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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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Miriam

says:

He I have a 9 1/2 yr old son and changing curriculum to all about reading and having a hard time know exactly how far to go back he knows the phonogram sounds equal to level 4 but was advised to go back to level three. He still struggles with knowing what his vowels and consonants are and the curriculum we were using although very phonics based we didn’t go over /learn some very basic rules…. Cvc for example . I am concerned he will be discouraged to go back to “baby reading”! Don’t know where to start. Are there Printables for quick intro and review of these basic skills?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Miriam,
All About Reading includes research-based instruction in all aspects of reading, not only in phonograms and decoding skills but also in fluency, automaticity, comprehension, vocabulary, and lots and lots of reading practice. While it is good that he knows the phonograms for All About Reading Level 4, he also needs to be reading fluently with good comprehension.

Do you use our placement test to find he needs Level 3? If not, how were you advised to start with Level 3?

Just so you know, All About Reading levels are not grade levels. Level 3 does not mean “third grade”. All About Reading groups words in a logical manner based on similar rules or patterns regardless of their supposed grade level, which allows students to progress quickly and confidently.

At the end of Level 4, students have the phonics and word attack skills necessary to sound out high school level words, though younger students may not know the meaning of all higher-level words yet. (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.)

You can look through the All About Reading Level 3 samples and see that it is not “babyish” at all. Much older students than your son have enjoyed and learned from this level.

I can direct you to help with specific concepts and rules, but being able to read with fluency and automaticity cannot be done from a quick introduction. So being able to read the samples in the placement test with fluency is the first key to placement.

Cara

says:

My 2 kids are guessers 1, 3 and 4, depending on what we are trying to read. I constantly need to remind them to look at the word, not the picture, and then we sound out the word together.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

That habit of guessing at words can be hard to break! I hope you find the tips here helpful, Cara. However, if you need more tips or suggestions as you work with your kids, please let me know. I’m happy to help!

Amy

says:

Totally have a guesser! We are in Level 1 and finished through lesson 6. I’m confident he knows all the phonograms that we’ve done so far. When sounding out the words, he says each individual sound just fine. But then when he starts to blend he says the first two letter together and then abandons the mission and guesses a word often that is not anything close to what he just said. You talk about how it can be a lot to remember by they time they get to the third sound and I get that. I feel I have correctly taught how to blend and he knows the mechanics of doing it but I need to work with him more on the actual process of blending. He gets weary really quick. Any suggestions for working on blending and maybe some ways to keep his interest on it?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is having difficulty with this, Amy.

I think the first thing I would do is double-check that this is the right level for him. Here’s a link to the Level 1 placement test. I would especially look at the phonological awareness section, as that is an important indicator for reading readiness.

If he’s struggling with phonological awareness skills, then it’s probably the best place to start. Skills like being able to blend words orally and being able to identify first and last sounds in a word are very important to reading. Blending written words is dependent on these skills. You might want to read this article on Fun Ways to Develop Phonological Awareness for more help in understanding these skills. It includes some free download activities to practice them as well. If he improves with those, he may be fine trying level 1 again. If he’s still struggling though, then try Pre-reading.

Assuming he does fine on the Level 1 placement test and shows that he is ready for level 1, then he needs to no move forward in Level 1 unit he has mastered sounding words out. He needs to be able to sound words out without difficulty or help before moving past the first two or three lessons, actually.

Here are some things you can do to work on his ability to blend easily:

Make sure to work on reading daily. (You may already be doing that, but I always like to double-check!) We recommend working for about 20 minutes per day on reading, but it is best to do even shorter lessons if your student grows tired or frustrated sooner.

Review the Blending Procedure at the start of each day. (Before anything else.) You want to make sure he is doing every step as shown in the book and in our Helping Kids Sound Out Words blog post. I would start each day with a tile demonstration until he is able to demonstrate all the steps back to you. (Help as much as he needs while he’s learning to do this, but eventually, it should be easy for him and he will be able to demonstrate it without help):

– First, point to each letter and say the sounds. “/p/-/ă/-/t/”

– Second, draw the finger under the first two letters. Blend those and then point to and say the last sound. This cumulative blending step is really important for kids who tend to forget the sounds or mix them up if they try to jump from the first step to the fourth. “/pă/-/t/”

– Third, draw the finger slowly under all three letters and blend those. “/păt/”

– Fourth, say it fast or “say it like a word.”

