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Oxford Reading Tree words

(143 Posts)
schmee Sun 16-Oct-11 21:48:04

My twins are supposedly learning to read with phonics and are just doing phonics at school (learning the letter sounds) but they are coming home with books with lots of sight words in them. I think they are say and see books?? Apologies this is all very new to me. One is using the Oxford reading tree (they are in different classes).

Should I be doing something to reinforce the words they don't know? At the moment it seems quite random. Also, I've lost track of the new sight words or tricky words (e.g. ones with sounds like "ay" and "ow" that they haven't learnt yet). Does anyone know if a list exists that gives the words in the order they appear in the ORT?

As they are using different books in the different classes, I find it really hard to remember whether each child has encountered the word before!

Mashabell Mon 17-Oct-11 07:28:11

I find it really hard to remember whether each child has encountered the word before!
No need to worry. U'll find out which words are tricky for your children by them stumbling over them, because they are not entirely decodable - because some of their letters or graphemes like 'ow' can be pronounced in different ways.

A few years ago I had identified all the tricky words in each ORT book, but can't find them now. Some contain far more of them than others.

Among the 100 most used English words the following are not entirely decodable:
*he, of, the, to, was,
all, be, are, have, one, said, we, you, by, my, call, before, come, could, do, down, into, look, me, more, now, only, other, right, she, some, their, there, two, when, want, were, what, where, which, who, your.*

In the top 300 there are these as well (although some are derivatives from the above):
after, another, any, asked, bear, book, can’t, coming, couldn’t, don’t, ever, every, everyone, eyes, fast, find, four, friends, gone, good, great, grow, he’s, head, I, I’ll, I’m, key, know, last, laughed, live, lived, looked, looking, looks, many, most, mother, Mr, Mrs, never, oh, once, people, plants, pulled, put, ready, river, small, snow, some, something, there’s, thought, through, took, town, very, wanted, water, work, would.

schmee Mon 17-Oct-11 14:21:36

Thank you - that's really useful. I think what worries me is that because they are not doing the tricky words in class, it's reliant on what we can do in homework. I kind of feel like I should be doing a "word bag" for them with the new words in them. But you're right, I'm probably just worrying over nothing.

Mashabell Mon 17-Oct-11 16:17:54

U can't do any harm by teaching the tricky words a few at a time.
Helping with learning to read those is where parents do most good.

The easily decodable words the majority of children manage to learn in their phonics lessons. Many even work them out largely by themselves. The letters/graphemes with variable sounds are the ones that cause most of the reading homework - helping them to access such words when they get stuck.

The tricky bit is not making children work harder than is right for what they have learnt so far and their ability, keeping it fun and not making it a tedious chore. The latter can turn them into reluctant readers.

But when a child is able and keen to learn, it would be silly not to help, imo.

Teachers often don't give parents nearly enough credit for the help they provide.

schmee Mon 17-Oct-11 17:30:49

Yes - they seem to be reading ahead of what they are learning in class (just running through the basic letter sounds at the moment) which I think is part of the problem.

Ishmael1 Mon 17-Oct-11 20:03:57

I’m afraid, Schmee, that much of the advice you are being given by Mashabell is not factually accurate.
All words are decodable. All words are made up of sounds and all sounds can be spelt. That being the case, as long as a learner is taught from simple to more complex, all words are decodable. Your child is at present probably being taught the one-to-one correspondences: words like ‘sat’, ‘dog’, and ‘wet’. All of those words contain three sounds and all the sounds are spelt with one letter.
At this level, things are relatively straightforward. However, things get more complicated and this where the teaching becomes ever more important. We don’t just spell sounds with one letter, we also spell lots of sounds with two letters (f i sh, some with three letters (l igh t) and relatively few with four letters (eigh t).
The next level of complexity is that we spell the sounds in English (and there are around forty-four of them and they are stable - i.e. they don't change and we don't add new ones every now and then) in different ways. For example, there are a number of common ways of spelling the sound ‘oe’ as in the word ‘toe’: ‘goat’, ‘slow’, ‘no’, ‘toe’, ‘bone’, ‘soul’ and ‘dough’. This is one reason why it’s so difficult to become a perfect speller in English – because if you’ve never seen a word before, how would you know how to spell it?
The other problem is that many spellings also represent more than one sound. For example, the spelling <ea> can be ‘ee’ in ‘steam’, ‘ae’ in ‘great’, and ‘e’ in ‘bread’.
You probably think that all of this probably sounds quite complicated. It is! That’s why teaching practitioners need proper training in understanding how the sounds of the English language are related to the spelling system. They also need to learn how to teach it.
If done properly, teaching young children to read and spell isn’t a difficult job. It does take time and patience and expertise on the part of the teacher. It’s not like teaching Spanish, for example, where you only have about twenty-two to twenty-four sounds (depending on accent) and around thirty-some- odd spellings.
Every single one of the words provided as examples by Mashabell are decodable. Let’s take one of her examples: ‘was’. On the face of it ‘was’ is a ‘tricky’ word. It becomes much less so if you know that it is part of a very common pattern. After the sound ‘w’, we very often spell the sound ‘o’ with the letter <a>. Think about it: ‘wasp’, ‘swap’, ‘want’, ‘swallow’, ‘swan’, etc, etc. we even spell many common place names like this: Wapping, Wantage, Swanage.
While English is probably the most difficult alphabetic language to learn to read and write, it can be done – usually in the Key Stage 1 years. After that, with some fine-tuning along the way, you can decode anything however difficult, from ‘cat’ to ‘catastrophic’, as a friend of mine puts it. What you can’t do is to remember by sight over a million words in the language.
If you really want to know more about how to teach reading and spelling (two sides of the same coin), I'd go to the Reading Reform Foundation (, where you'll get some good advice.

