6 Questions to Ask Your Students When They Make Reading Errors

Do your students make reading errors when they are reading aloud with you? All students make occasional errors, and some students make several errors in almost every sentence. When students are reading aloud, the perfect opportunity presents itself to review previously taught concepts, reinforce literacy skills, and require students to account for every sound in the target word, through the use of questioning strategies.

Student reading errors come in many different shapes and sizes. Students mix up vowels, add or omit letters in words, guess by virtue of the first few letters in the word, and try to use illustrations to predict unknown words. Regardless of the types of reading errors students exhibit, the use of questioning is the most beneficial way to correct reading errors, while simultaneously reinforcing previously learned skills.

The Benefits of Using Questioning to Correct Reading Errors:

Using questioning as a learning strategy and a teaching tool is an extremely beneficial technique, to improve students' reading skills. Asking students targeted and timely questions during a read aloud helps the student in the following ways:

1) Questioning requires students to recall and then think about skills which have been previously taught, and to apply those skills to the current reading situation.
2) Questioning requires students to use previously taught information as a platform for new learning.
3) Questioning prompts students to reflect on their own reading skills, techniques, and strategies, through metacognitive awareness.

Another strategy that is a common denominator across all error correction situations is to require students to use a technique that forces them to account for every letter sound in a word. Students can use Wilson Finger Tapping, tokens, arm tapping, American Alphabet Sign Language, or the Lil' Reading Scientists TM Phoneme Sequence Board, pictured below, to account for every letter sound in a word. For instance, Wilson Tapping requires students to tap each sound in a word on their fingers, one finger at a time for each sound, starting with the pointer finger and progressing to the pinky (tap each finger on the thumb), while looking at the written word. Arm tapping follows the same idea: students tap their arm, starting at the shoulder and moving down the arm, while saying each sound seen in the written word. With the Lil' Reading Scientists TM Phoneme Sequence Board (board with sandpaper strips from left to right), students use their pointer finger to swipe one swipe for each sound in a word, working from left to right across the board.









Blending these individual sounds together after saying each sound is always the capstone of the procedure. First, sound out the individual sounds, then blend them together. Utilizing a system of accountability consistently, which requires children to engage in one-to-one correspondence of letter sounds to written letters, is the single most effective way to reduce student reading errors.

Types of Reading Errors and Questions to Use as a Learning Strategy:

Students demonstrate several different types of reading errors when reading aloud, along a continuum, varying from major guessing errors to simple mistakes. Below are specific types of reading errors that students typically make, and the pointed questioning to use with each error type as they occur.

1) Many students who lack strong decoding skills develop into readers who look at the first few letters of a word, or the length of the word coupled with the first sound, and just make a random guess.

Questioning to Use: "Guessing at words is not allowed. Can you tap out the word?" (or "Can you use the tokens to sound out the word?", or "Can you use the Phoneme Sequence Board to swipe each sound?").

2) Some students use context clues from the text, the flow of the story, and/or the illustrations, to make guesses about what an unknown word might be.

Questioning to Use: "Guessing is not allowed. Can you tap out the word?" (or "Can you use tokens to sound out the word?", or "Can you use the Phoneme Sequence Board to swipe each sound?").

3) Other students insert or omit letters into words (such as "plan' for 'pan', or 'strong' for 'song').

Questioning to Use: "Guessing is not allowed. Can you tap out the word?", (or "Can you use tokens to sound out the word?", or "Can you use the Phoneme Sequence Board to swipe each sound?).

4) Some students don't know vowel sounds thoroughly, and substitute another vowel sound for the one actually written in the word (such as 'cat' for 'cot').

Questioning to Use: Use the American Manual Hand Signs for the vowel letters when doing this questioning. "The word is 'caaaat' (elongate the vowel sound and show hand sign for letter a) with the /a/ sound, but what vowel did you use to sound out this word?"

5) Additionally, some students are confused about the long versus short vowel sounds, and mix them up within a word (such as 'cap' for 'cape').

Questioning to Use: "Does that word have a Name (long) or a Nickname (short) vowel?" "What kind of syllable is that word?" (Teachers need to learn the 6 Syllable Types of the English language, and teach them to their students before using this question).

6) Students come to a two syllable or multisyllabic word, and don't stop to break it down into syllables, to decode it, and guess at the word.

Questioning to Use: "Where are you going to divide that word?" "Can you sound out just the first syllable?" "Now can you sound out just the second (or next) syllable?" "What syllable division rule did you use to divide that word?" (Teachers need to learn the 12 Syllable Division Rules, and teach them to their students, in order to use this last question).

These questioning techniques should always be used within the context of other non-negotiable principles - namely, the principles of good teaching. Reading research informs us that good literacy teaching is explicit, structured, cumulative, diagnostic, sequential, and is taught within a hierarchy from easy to more complex. These are the principles of the Orton Gillingham Approach.

Basic Principles of the Orton Gillingham Approach:

1) Since English is an alphabetic language, students need to know the alphabet sounds and the sounds for the advanced letter clusters (vowel teams, Bossy R, etc.) automatically, in order to be successful readers.

2) Students should NOT be expected to read text at levels for which they have not had explicit instruction. We cannot expect our students to be able to read words containing skills which have not been explicitly taught!

3) Current skills being taught must be mastered thoroughly before moving on to the next skill.

4) The following are not viable strategies for reading instruction:
a) guessing at words
b) looking at the picture for clues to an unknown word
c) using context clues in the text to figure out an unknown word

Students should be taught how to decode all types of words in the English language, through the teaching of the 6 English Syllable Types and the 12 Syllable Division Rules. These principles can be learned through an Orton Gillingham Teacher Training Course. Guessing at words is not reading.

It is inevitable that students will make errors as they are learning to read. Student errors provide opportunities to review previously taught skills and concepts. Additionally, errors actually help students to use metacognitive reflection, by asking them to recall and apply learned skills. Teachers can use questioning to prompt students to recall previously learned skills, and to cause students to reach new levels of decoding skills. When used within a framework of non-negotiable principles inherent in good literacy instruction, questioning serves as a valuable tool for student error correction.

Jenelle Erickson Boyd, M.Ed., CDP, the Author of this Blog, is a Certified Reading Specialist, a Certified Dyslexia Practitioner, a Certified Pre-K through 3rd Grade Teacher, an avid advocate for students with reading disorders, a speaker at educational conferences, and a school consultant. She is also the Author of the Lil' Reading Scientists TM Orton Gillingham Curriculum.

To reach Jenelle Boyd, please email her at


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