The Psycholinguistic Approach to Reading

Written November 2004 by Robyn, South Africa



One Saturday morning we arrived at a beautiful old rambly farmhouse out in the country to attend our course on the psycholinguistic approach to reading. We started with some coffee and freshly baked apple crumble & cream and muffins. The course was run by Sally-Ann who has 5 children and was one of the local pioneer home schoolers. There were 6 people on the course, three who were not home schoolers. We started off discussing home education in general and then sat down to begin the course. Sally-Ann's approach to reading and education as a whole was refreshing and inspiring!


Basically the Behaviourist Approach (which is how most of us learnt to read) starts at the bottom, learning single letters in a mechanical fashion like a for apple and c_a_t spells cat etc. Reading is a tool to decode letters, words and sentences. A collection of isolated skills which, when put together, one can read. Normally when a child is learning to read and struggles to decode a word, you then stop and help or correct them. They then continue with the reading. As you can imagine, the meaning gets lost along the way and there is little comprehension of what they are reading. With this approach you may be able to read (decode) certain words like perished without even knowing what they mean. It is therefore possible to read without any comprehension (as we did for an example with a paragraph from a medical journal).


The Psycholinguistic Approach starts from the top, down. It is also known as the language experience approach and it is about the importance of reading for comprehension. Meaning comes first; you learn to read as a whole. First, create an idea of the whole book the cover, the right way up, the letters, the words, sentences, moving across the text from top to bottom, left to right. Look and see where to find the author and the publisher etc. Ask questions about the book. Predict. What do you think this story is about? They can look at the cover and the pictures for clues. Discuss. Look at two consecutive pictures and ask them what they think is going to happen next. Coming to the text with as much information as possible reduces the uncertainty. It creates an enthusiasm and understanding. It becomes applicable to real life situations and is meaningful. Correct pronunciation and accurate word identification become less important. You do not stop when they make a mistake and focus on one word as you then lose the meaning of the whole. Meaning comes first and is absolutely essential.

Let them finish and 90% of the time, they will go back and correct themselves when they understand the word in context.


How do you put this into practice? It is simple.


First read to them A LOT. When reading to your children, use a pointer eg. a knitting needle and point to the words as you read. This creates the idea. In a blank landscape book called your I Can Read book, children draw about a personal experience. They then dictate a sentence about that experience that you write down in the correct grammar below the picture. Study the sentence together, show them that a sentence starts with a capital letter and it ends in a full stop. There are spaces between words and the sentence moves from left to right. Point out each word. The child then reads the sentence to anyone who will listen as many times as possible. The sentence must be recorded in various ways, on a strip of paper, with another picture etc. Children are encouraged to copy the sentence themselves, however crudely. On a piece of paper write the squashed sentence with no spaces between words. Get them to draw lines to separate the words in the correct places. Cut, mix and build the words together to make the sentences. Sort, match and stick into a separate Reading Activity Book. Once you are finished with this sentence, start again with a new one. As they get used to this, there are ways to extend these activities. You can incorporate conventional phonics and word recognition as you wish without concentrating on them.


We all left feeling like we had received a wealth of information, with a very simple approach.


Sally-Anns Recommended Books:

School Can Wait by Raymond S and Dorothy N Moore

A Different Kind of Teacher by John Gatto

Any Child Can Read Better by Harvey S Wiener


Some catch phrases ~

Learning to Read must not be about punishment or reward.

Reading must be a satisfying activity.

Baking is Reading (the recipe)

Also known as The Whole Reading Approach








Email Me