Learning Tools – For Teachers


Following is a small part of the intense research that underpins the Time2Read methodology.

READING AND SPELLING FAILURE CAN BE PREVENTED: Leading reading scientists believe that with appropriate, research-based instruction, most children – an estimated 95% – can be taught to read and spell well. Thus reading and spelling failure or difficulty in a great number of children is unnecessary and can be prevented. Such levels of reading and spelling achievement are also reflected in the aims of the National Reading Strategy (NRS) (2008), emphasizing the goal that every South African learner will be a fluent reader/speller who reads/spells for the purpose of learning as well as for enjoyment and enrichment.

METHODS OF INSTRUCTION – THE KEY WORD: To close the gap between expected levels of reading achievement and present levels of reading achievements, international reading scientists identify two aspects critical to reading reform: method of instruction as well as teacher training. Effective instruction right from the beginning is very important – poor instruction in the first grade can have long-lasting effects: a learner struggling in first grade will most likely continue to underperform right through his/her school career. Especially children at risk need to be taught with great care if we aim to prevent reading/spelling failure.

TEACHER TRAINING: According to the National Reading Strategy (2008), many teachers in South Africa have a poorly developed understanding of teaching basic reading and writing skills and have not been explicitly trained to cope with the demands involved with teaching reading and spelling. President Jacob Zuma (Beeld 8 Aug 2009) raised the concern that a large number of classrooms are filled with unqualified teachers. What also concerned him in this article is that ‘poor’ children are not receiving quality education. Although the handbook, ‘Teaching reading in the early grades’ (2007) developed by the Education Department has some useful information, it does not contain the latest findings of international reading science which are crucial in reading instruction, aimed at reading success for all learners as well as the prevention of reading failure. Therefore, at the core of the challenges in preventing reading failure are teacher training and methods of instruction. To realize the aim of the Manifesto (1999) and NRS (2008) that all children in South Africa will read at a level of understanding and enjoyment, teacher training and methods of instruction should be the main focus for bringing about effective change. Hence, teachers will need the best support in order to teach their children effective reading and spelling skills.

BREAKING THE CODE OF THE ENGLISH WRITING SYSTEM: Critical detail of learning to read and spell depends on the teacher having a clear understanding of the writing system he/she teaches. Reading written language requires children to consciously think of the sounds present in different words (eg, the word ‘cat’ is made up of 3 different sounds, ‘c’ – ‘a -’ and ‘t’), these sounds being represented by different symbols/letters in print. It also requires children to manipulate the individual sounds in words. Because reading is not a natural skill but an acquired skill, deciphering this human invented writing system demands expertise and will have to be a fundamental component of reading instruction.
For this reason a writing system forms an integral part of all reading instruction. The English language is based on an alphabetic writing system. McGuiness (2004) defines a writing system as a “code in which specific elements of a language are mapped systematically to graphic signs or symbols”. Because people are not naturally aware of the sounds in a language, children who will be using an alphabetical writing system need to be explicitly trained to listen at the sound level of speech. Structured lessons systematically need to lead the developing brain of the reader to facilitate links between the sounds of the language and its symbols. Sound awareness is an important link in breaking the code of our alphabetic writing system. Training sound awareness before and during beginner reading produces significant advantages in reading achievement, influencing reading comprehension and predicting later reading achievement.
A specific challenge with the English writing system is the fact that it has developed over a long period of time, being influenced by writing systems of non-English speaking countries. Reading instruction must therefore ensure that the nature and logic of the writing system is made transparent to the learner and that the elements of the writing system are mastered. Children can’t simply be taught to memorize words because languages simply have too many words and a reading method that is based on partial or total memorization of sight words is presently resulting in failure for many children.

Reading and spelling needs to be taught in tandem. Doing this, is very significant, because it is one of the most effective ways of breaking the code in a systematic and explicit way. Reading and spelling are reversible processes, and when taught like this, the reversibility becomes obvious to the learner, making the code logic and using the brains innate ability to recognize and organize recurring patterns. What we call ‘spelling’ (encoding) is the fundamental or basic operation, the process of turning sounds into symbols. What we call ‘reading’ involves decoding those symbols back into sounds to recover the words. Unfortunately, spelling and reading are often taught interdependent, using different forms of instruction, on different days and even using different words.