mrz Mon 17-Oct-11 20:05:23

Mashabell Mon 17-Oct-11 16:17:54

^U can't do any harm by teaching the tricky words a few at a time.
Helping with learning to read those is where parents do most good^.

mrz Mon 17-Oct-11 20:08:56

try these schmee

schmee Mon 17-Oct-11 20:36:53

Thanks for the link, but I'm not really looking particularly to give them books outside the ones given by school (one a night as it is). What I want to do is help them learn the funny words that they can't yet decode. I'm not sure if teaching them all the odd sounds is the right approach at this stage...

maizieD Mon 17-Oct-11 23:12:54

I think it is incredibly sad when schools which purport to be 'teaching phonics' then send children home with ORT books, which are written for the discredited 'look & say' method of teaching reading. There is very little point in teaching children the letter/sound correspondences and then not giving them the opportunity to consolidate their learning with words which they are able to sound out and blend using the correspondences which they are learning and which they have already learned. For many children it is just too much, too fast to be faced with words containing unknown correspondences. It gives them the idea that reading is indeed a difficult and confusing task and may turn them off the whole process at a very early stage.

My advice would be not to even attempt to get your dcs to 'learn' the words which are 'outside' their current phonic knowledge but to ask the school why they are being given books to 'read' which contain may words which they can't possibly decode yet.

Refuse to play the 'ORT levels' game; reading those books is not critical to their development as readers (could even be damaging)! Find out what correspondences they already know and play about with reading and writing words which contain them. You will find that even the first stages of learning the 'simple' alphabetic code (one way to represent each of the 44 'sounds' of English) will open up a far wider reading vocabulary than the restricted 'look & say' vocabulary of ORT. ORT vocabulary has to be restricted because the instructional theory on which it is based is that children 'learn' discrete words by repeatedly seeing and reading them, without any particular need to pay any attention to their phonic underpinning (i.e the way that the sounds in the words are represented by a letter or group of letters).

I suggest that you have a look at the excellent Phonics International web site where you will find advice for parents on initial reading instruction and the first unit of the programme can be downloaded free of charge, which will give you a good idea of how the teaching and learning of phonics for reading and spelling should proceed.

maizieD Mon 17-Oct-11 23:17:16

P.S Keep on reading lots of lovely books to them!

Mashabell Tue 18-Oct-11 06:54:22

Ishmael1 -^All words are decodable^. Quay? Plough through trough of rough dough? Some are far more easily decodable than others.

The claim would make my 6-yr-old granddaughter laugh.
She is an excellent reader now, but when she first started to learn last year, she explained to me quite early on,
"U can't decode all words. Some are a bit tricky. U can't sound out 'was'. We say 'woz', not W - A - S. - U have to work it out."

Children who grasp this early on, and are not phased by it, usually make the best readers. The normal sense of 'decodable' means one-to-one correspondences, e.g. A=1, B=2, C=3....

The English alphabet 'code' is not like that at all. It has 91 main spellings for its 44 sounds. They have have a main sound, as I have shown on the Phonics-basics thread, but 69 of them have variant pronunciations, as i have shown on one of my blogs (e.g. and/ any able father).
(I can't put a link to my blogs, because some phonics fanatics who don't really want parents to understand what learning to read English involves reported me to Mumsnet for it, but u can find them by googling Masha Bell if u want to know more about reading-problems.)

Ishmael has given a pretty good explanation of how reading is nowadays generally taught.

mrz Tue 18-Oct-11 07:21:13

Qu =K ay = ee
p =p l=l ough = ow

very small children soon learn how to use the alternative spellings masha

schmee the problem is they can't learn all the words by sight which is why using old ORT books and teaching phonics isn't compatible.

maverick Tue 18-Oct-11 09:01:46

''The normal sense of 'decodable' means one-to-one correspondences, e.g. A=1, B=2, C=3....''

Only in Masha world.

