The Silent Sentence Method

Every strategy for teaching reading ends up with students reading aloud to an adult and the adult ‘helping’ them with the words they don’t know. Yet despite its universality very few teachers recognize just how important this activity is in the development of reading skills and just how fraught with danger it is.

Reading aloud to an adult is uniquely stressful for a student because;

it is a public performance to an authority figure; and

it is inevitable that the child is going to make mistakes.

Making mistakes (as they must) under such scrutiny increases the anxiety and makes future mistakes more likely. Fifteen to twenty percent of students end up in a downward spiral where anxiety feeds failure, that feeds anxiety, that feeds failure and so on.

The key factor here is the anxiety generated by reading aloud. It is the anxiety which causes the problems not the technicalities of decoding and it is the anxiety we must reduce by our efforts.

The Literacy Toolbox (free home version) removes all anxiety by providing the absolute maximum support and taking the adult listener out of the picture completely.

Even if you decide to take advantage of the free version of the Toolbox it is certain that your child’s school will insist on your child reading to you in the evenings so I will describe how you can go about it in a way that minimises performance anxiety.

‘The Silent Sentence’ Method

1) Sit down with your child and the book to be read in the normal way.

2) Put your finger at the start of the first sentence. Say…

“Read this whole sentence to yourself in your head before you try it out loud.”

3) Slide your finger along to show the child where the sentence ends.

4) Hold your finger under the full stop at the end of the sentence and say...

”If there are any words you don’t know just point them out and I will tell you what they are.”

“Once you are happy that you know every word, read the sentence aloud to me.”

“Take as much time as you want. Don’t try to read aloud until you are completely happy with every single word. You can ask me as many words as you like and you can ask me as often as you like till you are happy to read up to this full stop.”

Then sit back, literally and visibly relax. Show the child by your body language that your attention is not on them. Become a passive, non judgemental resource for your child.

When your child asks for help with a word just tell them. DON’T sound the letters out or get them to sound the letters out. Keep your voice neutral, don’t imply that the word is easy or hard. Just tell them what the word is.

If they want to ask what EVERY word is, in order, twice, that is fine.

When the child comes to the end they may just start reading or they may tell you that they are finished. If they tell you they are ready tell them

“OK go ahead and read the sentence aloud to me.”

Listen in silence to their attempt.

Do not correct their mistakes

If they ask for help with a word, give it without comment

If they pause for a very long time and you are sure they are getting stressed, ask them if they want you to tell them the word and do so if they say yes else go back to waiting. If they don’t answer your question tell them the word anyway.

5) Slide your finger to the next full stop and say

“Excellent. Now do the same thing to here. Take your time and ask about every word you are not completely sure about before trying it aloud.”

Repeat until the passage is finished.


You are not teaching the child. You are providing an environment where they can learn. Your role is very passive.

There is a time for phonics instruction but this is not it. This is ‘immersion’ in reading, letting the connection between letters and sounds be created in the child’s mind by the brain’s own inherent pattern learning mechanism.

It is important to understand that reading is a private interaction between the reader and the page. Speaking the words aloud is not reading, it is something we make the children do afterwards to show us that they have read. The real reading goes on whilst the child is ‘preparing’ for their performance to us. Our role whilst they are silently reading is to make that private process as positive as possible. Our role while they are performing to us afterwards is to be an appreciative audience.