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Book Review: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Spoiler: it’s the best thing you can do for a child's education.
‘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!
This book is for children aged 3+, and we started when my daughter was three and a half years old. Each lesson took 15–30 minutes, and it took us seven months to finish all 100. During that time, she went from being unable to read to reading at a year 2 (UK) / Grade 2 (US) level.
Now she’s five and a half, and started school five months ago. As her reading exceeded expectations, the school tested her ability. Now instead of being given letter sounds for homework, she’s getting books from two years above her age.
As a language teacher and a parent, that blows my mind.
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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:
You do need to read the introduction, which talks you through how to go through the lessons. It’s pretty straightforward, but I found it useful for the first couple of lessons to read through ahead of time.
It sounds like a lot, but they’re written well:
Be prepared — the first few lessons can be challenging. My daughter complained of having a tummy-ache, a head-ache, of being hungry/thirsty/tired — anything to avoid the lesson! You must persevere — keep it light-hearted and fun, and break it into two sessions. Do anything you have to.
By lesson nine, something extraordinary 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 she could, which changed everything.
From then on, lessons became easier. Some were fun to do, and some were just OK, depending on her mood.
She was reading her own bedtime story by lesson 60. Wow.
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 learns 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 — 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.
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 seven-year-old reading level.
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.
See you again in two weeks.
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