THE READING BRAIN: The reading and spelling system in the brain (based on a writing system) must be developed through effective instruction. The advent of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) has enabled neuroscientists to look into the brain while carrying out complex cognitive activities. Studies done by neuroscientist and professor of pediatrics, Sally Shaywitz and her colleagues, have shed new light on the development of reading. By contrasting the brain scans of normal and dyslexic readers, the neural pathways for reading have been identified. Neuroscientists believe that these findings provide important guidelines for all people involved in teaching reading and spelling.
A very promising aspect of the work of Shaywitz, is that they concluded, that with proper instruction the brain is able to activate the automatic reading area where words are read automatically. The intervention needed for rewiring, is the same kind of instruction needed by normally developing children to break the code. This discovery is amazing, as it proves that the methods of instruction suggested by reading scientists who promote teaching the reversible code of a writing systems – breaking the code in a systematic and explicit way, will not only work for normally developing children but also for children at risk for future reading failure.
CONCLUSION: If research supports the fact that 95% of all children can be taught to read well, we cannot settle for anything less. Reading fluently and with comprehension should be an ethical and professional imperative. If scientific research has come up with specific methods, activities or skills that are essential to reading success, these need to be included into all forms of reading instruction, to ensure that no child will be left behind, caught up in the unnecessary frustration that accompanies a child for 12 years (excluding occupational limitations) of his/her school career. Accepting accountability is a challenge every reading teacher should commit to.


Reading and spelling instruction is based on the sound and code nature of a writing system. Wherever possible, both, words containing foundation code and complex code are broken down into their spelling patterns for spelling and reading. The English writing system, although opaque, is not considered arbitrary. The skills and the knowledge needed to make sense of written text are analogue to the helix of the human DNA.

Time2Read model

The sides of the helix represent –

The 5 SKILLS critical to reading and spelling success

  • coding – the ability to hear and identify individual sounds in words and represent each sound with a sound button, sound line or sound smile
  • encoding – the ability to represent spoken sounds with written symbols
  • decoding – the ability to match written symbols with spoken sounds
  • chunking – the ability to break multi-syllable words into small manageable elements
  • sound manipulation – the ability to change, add and delete individual sounds in words
The 5 RULES for mapping spoken sounds to writing

  • 1:1 mapping – 1 sound is represented by 1 letter only. For example, b, t, m, a, o. During coding, these sounds are represented by a sound button.
  • 1:2/3/4 mapping – 1 sound is represented by more than 1 letter. For example sh, ai, ou, ar. During coding, these sounds are represented by a sound line.
  • 1 sound can be written with 2 letters split. For example a-e, e-e, i-e, o-e, u-e. During coding, these sounds are represented by a sound smile.
  • 1 sound can be represented by more than 1 symbol. For example ai, a-e, ay.
  • 1 symbol can represent more than 1 sound. For example ow in brown and ow in snow.

Children are not encouraged to read text containing words with uninstructed code. All code is to be instructed in the direction of sound to symbol.

Rather than running parallel reading and spelling instruction meet consistently, signifying teaching reading and spelling dependently. Children need to be made aware, that reading and spelling are opposite processes using the same logic. They also need to understand that spelling/encoding is the beginning process to making sense of written language.

Instruction is strengthened by systematic introduction of the written code. Written symbols need to be introduced systematically, starting with simple words containing foundation code only and systematically moving to more complex code/mapping. All aspects of reading and spelling need to be taught explicitly ensuring understanding of all mappings. Sounds are introduced first, fast and furious (FFF)

  • First – implying teaching sounds in a direction of sounds to letters rather than letters to sounds
  • Fast – implying more than one sound/symbol per week
  • Furiously – implying lots of opportunity for consolidation and repetition of the code. Fluent and accurate word recognition will necessitate fluent code knowledge.
WORD BUILDING is central to the Time2Read methodology. When learning to drive a car, automaticity is only achieved through continued daily practice. The same is true for using and applying written symbols. WORD BUILDING ON A DAILY BASIS will ensure developing automaticity of sound/symbol application– encouraging reading from the word form area in the brain. The following resources can be used for engaged word building

  • white board and white board marker
  • alphabet tiles
  • magnetic letter tiles
  • blocks
  • writing in sand
  • writing on a ziplock bag filled with finger paint
  • using chalk to write on tiles
  • window paint
  • sock reading
  • jumping words
  • etc

The suggested model aims to achieve high levels of fluent and accurate word identification for beginning reading instruction. It is preventative in nature and aims to serve as a basis to support comprehension skills.


The TIme2Read sound wall aims to act as an anchor chart which learners reference during their reading and spelling journey. At Time2Read we believe that the classroom environment can serve as a strong tool for learners to move from dependence (all responsibility on the teacher) to independence (all responsibility on the child). The sound wall hence serves as a ‘go-between’ or ‘middleman’, displaying the sound/symbol learning in a clear and child friendly manner which is easy to reference for all learners.

Poster - T2R Sound Table

The TIme2Read sound wall is different to a finished, bought sound wall – it is developed with the children. It is structured and groups all learning into logical categories. The vowel sounds of English are categorized as follows

  • Short vowels, colour coded
  • Long vowels, colour coded
  • Extra vowels, colour coded

Vowel Spellings are further grouped according to their position in English words

  • beginning or middle,
  • end of word and
  • end of syllable.