Ishmael1 Tue 18-Oct-11 10:57:05

The problem with Mashabell’s kind of analysis, and it is one that is shared by many teachers and unfortunately even by some developers of phonics programmes, is that it starts from completely the wrong premise.
According to one of the great authorities on writing systems, Peter T. Daniels, writing systems represent the sounds of the language. That’s what the squiggles we see on the page are for: representing the sounds in English.
Letters do NOT make sounds. They do not HAVE ‘variable’ sounds. People make sounds. This may seem to be a trivial point. It is not. If young children are given the impression that letters on the page make sounds, they are very unlikely to make (uncover) the connection between the sounds they make when they talk and the way we represent those sounds. Often they think letters magically make sounds and this leads to all kinds of nonsense that we’ve seen taught in the past and which obscure the logic of the way reading and writing and speaking are related.
There are a limited and definable number of sounds (around forty-four) and, although the English alphabet system is complex, it can be taught very successfully – but only if the people teaching it understand how it works. As Diane McGuinness, a speaker at the RRF conference last Friday, made clear in her talk, the sounds are the basis for the code; the letters are the code.
Yes, Mashabell is right about the fact that some words are ‘more easily decodable than others’ but that’s what teaching is all about: knowing the order in which to teach sound/spelling correspondences and how to teach them. But teach them you must and though introducing lots of words to be ‘sight-remembered’ may seem to present a quick solution, ultimately it consigns huge numbers of children to a lifetime of illiteracy or semi-literacy.
Mashabell’s granddaughter might well laugh but six-year-old children don’t understand how the writing system works and, worse, they are often taught by teachers who don’t understand it either.
Stick with MaizieD’s advice, Schmee. Invest in some easily decodable readers – there are a number about. And, again MaizieD is absolutely right in suggesting that you ‘walk on both feet’: i.e. read to your children every day. This is where you further develop their vocabulary and their acquisition of the grammatical structures of the language.

witchwithallthetrimmings Tue 18-Oct-11 11:09:07

also don't worry about it all too much, most children learn to read no matter how they are taught, just by looking at books. As parents all we should do is encourage them to love stories and enjoy reading and being read to x

dramatrauma Tue 18-Oct-11 13:02:26

DS's school also taught phonics (allegedly) but sent him home with ORT books. They thought the same way Masha does. He struggled, fell behind, and his teachers suggested dyslexia.

Thanks to the good advice on here from the likes of maverick, mrz and maisie, my son now reads. But I had to teach him, using only synthetic phonics, and books he could decode. (He has no trouble decoding 'tricky' words, by the way.) He is not dyslexic, and he reads well ahead of his class now.

And they do NOT all breathe it in and learn to read, just by looking at books. We read to ours constantly, love books ourselves, and have a house stuffed to the rafters with books. But DS needed to be taught, and taught properly, using only synthetic phonics. As a parent, if your child struggles, you may need to do significantly more than just enjoy books.

maizieD Tue 18-Oct-11 17:08:34

(I can't put a link to my blogs, because some phonics fanatics who don't really want parents to understand what learning to read English involves reported me to Mumsnet for it...)

And who might this be, masha? Don't be shy. If you are going to make these claims let's have some hard evidence for them...

witchwithallthetrimmings Tue 18-Oct-11 17:34:14

Drama I did say most children and not all, and I still maintain that it is better for us to be getting children to enjoy listening and retelling stories than teaching them how to decode unless we have evidence that they are struggling. It does not matter when a child starts to read what matters is that they should love to do so

mrz Tue 18-Oct-11 17:49:02

masha has already accused me (and others of this) and if she would care to repeat her allegations I would be more than happy to take it further ...

Feenie Tue 18-Oct-11 17:52:26

Message deleted by Mumsnet.

Feenie Tue 18-Oct-11 20:46:32

I think I might repeat my last post, since I have no idea why it was deleted. confused

I said:

I still maintain that it is better for us to be getting children to enjoy listening and retelling stories than teaching them how to decode

Why can't we do both?

I also said that Masha's comments re her website address deletions were pretty snide, given that she knows that MNHQ do the deleting because they don't allow website addresses which sell products unless they are paid for in small business ads.

I am also prepared to take this further if my name is mentioned again in relation to thread deletion to hide truth from parents angry.

witchwithallthetrimmings Wed 19-Oct-11 09:43:53

of course we can do both Feenie but it is much much harder to teach love of books and strories in the class room than curled up in bed with your child, or making up stories as you go for a walk etc.

Feenie Wed 19-Oct-11 12:18:47

I don't think that actually, as a teacher. Obviously it's easier if a love of reading is fostered at home at the same time, but lots of teachers find it easy to teach a love of books and stories, and teach it alongside decoding.

dramatrauma Wed 19-Oct-11 13:20:08

DS has always loved stories, telling them and hearing them. And ever since he could hold books he has loved going to the library and flipping through books and having me read to him. None of that made any difference to his ability to read, until I taught him to decode.

I'm not saying we shouldn't foster a love of books, of course we should. But that makes no difference if you don't teach children the mechanics of reading.

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