The similar-looking word test43 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.