The Sound Table should start as an empty skeleton and only display symbols as they are taught, hence all symbols displayed on the table are understood by each learner. Therefore the Sound Table is developed WITH the learners, the teacher may act as a scribe, but the class brainstorms together. Should children struggle to recall a symbol, they know how to reference the table and therefore only need teacher assistance in rare cases.

At Time2Read, all learning happens systematically. This means that initially, in Level 1, a strong foundation is laid for future learning – after which each new level and sub-level introduces new learning, one step at a time. Hence, a 160 week – or 4 year – reading and spelling plan has been developed to ensure that

  • All important skills of reading and spelling have been developed during the Junior Primary Phase.
  • Perfect synergy amongst the different grades is maintained.
  • No duplication of learning takes place.
  • No learning is left out.
  • No learning is assumed by a teacher.
  • Inflectional suffixes are covered explicitly in the Junior Primary Phase.
  • Teachers can start the year at the point where the previous grade has ended, rather than starting the year based on regular routine.

In Level 1, children learn to master the Foundation Code of English. In the FoundationCcode, children learn that 1 sound in a spoken word can be represented by writing 1 letter only. Successful mastery of this level lays a strong foundation for future mapping of English sounds to symbols which tend to be much more complex – hence the name – Foundation Code.

Skills: Learners need to master the following skills to successfully complete this level

  • coding – the ability to hear every sound in a word and represent each sound with a sound button.
  • encoding – the ability to represent each sound with its correct letter (foundation code only).
  • decoding – the ability to identify written letters with their correct sound and blend the individual sounds into small, meaningful words.
  • decoding in phrases – the ability to decode a phrase (using foundation code only) and match it with a picture.
  • reading and understanding – developing and understanding that written words carry meaning. Basic comprehension skills are covered.

Code mastered:

  • 5 short vowels: a e i o u
  • 20 basic consonants: b c d f g h j k l m n p r s t v w x y z

Suggested age: Children 5 years and older should be ready to begin with Level 1.

Level 2 builds on the knowledge mastered in Level 1. DO NOT proceed to Level 2 unless Level 1 has been mastered!

Sound/symbol mapping: Children learn to map English sounds in the following ways

  • 1 spoken sound can be mapped with more than 1 letter (eg, sh, ai, ea, igh, or, ow)
  • 1 spoken sound can be mapped by 2 letters which are split (eg, a-e, e-e, i-e, o-e and u-e)
  • 1 spoken sound can be mapped using different symbols (eg, the long ‘a’ can be spelled as ai, ay, a-e)
  • 1 written symbol can represent different spoken sounds (eg, the symbol ‘ea’ represents different sounds in the following words: sea, head, break)

Skills: Children need to master the following skills to successfully complete this level

  • coding – the ability to understand the sounds you hear
  • encoding – the ability to segment small words into their individual sounds and represent each sound with the correct letter
  • decoding – the ability to blend individual sounds into small words and match each word with the correct picture
  • decoding in sentences – the ability to decode a sentence (containing only taught complex code) and match it with a picture
The Level 3 YEAR PLAN contains all the skills and code which need to be developed to successfully master Level 3. The following learning is covered in Level 3

  • Mastering multi-syllable words containing the most common-vowel spellings covered in Level 2
  • Common spellings for short, long and extra vowels
  • An introduction to rare spelling patterns of high frequency words
  • An introduction to inflectional suffixes
  1. Forming plurals
  2. Tenses
The Level 4 YEAR PLAN contains all the skills and code which need to be developed to successfully master Level 4. The following learning is covered in Level 4

  • Multi-syllable word building continued
  • Consolidation of common spellings for short, long and extra vowels
  • Consolidation of rare spelling patterns of high frequency words
  • Inflectional suffixes
  1. Forming plurals
  2. Tenses
  3. Degrees of Comparison


At Time2Read flashcards aim to strengthen the recognition memory of both symbols and words. Symbols should be flashed daily. Fluency is achieved once children are able to identify symbols at the rate of 1 symbol per second, hence automatically. Automatic symbol knowledge proves to be fundamental as it promotes fluent reading. Following are some pointers for effective use of:


  • Common spellings – recall the position of the symbol in the word.
  • Uncommon/rare spellings – recall the specific words taught.
  • Spellings which can represent more than 1 sound – recall all the sounds taught
  • Make it fun! Group children and have a competition.
  • Make it different. Ask children to write the symbol. This is an excellent way to practice recall memory. A Bingo game is a great idea!


  • Code all words
  • Although identification ‘on sight’ is the goal, decode the word. This will enable struggling learners to follow as well.