Total Illiteracy

I just got an email from my niece who works with troubled youth in Pennsylvania. She described trying to help 13 and 14 year olds who are “totally illiterate.” My only challenge in responding was limiting my list of immediate suggestions! Here are my first ideas to get the ball rolling:

That is really sweet of you to take up literacy along with all the other issues going on in the lives of these young people. You’re right to tackle reading, though, it will be transformational. First, you can look for “low level, high interest” picture books for middle grade students. The language is simple, but the themes are more grown up than typical picture books. If they have access to computers, let them play games on websites to learn “sight words.” Sight words are words kids just have to memorize size they don’t make sense phonetically (like “though” and “there” and “once” etc.) Finally, let them listen to books with audio CDs like the ones on my website : – ) If they have access to a computer or tablet or even a smart phone, they can practice with Apps and e-books; many such products have a “Read to Me” mode where you can select to HEAR a narrator tell the story while watching the words light up as they are being read. You can also get them started by labeling things around there living quarters like “door”, “mirror”, “refrigerator”, “window”, etc. Let THEM write the labels with markers on paper. They will see them everyday and start to develop the HABIT of noticing and paying attention to signs. Experi