In previous articles, we helped your child prepare to learn to read and then to begin reading words. To teach words, you used file cards with words written on them and pictures of the family. To teach first sentences, you’ll also need file cards with both words and punctuation, and you’ll need many words to have both a lowercase and uppercase first letter. This method will prepare your child to write as well as teach him to read, because he will learn about starting and ending sentences correctly.
Begin your first sentence lesson by reviewing the name cards you’ve been working on. Hold each one up and ask your child to read them to you. This is a little different than you’ve been doing and he may not understand what you want. If this is the case, let him sort them the usual way, placing them under pictures. Then say, “Now I’m going to read the words to you.” Place your finger under each card, running it from left to right and read the word. Now return to asking him to read the cards from a pile. Do the first one for him if needed.
Show him a favorite book. Point out there are lots of words on the pages, just like the ones he read on the card. The words are in sentences. Talk about the sentences, pointing out the capital letter at the start of each sentence and the punctuation at the end. Punctuation isn’t too hard a word, so use it.
Read a sentence to him and show him the period at the end. Tell him a period is like a stop sign and it means the sentence is all done. Find a question mark for him. Tell him the question mark means there is something we don’t know and want to find out. Tell him some sample questions. Then let him name some. “Are you hungry?” What is your favorite toy?” Each time, remind him it’s a question and talk about what you are trying to find out. The answer has a period. Write one or two of the questions and answers the two of you come up with and show him the punctuation and the starting capital letter.
Now return to your cards. Hold up the cards with his name and ask him to put them in order under his picture. Point out the capital letters, telling him names also start with capitals, because names are very special and important.
Bring out new cards that say “My name is,” with each word on its own card. Put them in the proper place on the floor to make them into a complete sentence ending with his name. Add a card with a period on it. (Write the period on the bottom edge of the card and cut it thin.) Run your fingers under the sentence and read it to him. Ask him to read it to you. Point out the capital and the period and see if he remembers what they say.
Bring out multiple copies of the new words and have him sort them over the next day or so. Always finish by having him arrange them into a sentence.
When he’s mastered this, arrange them in a new way, replacing the word “is” with “Is and replacing “My” with “my.” This time, make them say, “Is my name Johnny Adam Winthrop?” Set out another sentence below it that says, “Yes, my name is Johnny Adam Winthrop.” You’ll need a comma card for this one. Read the new sentences to him and talk about what has changed in the first sentence. You’ve asked a question and answered it. Spend time sorting words again for a few days and practicing getting them in order.
When he’s ready for a new word, add the words “no” and “not.” Replace the “yes” answer with “No, my name is not Johnny Adam Winthrop.” Set out your child’s picture and a picture of someone else in the family. Under his picture, put the yes sentence. Place the no sentence under the other picture. When he’s mastered choosing the right words for these pictures, you can add an additional sentence for the no phrase, explaining who that person really is.
Spend several weeks or as long as needed playing with getting the right sentences under the pictures of everyone in your family. Then ask your child what else he would like to say about himself in sentences. You may have to help him get started. “I have blonde hair. I like trucks. I can ride a bicycle.” Add just one sentence at a time. Don’t put out all the word cards at once because this gets overwhelming. Let him choose which sentences to work with each day and offer him two choices for the words.
After you have a few sentences, type them into a word processing program. Put one or two sentences on a page in a large font. Fasten them into a book and help him read it. Then let him illustrate the pages, one at a time. His book might say, “My name is Johnny Adam Winthrop. I am four years old. I like trucks. I like my sister. I do not like carrots.” Each day, let him read his personalized books to you. Continue to write new ones as you please. My years of tutoring children has shown me children learn to read books they write themselves faster than they learn to read impersonal books. Always start by practicing the sentences on cards so when he tackles the book, it is a successful experience. Keep it low-key. If he reads incorrectly, just correct him without frustration. If he’s bored, stop and try again another time.
In the next article in this series, we’ll begin to read commercial books and talk about the future of your child’s reading life. We’ll conclude with a brief discussion of phonics.