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Break the “Word Guessing” Habit

Little girl word guessing

Does your child guess at unknown words instead of sounding them out?

The “word guessing” habit can stand in the way of learning to read. In this post, you’ll learn why kids guess and how you can solve the problem.

Why Do Kids Guess?

Kids don’t guess to annoy us or because they’re lazy; they may simply be using the process that seems most logical or intuitive to them.

Some kids guess because they have been taught to guess. Believe it or not, guessing is taught as a reading strategy in many schools, so previous teachers may have encouraged a student to look at the pictures or use context clues to see if he could figure out what the unknown word was.

Guessing is common among children who have been taught with the whole word or sight word method. They are accustomed to looking at the beginning letters and shapes of the words instead of paying attention to each phonogram in the word.

Some kids guess because they don’t know what else to do. They haven’t been taught phonics or strategies for breaking down multisyllabic words.

The 4 Types of Word Guessers

What type of guesser is your child?

  1. “First Letter” Guesser: This child looks at the first letter and guesses what the word is. For example, if the word is heart, the child looks at the H and says horse.
  2. “Word Shape” Guesser: This child looks at the first and last letters of the word and at the basic shape in the middle of the word, and takes a wild guess. For example, if the word is maple, the child says maybe. Both words begin with M and end with E, and the words have a similar shape in the middle.
  3. “Picture Clue” Guesser: This child looks at the pictures to help him guess the word. For example, the child may come across a sentence like The scary dog barked at the cat. The child doesn’t know the word scary, so he looks at the picture of the angry-looking dog and guesses the word angry.
  4. “Context Clue” Guesser: This child uses context clues to guess the missing word. For example, the child may come across a sentence like The farmer bought grain for his cattle. The child doesn’t know the word cattle, but the first letter is C, and based on the context she guesses the word chickens.

What’s the Solution for Word Guessing?

The All About Reading blending procedure is a great solution for helping word guessers.

Here at All About Learning Press, we’re big believers in finding simple solutions for solving reading problems, including word guessing. The blending procedure explained below is a highly effective method for solving this issue. This free download provides an illustrated summary of the blending technique.

word guessing graphic showing the blending procedure download

Here are the basic steps:

With this method, your child will develop the good habit of looking at each phonogram, starting at the beginning of the word, and then progressing through each phonogram in sequence. It won’t take long before your student will transfer this blending skill to printed words and you won’t need the letter tiles.

Practice this blending procedure for a few minutes a day, five days a week, and soon you’ll be able to say adios to the word guessing habit!

Do you have a child who is a word guesser, or did you manage to escape this bad habit?

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Kathy

says:

Thank you we e been struggling with this.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry you have struggled with word guessing, Kathy, but glad to hear this is helpful. If you have questions or need further help, just let me know.

Angela Holland

says:

My kids have used all four of these at different times. The one that seemed most prevalent was the first letter guesser. We would slow down, go back and sound out the word piece by piece. It was effective but seemed to require a lot of repetition

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, breaking habits can require lots of repetition, Angela.

Rachel F.

says:

I have an every type guesser. These blog posts are so helpful!

Mariah

says:

Mine is in the exact same place. We worked all last school year (kindergarten) on phonics and used as few sight words as possible, and I’ve never taught her to guess. I think she really does just find guessing easier because a lot of the time she’s right. I think the other problem is I didn’t work enough last year on fluency, so this coming semester we’re going to work hard on the phonics rules and actually practicing the skills in the order laid out by AAR (words, phrases, sentences, worksheets, stories) while continuing to practice reading actual books.

K.D

says:

Using pictures to help students figure out words is a helpful strategy. I will give you that it should NOT be the only method a child uses. The blending procedure is not perfect either. For instance, take the words, one, they, soon or any word that uses a long vowel. There is no need for your smear one strategy to make another one look better. Please be better.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks for your feedback, K.D.

Actually, long vowel words and words like they and soon are easily decodable when kids are taught the proper concepts. All About Reading gives kids complete instruction so that they don’t have to guess! And if a word is a true sight word (like one), we teach those words directly. Very few English words (about 3%) are sight words, and we believe in giving kids all the tools they need to be successful readers.

Teresa Goertzen

says:

My daughter is definitely a guesser. She can sound our words but defaults to guessing. She has memorised many words and seems to want to do it that way instead of learning phonics.

Jennifer Camley

says:

Awesome! Thank you for all the tips!!!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jennifer!

Jamie Sarver

says:

This is so informative. Thanks!

Kalie

says:

Very informative. I witnessed my daughter applying one of the techniques just the other day

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Kalie!

Anastasha A

says:

My children tend to guess “oo” and silent-e often. We are only in Level 2 of AAS, so I hope this gets fixed soon.

Kathy

says:

I have been working so hard to break my son of this habit. I’m pretty sure he was taught to guess with all 4 of those strategies and that’s so heartbreaking. The really sad part is, some of the teachers don’t even realize the damage they are doing by teaching kids to guess.

Marika Holmes

says:

This was easy to start using with my clients and I have already noticed a difference.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s great to hear you have noticed a difference in just a short time, Marika!

Michelle

says:

My son guesses often and when he doesn’t I make him point to each letter and sound it out… I’m hoping he grows out of that. Thanks for the tips!

Rebecca

says:

We are still working through this challenge, but are seeing steady progress. We love All About Reading. 😊

Jane BB

says:

I’ve got a word guesser – and he WAS taught that in a Kindergarten class unfortunately. It’s improved as he’s advanced in reading skills and we’ve left “regular” school – but it’s been a hard habit to break!