It may be that focusing on the third cumulative blending step helps your son with this difficulty. It often does for children.

However, you may need to model the full blending procedure (stressing the cumulative blending step) for your son and then have him do it for the exact same word. You may need to model every word for him this way for a while before he can do it easily. But once he can do it easily, try changing just the final letter and see if he can blend the new word without you modeling it first. If he has trouble with it, then model it for him and then have him do it so he can have success with it.

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 so on.

Work on oral blending. You say the sounds of a word you are thinking of, and then he blends them into a word. Can he guess a word that you mean if you just say the sounds? Do easy 3-sound words first, like /k/-/ī/-/t/ (kite). This is a game that can help develop his blending skills. If he can blend orally, then he is on his way to being able to blend written words.

You can make this easier to do it as a part of an “I-Spy” game. Say, “I spy with my little eye something that sounds like /s/-/ŏ/-/k/.” (Choosing something that is within your child’s line of sight.)

Let him say sounds for you to blend too, even if they make nonsense words. Laugh and have fun with it! Hearing you blend sounds can help him begin to hear how individual sounds change slightly when they are blended.

If you are on our Facebook Support group, here’s a great video that a mom shared about teaching her daughter oral blending. If you aren’t in the group already, you can request to join and we’ll get you approved.

Another thing that you can do with young kids that’s fun: (First the parent demonstrates this, and then the child mimics.) Lay three sheets of colored paper on the floor. Write one letter on each sheet of paper, like M – A – P. Jump on the first paper and say /mmmmm/. Jump on the second paper and say /ăăăăă/. Jump on the third paper and say /p/. Then start over, and do it quicker: /mmmmăăăă/-/p/, and then /mmmmmmăăăăăp/. Finally, run across the papers and say “MAP!” You can do a similar activity on the table with a race car and letters written on index cards.

You can also play oral segmenting games. Say a word that has 2 or 3 sounds, and see if he can say the sounds in that word. Here’s a video that demonstrates how to segment sounds. (This post also talks about spelling, but don’t work on that yet–just segmenting words orally.)

Another game I used to play with my kids: I would pull down 3 letter tiles such as c, t, and a. I would draw 3 blanks on the board and say, “I want to make the word cat. What’s the first sound in cat?” (/k/) “Right! Which letter should I put first?” (see if he puts the C in the blank, or help him do that.). “Good! What’s the second sound in cat? /kăăăăt/” (/ăăă/) and so on. See if he can help you make the 3-sound word, and then model how to sound it out and read it using the full blending procedure.

Just play around with the tiles and other activities and games for a few weeks and see if he starts to catch on to blending. I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Ashleigh

says:

Came upon this blog post after struggling with teaching blending to my 5 year old son, who was starting to act out because he was frustrated. Cutting down to 10 minute lessons and doing some of the “fun” activities you mentioned above really helped to alleviate his frustration with learning to blend. We’ve camped out in Lesson 2 for a week and a half, but he is now reading three word sentences, and I feel confident he is ready to read the first story in Lesson 3. Better than that, his frustration is gone and he is feeling more confident in his own abilities! Thank you for your suggestions!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ashleigh,
I am so happy to hear that your son was able to get blending down and is ready to move forward! It sounds like you did great work teaching him! Thank you so much for sharing what worked with your son.

Gale

says:

What helped my child the most was practicing some with nonsense words. After our phonics lessons he seemed to understand the concepts, but when he would encounter similar words in other texts, he would “guess or give up.”

Someone who used Barton suggested adding nonsense words practice. So, after every phonics lessons I’d make up some fake words using the phonics concepts we had learned to practice them by writing them on a dry erase board, and also, after he could read these well, I would mix them up with other concepts (like after we had covered r controlled vowels and silent e words I might give him “zar zat zate” to read), and every time he missed one remind him of the phonics rule. I saw results almost immediately, and they were big. And it worked…in reading if he’d come across a word he didn’t know he would try to sound it out in stead of just guessing, and his reading really started taking off.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad to hear nonsense words has worked so well for your child, Gale!

Nonsense words are used in some programs to help stop kids from guessing at words, because they have to be sounded out. All About Reading doesn’t include them. Nonsense words can help some kids and overly frustrate others, and it can take careful attention to the child’s responses to decide whether they will be useful. Marie Rippel, the author of AAR, likes reading first and foremost to make sense to kids, and so she decided not to include them for these reasons.

