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Automaticity in Reading and Spelling

child riding a bicycle

Automaticity is the ability to do something without conscious thought.

For example, as you read this post, you probably aren’t consciously thinking about how to decode every word. You’ve reached automaticity in reading, which helps you pay attention to the content.

It’s like riding a bike.

When you jump on your bike, you don’t stop to think about every move you make–like adjusting the handlebars to make a turn or pushing the brakes to come to a stop. Because you’ve reached the point of automaticity, you can wave to your neighbor or carry on a conversation with your child as he rides along beside you.

And that’s what you want for your child with reading and spelling.

In reading, you want your child to be able to decode words effortlessly and rapidly, to make the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Automaticity makes that shift possible.

And in spelling, you want your child to be able to write words correctly in various situations, not just on a dictated spelling list. Ideally, spelling becomes easy and doesn’t require much conscious thought. This allows your child to communicate in writing without difficulty.

Automaticity is one of the main goals in All About Reading and All About Spelling, and every lesson brings your child closer to that goal. Since a child may need to encounter a word thirty times or more before achieving instant recall, we provide lots of practice. The word banks, decodable stories, spelling dictations, and hands-on activities all provide engaging practice in a vast variety of ways.

4 Tips for Developing Automaticity

You know that automaticity is the goal, but it can be difficult to maintain patience and understanding as your child works to develop automaticity! The tips below can help you and your child get through this stage.

  1. What’s Easy for You May Be Challenging for Your Child

    Sometimes just changing your expectations can take the frustration out of a situation. When things are difficult for your child, take a step back and consider what information might help him. Be patient.

    Think about taking a teenager out driving for the first time. If you neglect to tell her that the car will move without the accelerator being pressed or that the brake pedal needs only a light touch, you might have a bit of an uncomfortable ride—or worse!

    Giving explicit, step-by-step instruction doesn’t always come naturally, but little tidbits of information help set up a student for success. An activity or subject can seem scary when those tidbits are missing!

  2. Helping Kids Achieve Automaticity in Reading and Spelling - from All About Learning Press
  3. Understand that Mastery Comes in Stages

    Don’t expect perfection. Instead, begin to teach your child to recognize and correct his own mistakes. For example, during spelling dictation exercises or reading fluency practice, you might say, “You made one mistake. Can you find it?” Children can often find their mistakes upon re-reading a phrase or sentence. Praise your child for any mistakes found or corrected.

  4. Additional Work May Be Needed on a Concept

    Achieving automaticity is not automatic; it requires regular practice and review. That’s why we’ve built review into every All About Reading and All About Spelling lesson. But if more review is needed, there are lots of ways to provide additional practice without discouraging your child. Remember that learning to read and spell is hard work, so keep review time short and sweet!

    Here are a few ideas:

    • Reread the short stories in the lessons to provide extra practice.
    • Don’t be afraid to jump back a few lessons if needed. Do reading activity sheets or reading games again, or practice spelling the words with letter tiles.
    • Make review fun! Try some of the ideas in these blog posts to incorporate practice and review sessions that your child will love.
    • Take advantage of the simultaneous multisensory instruction used in the All About Reading and All About Spelling lessons. The SMI method—which teaches through all three pathways to the brain—really helps learning “stick.”
  5. Don’t Overload Your Child’s Funnel

    As tempting as it may be, don’t try to teach too many things at once. When you pour too much information into your child’s “funnel,” it becomes difficult for him to retain what he has learned. If your child is struggling with reading, hold off on spelling lessons for a time. And don’t spend too long on reading and spelling lessons. Keep lesson time short—twenty minutes tops!

It’s really no wonder that many children make mistakes as they are learning to read and spell. They are novices who need lots of encouragement, patience, and practice. Remember, you didn’t always know how to ride a bike or drive a car! With time and practice, your child will achieve automaticity in reading and spelling, too.

Do you ever get frustrated while you wait for your child to achieve automaticity in a skill? Leave a comment below and download our free report for more tips!

Help Your Child's Memory Report

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Kimberly

says:

Thank you for differentiating the concept of learning to read versus reading to learn. The practical suggestions are also very helpful!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kimberly. I’m glad you found this helpful!

Sarah

says:

Great advice

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Sarah.

Zorah F

says:

Those were very enlightening tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Zorah. I’m glad this was helpful!

Laura

says:

I have a struggling speller. Great tips.

Blackburn

says:

When we do spelling, I have started asking my daughter if she notices anything wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the time she will ask me about a word and it is the part that is incorrect. It has helped a lot with our lessons!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great approach! Your daughter is learning the important skill of self-editing too.

Sarah

says:

Lots of great tips.

Supriya

says:

Great article. Especially liked the reminder to not overload the child’s funnel.

Kim

says:

This was a great article, with lots of tips for helping my daughter. I will be using some of these today when we do spelling

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful, Kim!

Amanda

says:

I like what was said about the reading funnel. I’m trying to help a student catch up and I need to remember, a child can still only take in so much new information at a time. Thanks

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amanda,
Yes, even with a student that is behind, it is so important to remember only so much a student can master at a time.