Peach

says:

My five year old is learning to read and is a word guesser! I think the blending procedure would really help

Amy

says:

My child has ADHD and rushes words, and often prefers to guess. If reminded to slow down, she can break down and blend the majority of new words. I have noticed that she tends to add a “t” sound near the beginning of new words (when rushing a bit) and sometimes leaves out sounds altogether. For example, she may read “surprised” as “sturpied.” Smaller words as usually a non-issue. For trickier words, we slow down and break apart/blend the word together. Any ideas for this one?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amy,
It may be most helpful to approach this as a cause for encouraging a high level of accuracy when reading.

Each day, during your 20 minute reading lesson, or when she reads aloud to you for 20 minutes, require that she read every word as it is written. When she misreads a word, adding a sound or subtracting it, or whatever she does, wait until she finishes the sentence and ask, “Did that sentence make sense?”

Then, have her reread the sentence. Hopefully she will reread it more carefully, and you will move on. However, if she misreads the word again, build it with tiles (or write it on a whiteboard or scrap paper), and have her follow the blending procedure (the free download in this blog post). Have her touch each letter and then slide her finger underneath them as she blends them. Once she sounds the word out correctly, have her read the sentence again before moving on.

It doesn’t take most students long to start showing an improvement with careful reading once you start doing this. It shows them that reading accurately is more important than just getting the reading done.

Asking that question, “Did that sentence make sense?”, is important too. It encourages students to think about what they read. You may wish to occasionally ask it when she reads a sentence correctly, so that she doesn’t always assume that, “Did that sentence make sense?” means she misread something. You want her to be thinking about what she read.

In time, she will likely start noticing her own errors and self-correcting before you have a chance to ask. When that happens, praise her! All readers make errors at times, but good readers can spot errors themselves and go back and reread for clarity. Poor readers won’t notice their own errors. Self-correcting is an important skill to develop!

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have additional questions. I’d love to hear how things go over the next few weeks too.

Jaanya

says:

We love the resources . Very well organised and focuses topic wise.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Jaanya!

Elizabeth Roelandts

says:

So helpful, thank you!

Katharine Gindin

says:

Great suggestions to help break the guessing habit!

Erica Stoltzfus

says:

Thanks for this, we have been struggling with getting our 5 year old to make sure he sounds out words he doesn’t recognize.

Dominique Tagle

says:

Thank you for this post. My daughter is at this stage now. We just transitioned to AAR. I am excited for what’s ahead!

Julia

says:

I always tell my kids, we are readers so we are going to read the words not guess the word.

Katie

says:

My daughter seems to consistently drop the first letter sound when she is blending. For instance, we will be working on “man” and she will make each letter sound then say excitedly, “An!” (or sometimes just apple). An eval indicated she might be dyslexic. Any tips to help her to notice or include all sounds? She’s very intelligent and memorizes any workbook page or story after the first pass.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katie,
Take a look at our Helping Kids Sound Out Words blog post, and especially the cumulative blending discussed in it.

When sounding out a word with three sounds, like “man”, she should blend the first two sounds together before trying to blend the entire word. So it would be:

– “/m/-/ă/-/n/”

– then, “/m/-/ă/ – /mă/”

– then, “/mă/-/n/”

– and only after that, “/măn/”

That cumulative blending step of blending the first two sounds together before blending the entire word will likely fix her difficulties with dropping the first sound.

Also, while doing this, be sure she is touching each letter as she says its sound and sliding her finger under them while sounding them out. It’s a small thing, but the very tactile act of touching the letters makes them much more likely to be remembered.

If you have letter tiles, magnets, or cards of some sort, you can play a “Change the Word” activity. This activity is especially helpful for working on blending and paying attention to all sounds in a word. Starting with a simple 3-sound word like bat, have your child read it, and then change one letter to make a new word for her to read like sat. Then it could be sit-sip-tip-top…and so on. This activity is also really helpful for working on consonant blends (like ST, BR, PL, and so on) when you get to those. You can see “Change the Word” in the All About Reading level 1 Teacher’s Manual sample on page 39 of the PDF and on other pages too.

I hope this helps, but please let me know if you have questions or need more ideas.

Juana V

says:

This happened a lot when I was trying to teach my boys even though we did not do sight words it was a struggle.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Juana,
Yes, some children will develop a habit of guessing even if they were taught to sound words out. It’s less common, but it can happen.

You say it was a struggle. Does that mean they have broken the habit and now have success with reading? If you need help with this or anything else, please let me know.

Bev Hoey

says:

I am learning so much from your blog. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Bev!

Julia

says:

My oldest used to do this but we used the blending method and slowly but surely we got there!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Julia! So wonderful that your child is breaking the word guessing habit!

Melissa

says:

Nice to read this article before starting with my oldest son and hopefully avoid some pitfalls :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you’ll find this helpful, Melissa. Let me know if you have any questions.

Pamela Rittenhouse

says:

My son does this instead of taking the time to sound out the word.

Jaime

says:

My son struggles with this. I can’t wait to try this method. Thank you

Patty

says:

This blending procedure is very effective for stopping the guessing habit! It is exactly what students need to practice blending each phonogram sound to make a word. This is OG decoding at its best!! Great blog post and great FREE handout! Thank you so much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Patty!

Audrey

says:

Helpful post. I am looking into getting level 1 of this program because while my child is reading I am noticing gaps. Guessing the word is one of the problems as well as letter confusion.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, Audrey. All About Reading will help with breaking the word guessing habit. Let me know if you have questions, need help with placement, or anything else.