PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 April, 2008, 12:00am

I am a secondary school teacher of English and many of my first-year students have very poor reading skills. What can I do to help them develop?

Education consultant Florence Robertson replies:

To learn to read effectively, your students need to develop skills in phonics, word recognition, fluency, spelling and writing, and comprehension. Through the study of phonics, students learn the relationship between the sounds of spoken words and the letters of written words. This skill is essential. When students learn the sounds that letters make, they are able to sound out new words. As they progress, students will begin to blend letter sounds to make a word and to recognise word families such as fat, cat, and sat. Your students will also begin to understand letter patterns in words as well as prefixes and suffixes.

You will need to help your students to understand that some words don't fit the phonics rules such as 'the', 'was' and 'you'. They will have to memorise these words. Your students must have experience in recognising the high-frequency words that are in our language. As they gain more experience, their word-recognition skills will improve.

To help your students to develop fluency, you will need to read to them regularly. They will learn from you the importance of reading with expression. As they acquire fluency, they will show you that they know when to pause at appropriate places when reading aloud.When students are taught to spell and write words correctly, they learn to associate a sound with a letter. This process assists them in their reading progress. They show that they are progressing not only in their spelling and reading but also in their writing. Even if students don't know the correct spelling of a word, with experience in phonics they begin to spell words the way they sound. They show their development in reading and writing by their ability to write in proper sentences and use correct capitalisation and punctuation. They gradually learn how to write different types of compositions such as stories, reports and letters.

The study of phonics ultimately leads to a student learning more vocabulary and increasing one's understanding and comprehension. It is not enough to know what a word sounds like. A student must know what a word means. As students increase their vocabulary, their comprehension increases. They are able to use new words correctly in speech and writing.

As their reading skills develop, they recall details from a story. In addition, they become able to predict what might happen in a new story.