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Is It OK That My Second Grader Is Learning to Read by Memorizing Words?

By Robin Margent

Question: My second grader is learning to read by memorizing words, instead of by sounding them out. Is that OK?

Answer:

Yes, it’s OK, especially for early readers. In fact, reading by memorizing words is something most kids do when they’re first learning to read. It’s also something they need to do to be good readers.

Pre-readers and early readers often can recite their favorite books. They’ve “read” them over and over with their families.

Memorizing words and books is an important part of reading. It helps kids get familiar with the most common words. It also helps them become aware of the rhythm and sounds of sentences. 

As kids develop their reading skills, being able to memorize sight words (common words that sometimes can’t be sounded out) helps them read fluently.

Some kids seem to be born with that ability. They’re able to recognize a large number of sight words at an early age. They can even recognize multisyllable words. But for most, it happens over time as they learn to read.

So, kids should memorize sight words, especially words with irregular spellings like enough or light. It’s like how actors master their parts. They do it by practicing their lines over and over until they know them by heart.

But there’s one thing to know. Memorizing is important, especially for early readers. But if it becomes the only way your child learns to read, that could be a problem as reading gets harder.

As kids go through the grades, they’re expected to read more difficult and complex material. Words may no longer be familiar. And it’s just not possible to memorize all the words they come across.

About 80 percent of English words are phonetic—how they’re spelled matches how they’re pronounced. So kids need to learn how to sound out words, too. If they have trouble with this, they may mispronounce and skip words. And that can result in what I call “sloppy reading.”

Knowing how to sound out words helps kids read more accurately. It also lets them read at a faster pace. And—here‘s the bonus—it also improves spelling.

If you have concerns about your child’s reading skills, talk to the teacher. You can find out how your child is doing compared to other kids that age. You can also ask if there are things you can do at home to help.


Discover conversation starters for talking to the teacher about reading. And learn how to help your child connect letters with sounds.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom