Book Review: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

My well-worn copy of the book

My well-worn copy of the book

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons’ is incredible. I owe this book, author and method a huge ‘thank you’ - my daughter can now read, and more importantly, reads for fun. Plus, it’s an interesting way to teach phonics that I haven’t seen before. Let’s jump in!

In Brief

This book is for children aged 3+, and we started when my daughter was three and a half years old. Each lesson took between 15-30 minutes, and it took us seven months to finish all 100. During that time she went from not being able to read, to reading at a good ‘2nd year at primary school’ level

Now she’s five and a half, and started school five months ago. As her reading was above what’s expected, the school tested her ability. Now instead of being given letter sounds for homework, she’s getting books from two years above her.

As a language teacher and a parent, that blows my mind.

The Method

The book uses a method called ‘Direct Instruction’ (which I’ll call ‘DI’ from now on), developed by Siegfried ‘Zig’ Engelmann (a professor of Education at Oregon University).

DI relies on the teacher / parent to lead the lesson, using a script.

In the book, the script is printed in red ink, and the appropriate student responses are in black, like this:

Instructions.jpg

You do need to read the introduction, which talks you through how to go through the lessons. It’s quite straightforward, but for the first couple of lessons I found it useful to read through ahead of time.

It sounds like a lot, but they’re written well:

Instructions+2.jpg

Be prepared – the first few lessons can be tough. My daughter complained of having a tummy-ache, a head-ache, of being hungry / thirsty / tired – anything to avoid the lesson! You have to persevere - keep it light-hearted, fun, break it into two sessions, do anything you have to.

By lesson nine, something wonderful happened. She started to realise that she could do it. She could remember and recognise the sounds. She took great delight in jumping ahead and saying it before I had a chance to read the script. She went from thinking she couldn’t to knowing that she could, and that changed everything.

From then on, lessons became easier. Some were fun to do, some were just OK, depending on her mood.

She was reading her own bedtime story by lesson 60. Wow.

The Theory

When I first looked into the DI method, I was sceptical. I’ve taught young learners before, and I’ve taught them phonics. I’ve even written a phonics course! Still, these were all classroom based and not 1-to-1, but I did my best to make them learner-centred and fun, with lots of cute materials and as much peer interaction as possible.

DI isn’t like that. It’s teacher-centred, not student-centred. It doesn’t take into account ‘modern’ teaching methods or Piagetian learning development theories and yet, it works. It works incredibly well.

John Hattie, known for his meta-studies on education, ‘Visible Learning for Teachers’ noted that Direct Instruction, had an effect size of 0.59, which means it is among the most successful methods (note: this is for DI applied to other subject matters, not just phonics).

If you’re curious to get into more detail about the theoretical underpinnings, here’s a video of Zig himself explaining its philosophical background:

Top Tips on Using the Book

  • Read and understand the instructions before you start.

  • You’ll need the script less as your child will get to know what’s expected.

  • Keep the story picture covered until they’ve done the exercises! Curiosity helps them stay motivated.

  • Some lessons, they’ll just get ‘stuck’. That’s ok – just repeat the lesson the next time.

  • Some days will drive you nuts. Breathe, be calm, and find the humour in it.

  • Keep it lighthearted. Don’t show frustration. Take a break and re-do the lesson.

  • Lessons will take longer than 20 minutes, at least in the beginning.

  • The stories can be odd, silly or funny. Over-react, pull faces, ‘get into’ the story-telling so your child looks forward to it.

Final Thoughts

We talk about changing education - here’s a great way to start. Imagine if all parents used this book with their children, and those five year olds arrived on their first day of school with a reading level a seven-year old.

I’m genuinely surprised that this book isn’t far more popular than it is. It’s not as if it’s new – it was first published in 1983. Especially as reading is highly correlated with success in other academic subjects.

If you’re a parent of a 3-6 year old, buy this book.

She’s now loving Roald Dahl, as I did.

She’s now loving Roald Dahl, as I did.