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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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Hilary Harris

says:

My 14and half year old grandson has only just been diagnosed with dyslexia/disgraphia and it is quite severe. After being ‘experimented’n in so many different ways he lost interest and has stopped trying. He is intelligent with a very good memory and is a non verbal reader when he has a go.
I have found and read The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald Davis and this a revelation to me. Do you have any experience of his methods, would it be worth me doing the training? I retired from teaching after 50 years work and still do some work. Also I am the SEND governor for my local school.I must try to get thie help before it is too late,

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Hilary,
I am familiar with the book The Gift of Dyslexia. Davis’ descriptions of what it is like to have dyslexia and some of the strengths of many of those with dyslexia ring very true for my dyslexic husband and children. However, I did not find the Davis method for teaching reading to be successful for one of my dyslexic children, and when he had success with the Orton-Gillingham approach I used that with the rest of my dyslexic children.

Academic research over the last 80+ years has shown that the most successful approach for teaching those with dyslexia to be successful with reading and spelling is the The Orton-Gillingham Approach. All About Reading and All About Spelling are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach and are designed to be easy to teach without previous training or experience.

We offer a one-year money back guarantee for our products as well. If you purchase materials from us and find that they aren’t working for your student, you can return them for a full refund of the purchase price, excluding shipping, even if the materials are used.

Please let me know if you would like information about placement or have additional questions.

Sherry

says:

My great granddaughter is 6 and I useTimber doodle curriculum. The all about reading & spelling is a wonderful program.
Just finished kindergarten and she reads and spells really well. I am very impressed with this program.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Sherry! I’m pleased to hear your great-granddaughter is reading so well already.

Ofure okojie

says:

This was so helpful…thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Ofure!

Nadia K

says:

My 12 years old girl reads a lot these days, but still word guessing! Can I please have some guidance on placement – considering her age, do we start with All About Spelling instead of reading? Thank you, Nadia

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nadia,
Going with All About Spelling is a great idea. Since every student needs to start with Level 1 or Level 2, she will learn the basics that she may have otherwise missed. You may find our Using All About Spelling with Older Students helpful for how to fast-track through the lower levels. Here is the spelling placement test to determine if she needs to start with Level 1 or can skip it.

However, please go over our All About Reading placement tests as well. After completing the final level, Level 4, students have the phonics and word attack skills necessary to sound out high school level words. (Word attack skills include things like dividing words into syllables, making analogies to other words, sounding out the word with the accent on different word parts, recognizing affixes, etc.) So, even at her age, she may benefit from one of the higher levels of All About Reading.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have questions about placement after looking over the placement tests, or if you need more information about anything else.

Libby Inglett

says:

My 12 year old is a word guesser. I didn’t know about All About Reading when he was younger but plan to work with him on his reading. He tends to guess by first and last letter or by context.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Let me know if you have questions about placement or need anything else, Libby.

Amani

says:

I’ve been studying to become an elementary teacher, and this website has provided more information than majority of my courses combined. Thank you so much for the knowledge, will be purchasing materials to help the students I tutor (soon).

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wow, what an amazing compliment, Amani! Thank you! I will pass this along to the entire team.

Athena

says:

While I agree that using the phonograms is helpful for most cvc words and many other decodable words, how can it help with words that “don’t follow the rules” or can’t be sounded out? Like…talk, would, heart, many, they etc? What are your strategies for teaching those types of words? Thank you for your suggestions.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Athena! First, I think you will find our blog post Sight Words: What You Need to Know helpful.

Many so-called sight words can be sounded out without difficulty if students have learned all the sounds of all the phonograms and the rules and patterns of English. The word “they” is an example of this.

In this video, we show that 90% of the words on the Dolch Sight Word list are completely decodable!

However, there are words that have phonograms saying sounds they aren’t supposed to make, like “many”. These words do need to be taught separately but note that most of the phonograms in many say exactly what you would expect (the m, n, and y). Students don’t have to memorize the entire word as a unit, but rather learn that the A is breaking the rules by saying the short E sound.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have additional questions.

Caroline

says:

Thanks!

Michelle

says:

Word guessing is definitely a skill my son was taught at school. The tiles and blending have helped a lot this summer when we started using AAR 1 to fill in some missing pieces to his reading.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m really pleased to hear that the letter tiles and All About Reading has helped your son, Michelle!

Corrie

says:

Yes! My child is a guesser for sure she uses picture and context clues but we go back and look at the sounds.

Adrienne

says:

Great tips!! Looking forward to using these suggestions so my little guy isn’t a word guesser

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.

shan

says:

It sounds like you could use some phonics rule refreshing <3 those all have rules to help sound them out easily!

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.

Sydney

says:

This is such a great response! Thank you!

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.