Amy Lesemann, FLI’s Academic Director, recently led training sessions for new and returning reading tutors. She explained why word games help students learn to read. She noted why this job is so meaningful to her. Now in her fourth year with FLI, Amy shares these tips.

What are a few of the basic reading strategies a reading tutor should be familiar with?

Three concepts Amy shares with tutors are especially important for new readers

1. Eagle Eye: Look at the picture. Hey, look, there’s a cat in the picture…

2. Lips the Fish: Get my lips ready to say the word. For example, stick out your tongue to say the “th” sound.

3. Stretchy Snake: Streeeetch out the word and see if we can make a smart guess about its meaning.

How do new tutors learn how to be effective tutors? 

Tutoring is all about building a relationship!

  • Start a conversation with your student. How was your day? Get specific: what was for lunch? What did you do during recess? By learning about your student, you build that connection and become the effective tutor you want to be.
  • Respond to the student. If a book is too hard, stop and get another book.
  • Listen to what the student enjoys and find books that interest them. Don’t assume boys love sports or girls love princesses.

What do you do during the tutoring session?

  • Start with a greeting and check in: How are you? What did you do at recess or in your classes?
  • Begin “word work” to get the student ready for reading. You might practice 5 to 10 sight words, the common words a reader must know by sight. Tutors write words that require more practice on index cards and review them with the student each week.
  • Tutor and student can choose from a variety of word games to practice sight words and word families. For example, how many words can you make that end in “ate?”
  • In the remaining time, the student reads a book with their tutor.

How do word games help young students?
We ask a lot of our students. They are usually at the bottom of their class and must cope with related social issues. Then after a long day of school, we ask them to complete another hour of hard work.

Games help them move and engage with learning. For example, they might “fish” for words with a bamboo pole and magnet.

Often a game cements the concept in the child’s mind. When a child “fishes” for a sight word, she pulls up the card, reads the word, and writes it on a white board. The physical act of copying the word helps seal that word into a child’s mind. It is remarkably effective.

What will be available to tutors at the new locations?    

  • An assortment of nonfiction materials for every level (top priority)
  • Activities for sight words and word families (think rhymes and easy poetry)
  • Good, fun fiction

Will you have a midyear training session for tutors?

Yes, and I’ll ask tutors what they would like to cover.

  • How to keep students motivated to read.
  • Emphasis on vocabulary and how our English language learners can benefit from Greek and Latin root work. We need to value our students’ languages.

What do you like most about your job?  

Where to start? Every year I have a few students who break records in reading achievement, or they break my heart. They show us how much they and their families care about FLI. I recall the many students who were behind and then advanced so quickly. I realized that their whole world has changed.

I sometimes sit quietly with the older students, talking about what they can achieve. I try not to overwhelm them, but I want them to think big. They are shy when I ask what they want to be, but they’ll say, “a doctor” or “an engineer.”  I say, well, you can certainly do that. Remember to take the upper level classes, because now you’re ready. Then they smile. That’s why I love this job.