Michelle Vorndran

says:

Automaticity in writing often gets overlooked in the elementary grades, but until students can automatically write the letters of the alphabet, they cannot learn to write on their own or even copy from the board because letter formation takes all of their effort.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Such a fabulous point, Michelle! Yes, so true. Children need to develop automaticity in each skill before moving on to master more advanced skills.

Deborah

says:

I have really enjoyed using All About Reading for my grandkids whom I homeschool. Both are really excelling in their reading.

Monica Gonzalez

says:

These tips have helped my son improve. Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Monica. I’m so pleased to hear that these were helpful for your son!

Nicole Budd

says:

These are wonderful tips to help with reading.

Jamie Fabel

says:

These are great tips!

Jessica Dumas

says:

We LOVE All about reading!

Amanda

says:

Wonderful tips. Lots of great info. Thanks for sharing.

AnnMarie Jackson

says:

Love this program

Melinda

says:

Great tips! Definitely a good reminder not to overfill a childs funnel!

Roxanne

says:

I have never thought of the connection between reading and spelling before. I love how AALP shares their knowledge to help parents teach their children.

Sarah

says:

Love this and all of your programs!

Raquel Morales

says:

Definitely seeing improvement in this with my student.

Kellie

says:

My 14 yr old daughter is still struggling with this! She wants to be able to read and comprehend fluidly but when she reads aloud it’s apparent that she is not able to decode quickly and guesses the word. I am not sure how to help and wondering if I need to take her back the basics. I relied on her schools and teachers to tell me if there was an issue, however, she has always earned straight A’s and tested at or above grade level!

It wasn’t until this year when she was reading aloud from her AP Geography book (very difficult reading anyway) that I was able to see that she didn’t even know how to decode the words. I just had her tested and they said she is reading and spelling just under her 9th grade level. I know this is going to be magnified as she gets into harder materials so I am trying to nip it in the bud before she loses her confidence. Can you help point me in the right direction?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kellie,
One way to approach this issue is to have her read aloud to you for 10 minutes or so each day. During that time, require her to read accurately and sound out each word she is unfamiliar with. If she doesn’t know how, model it for her. It may that you see improvement in her ability to approach unfamiliar words improve after just a few weeks of this.

Our Break the “Word Guessing” Habit blog post may help.

Let me know if you have additional questions or need more suggestions.

Ann

says:

I love this. And I love all the All About Reading programs.

L Guenther

says:

What a valuable topic. I haven’t seen any other blogging about developing automaticity but it’s so essential to understand. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome and thank you.

Morgan Afton

says:

Such a great reminder when reading with my daughter. We are going to focus on rereading Level 1 stories again before starting on Level 2.

Jacquelyn Hughes

says:

I think automaticity is the goal school’s have with their sight word lists but unfortunately that strategy is ineffective. Solid, methodical phonics is definitely the way to go!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting observation, Jacquelyn. Thank you.

Sophia P

says:

Almost done with all about reading level 1! These are all very useful tips for teaching kids!

Kristin

says:

Great Tips thank you

Liz

says:

We love All About Reading!

Jessica

says:

Definitely need to work on reviewing word cards with my daughter. She’s able to sound out most words from level one, but isn’t really reading fluently.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jessica,
Reviewing word cards can help, but here are additional ideas for helping a child become more smooth and fluent in reading:

The Change-the-Word activities in the Teacher’s Manual are especially helpful for working on blending and paying attention to ALL sounds in a word. Change one letter at a time, starting with simple 3-sound words like: bat-sat-sit-sip-tip-top, and then adding more phonograms and complex spellings.

Here are some fun review ideas for word cards. Shuffle the cards occasionally so they are not all in order; that way the student truly gets decoding practice and doesn’t just guess or memorize them in order. And here’s a fun little video explaining what to do when the cards stack up.

The fluency practice pages can be re-used. You might enjoy our 16 Ways to Make Practice Sheets Fun. (And check out the comments as well–lots of fun suggestions in there!)

Students who struggle with fluency will also benefit from rereading the same story two or three days in a row to gain fluency and confidence. Buddy Reading can be very powerful in helping students who are in this stage of struggling with fluency.

Rereading the stories will help accomplish these goals:

– Increase word rate
– Improve prosody. Prosody is “expressive reading.” It involves phrasing (grouping words into meaningful phrases), emphasis, and intonation (raising pitch at the end of questions, lowering pitch at the end of sentences)
– Improve automaticity (be able to recognize most words automatically without having to sound them out each time)

Here’s more help with Overcoming Obstacles when Reading AAR Stories.

You can also do a variation of buddy reading called “echo reading.” You read a few sentences with full expression, and then your child reads the same sentences, matching your expression as close as possible. Do this for approximately five minutes a day, or whatever is a comfortable length of time for your child. Add in lots of praise when your child shows even a bit of improvement.

The “Fun with Emojis” article gives an enjoyable way to work on reading with expression too. This can be a great way to make reading fun that also sneaks in some extra practice from the fluency pages or readers. Check out Reading with Expression for this activity and others.

Let me know if you have questions or need anything.