However, AAR includes names and less common vocabulary, which many people find fulfills a similar purpose. Activities like the change-a-word activity and the fluency pages also help children have to focus on decoding (they can’t guess based on context the way some children can with a story).

Another issue with nonsense words is that sometimes they are phonetically confusing. Does the word sut rhyme with but or put? Should bo sound like go or do? We have seen such ambiguities on nonsense word evaluations, and students are marked down for trying a less common but phonetically correct sound. That can be pretty discouraging for a student!

When you do end up use nonsense words as you do the activity as you described, we recommend letting your student know if you will be including nonsense words. This way, the student isn’t trying to identify a word they recognize.

Mira

says:

My 7 year old often guesses words beginning with the last letter of the word in the text. Or she will just start telling the story based on the pictures and is not paying any attention to the text. She was diagnosed at 3 with speech apraxia so spelling and reading have been a struggle because she says the wrong sounds often. In preschool and kindergarten her school used Heggerty’s, which I did like. But now that we are homeschooling (the past year and a half, is behind due to the pandemic closures, and is at a mid first grade level for ELA skills), I’m struggling to find the system of teaching that will match her challenges and turn them around into strengths. I’m going to do the spelling and reading placement tests with her, but are there blog posts I’m missing or anything else you might know of for students like her?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mira,
You may find our blog post on Auditory Processing Disorder: 10 Ways to Help Your Child helpful. If a student is saying the wrong sounds for words, she may be not hearing the sounds well. But if she hears the sounds fine, you may wish to seek out speech therapy for her for pronunciation.

However, we have heard from parents that All About Reading can be a great help for students with apraxia of speech. Check out this AAR 1 review from Courtney:

“Fantastic program for kids with disabilities!
Posted by on June 5, 2019
My son is 8 years old and has Apraxia of Speech. He was held back a year because he was not ready for kinder after his 1st year of prek. This past school year (1st grade) he had made zero reading progress. He left kinder on an AR level B and was still on B at Spring Break of 1st. I did a ton of research and found AAR. I ordered Level 1 and worked with him after school. In 7 weeks, he moved to a Level C reading. This program is effective. My son’s Apraxia affects all of his learning but specifically reading, writing, and spelling. This program has built his confidence, lowered his frustration level, and made reading fun for him.”

I do think you will find All About Reading and All About Spelling helpful for your daughter. However, we have an excellent one-year, “Go Ahead and Use It” Guarantee. If the program does not meet your needs, return it at any time within one year of purchase for a full refund of your purchase price excluding shipping, even the materials are used. Marie Rippel, the author, never wants anyone to feel “stuck” with their purchase and wants them to feel free to really try the program.

I hope this helps some, but please let us know if you have additional questions or concerns. Let me know if you need help with placement as well.

Mira

says:

Thank you Robin for this feedback. It is extremely helpful to me. We will be ordering AAR level 1. I saw AAS level 1 is suggested for only after AAR level 1 is completed, so we will follow that order. We have been using BOB books and workbooks, Houghton Mifflin reading books level 1, and I’ve just been finding videos and activities to teach language arts. I need a system! I’ve been searching for what seems to make the most sense for my daughter, and I think these programs will be our next step.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad my reply was helpful, Mira!

Let me know if you have additional questions or need anything. We offer full support!

Sarah Daulton

says:

My 7 yo started guessing words last year and would get frustrated when I encouraged him to “sound it out” (distance learning through public school). I’m so grateful that we are now homeschooling with your program, focusing on blending and phonograms, and working at his pace! His fluency is also improving with AAR!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I am so pleased to hear that All About Reading is helping your child master reading, Sarah! Thank you for sharing.

Janette

says:

My granddaughter is a word guesser. We just finished lesson 8 in AAR level 1. She was beginning to complain about all the words in her review stack. I encouraged her to pause and really look at the word before she tried to read it. I also reminded her to blend the sounds one at a time to figure out what the word is. Once she actually took the time to try to decode the word instead of rushing and guessing. She blew through the review words. It was amazing.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s wonderful to hear that learning to decode words is helping her do better with the fluency practice sheets, Janette!

However, check out our 12 Great Ways to Review Reading Word Cards blog post for ideas on making review even more enjoyable.

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. 😊