I have seen so far from whole language proponents seems very helpful for vocabulary development, text level analysis and even oral language development, but I haven’t yet seen it explain how it helps the very early readers develop their ability to read words…so I look forward to reading further…

          • Susan Mahar says:

            Great Rebecca. You seem to be way ahead with the references to the ‘Bowers Brothers’ and the ‘SWI’. I googled the tandem pair and thought they were concreters which is not to suggest there isn’t plenty of science related to concreting. That science has changed too but thankfully there is evidence of some pretty amazing concrete structures that have stood the test of time. Ha ha ha. But on a serious note my point is we need to find a balance based on our own wide reading and experience; we need to avoid becoming overly zealous about ‘the one true way’ because someone is likely to come up with a meta analysis (like Jeff Bowers or John Hattie) which will make you wonder, even if it doesn’t rock core beliefs. So good luck with your reading – just beware of getting all of your information from Multilit-funded sites. Unfortunately when you scratch the surface of SOR proponents too many are inextricably linked with a huge commercial juggernaut of training, kits, posters, reading schemes. workbooks and testing programs etc which raises issues about a conflict of interest. Just sayin.

            PS I still wish we had speech therapists in schools supporting kids who need it with their oral language……call me old fashioned but it made a difference.

          • Susan Mahar says:

            Yes I think we are done here Alison – destined never to agree unfortunately. I do not dismiss the evidence of cognitive scientists – I just think their focus is too narrow and not as relevant as they would like us to believe. Reading is more than word recognition and spelling.

            Please remember science theories are just that. Evidence is key and as an expert in the area Goodman analysed his findings. I do not believe his theories have been disproved. I have the evidence my own highly literate children, their friends and my own teaching successes – all thrived with a language approach based on Goodman’s theories.

            Please look at John Hattie’s 2020 book where he discusses Visible Learning: The Purposes of Education’ where he explains his table of effects and expresses dismay that most people have never actually read the conclusions he drew. In particular (pg 33) he says ‘I would estimate 80-90%of the effects are based on narrow measures of achievement. Now I have nothing wrong with narrow measures but they are not good enough…and one of the big things is that if you are looking for something narrow like vocabulary knowledge you’re more likely to get a higher effect than if you’re looking at something broad like critical thinking about words’. I suggest a teacher’s job is to get kids thinking about what they are reading not just sounding out words and spelling them. Thus the need for a balance of strategies.

            Also check out that other mega-analysis of relevance: ‘Reconsidering the evidence that systematic phonics is more effective than alternative methods’ by Jeffrey S Bowers.

            But enough I know.

  11. An anecdote I share in all my spelling CPD sessions:
    I was delivering a session on using phonics with post-16 learners and I wrote on the board: quite quiet. This elicited a heavy sigh from one of the college (TAFE) teachers so I asked her to tell her story. The day before our session, her GSCE resit students (16ish year olds) were given the task of finding the line in a text that described a scene. It included the word, ‘quiet’ and all they had to do was copy the sentence. 19 out of 20 of them wrote ‘quite’. This is what poor literacy looks like ‘grown up’ and is a result of children being taught to recognise words by sight for both spelling and reading without connecting what they see with what they say and hear, i.e. literacy without phonics. Most children make that connection themselves but those who don’t often end up struggling with high school English and it’s not their fault.

    • Mary Keating says:

      And a problem is that children don’t speak very well. Words are articulated poorly. Teens slobber their way through their conversations. If we can strike a balance between the exaggerated pitch and wide-open mouths of the female journalists on the news on the one hand, and the immobile mouths and teeth of the new age generation, we may get well-spoken people whose speech can even be understood. And if speech is comprehensible, I’m sure reading and writing standards will lift. A great story you present and highly credible. My little anecdote is a 16 year old Chinese (Mainland) student in Melbourne attending secondary school who said to me in a private lesson, “Why does English have all this ‘t’, ‘ch’, ‘ck’, ‘tch’ business? It’s too hard”. English requires a highly moveable jaw, teeth and tongue!!

      • Hi Mary – that’s another thing we discuss in training. Teenagers are no less articulate than adults though they mght use language that adults don’t always understand. How often do you hear a teacher say, “I’m going to” rather than “I’m gunna”? Or “Do you know” instead of “dəyə know”? The difference is that we have a writing voice in our heads and it feels so seamless that we’ve fooled ourselves into believing that we ‘write as we speak’. We don’t. I suggest that teachers ask their students to be bilingual and mindful of the difference between their conversational and writing voices.

  12. Mary Keating says:

    I understand your comments. A recent criticism of students’ writing – can’t recall the details – is that students “write the way they speak” and do not recognise the difference between conversation and formal written language. There are different registers of language Teachers labour the notions of different audiences and purposes. Your comments point to the failuGre of students to absorb this instruction that takes up a great deal of time and that starts in Grade 2 and goes through to Year 12. Without wishing to appear defensive, I would never say ‘gunna’ and alway say “I’m going to” and never say “Chya know…”. (I grew up with my mother reciting at the kitchen sink. She was a founding member of the National Theatre (1935) and appeared on stage for over a decade.) And I never say ‘evraone’. I say ‘everyone’ with the accent on the first syllable. ‘Evraone’ is rather new and a result of sliding over the word in a hurry. The secret is to slow down, move your mouth and its organs, and articulate. Language will flow smoothly and be well pronounced. What’s the rush! So, what you say may be true of others but I am two generations removed, while I agree with what you write.

  13. Renae Watkins says:

    Thank you for highlighting this… I’d like to say that even skilled readers can mix up similar-looking words, and that a DIGRAPH is a phonics Thing, but a DIAGRAPH is a drawing Thing.

    It appears that even skilled writers can mix up similar-looking words, and that a DIGRAPH is a phonics Thing, but a DIAGRAPH is a drawing Thing.

    page 21

  14. claire says:

    Thank you Alison, once again very helpful !

  15. Lynne says:

    Thanks Alison
    I love your insight. It is very evident with everyone’s passion why the reading wars continue. This year I am implementing Sounds-Write and seeing some great results – but still have some that are having trouble with spelling – so your article is timely. I find it hard to know exactly what to do with some students – have had success with drill and practice – finding smaller words in larger ones and relating these – ie ant and plant – then draw the picture of the ant on the plant and TRUGS word game. I am interested in testing out the similar word theory on one particular student. I will get back to you….

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