Post-Covid: Supporting Our Youngest Readers – Part 4

The Three Cueing Systems

By Grade 1, students begin to read both fictional and informational short texts, supported by pictures. For years, using one (or all) of the three cueing systems, helped a child in his attempts to read continuous text. Here’s a parent-friendly explanation of the three cueing systems. When you are listening to your child read, you can employ the use of them to offer support when your child encounters tricky text.

The three cueing systems are:

  • Semantic: Does it make sense? The use of semantics relies on meaning. Prompting a child to consider whether the a word makes sense encourages him to think about the meaning of the text and often facilitates decoding.
  • Syntactic: Does it sound right? Syntactic prompts consider the structure of the text, prompting a child to consider if what he is reading follows acceptable language structure.
  • Grapho-Phonetic: Does it look right? These prompts require a reader to consider the visual appearance of a word. Looking more carefully often enables a reader to decipher a troublesome word correctly.

Recent research has discredited the use of the semantic and syntactic cueing systems, insisting that readers rely on the grapho-phonemic approach to identify tricky words. Many schools are now emphasizing phonics instruction and requiring students to process every letter of the printed word when stuck. This is not an attempt to condemn new scientific studies of reading. However, years of experience with struggling first grade readers clearly showed benefits to applying all three cueing systems. I simply offer this as a way for parents to support children when they are reading continuous text at home. Perhaps directing a child to use the grapho-phonemic approach first (Does it look right?), and supplementing with the other cueing systems would allow for smooth and successful reading to occur. Remember, the goal for young readers is confidence and comprehension. This is how I see various cueing systems being used at home by parents:

  • When a child is stuck on a word or miscues, first use the grapho-phonemic prompt. Does that look right?
  • If this does not prove successful, then ask the child to look at the picture or consider what would make sense (syntactic) or sound right (semantic).
  • If the child cannot decode the word successfully within three seconds, simply tell him the word and move on. Remember, you don’t want meaning to break down because a child is spending too much time decoding. It’s far better to give a three-second told and move forward with the text. You can always return to that section, and look more carefully at the tricky word or part.

Most early readers are encouraged to read at home. It is not easy for a parent to listen to a struggling reader move through text, so be gentle with yourself. I believe that whatever you can do to make this process enjoyable for your child, build confidence, and allow them to savor the story, will foster both skills and a love of reading.

Sorry for the delay in posting the last part of this series. Sometimes life gets in the way. In the wake of the pandemic, many early readers are struggling. Hopefully, the ideas in this series will allow you to better nurture your child’s budding literacy skills. Feel free to pose any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

About Rita K.

Educator and Certified Reading specialist
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