Guessing: The Number One Cause of Reading Difficulty

Guessing: The Number One Cause of Reading Difficulty By Sarah Forrest

If you’ve worked with early or struggling readers before, then you’ve certainly seen the tell-tale signs.

Reading “for” instead of “from”.

Guessing words based on the first letter.

Using context clues or looking at the pictures to figure out the words on the page.

It can make you (and your child) want to tear your hair out. And with good reason… guessing is actually a sign of the number one cause of reading difficulty in young children: whole word sight-reading.

What’s so bad about guessing?

The problem with guessing is that it is not a sustainable way to learn to read. Our language is built phonetically. By that I mean that our letters represent sounds (also called phonics). When a child guesses, they are trying to read visually instead of phonetically.

They are essentially looking at a word and trying to take a visual snapshot of it… does it look like a word they have seen before? Does it match similar words that will help them figure it out?

Unfortunately, our visual memories were not designed to hold half a million words made up of visually-boring squiggly black lines. The memory just cannot keep up with the demand and children’s reading ability tends to collapse around age 7 or so.

The wonderful news is that is NEVER too late to fix a bad guessing habit. And the solution is actually quite simple. You just have to teach the brain to read in the way it wants to learn.

Try some training wheels: trainertext visual phonics (TVP)

Perhaps you snorted a little when I said the solution was “simple”. If it was so simple, wouldn’t we have eradicated reading difficulty by now, rather than 1 in 5 children failing to pass a basic reading test at essentially every age group?

Well there is a new methodology that combines the best of traditional phonics with a visual spin specifically designed for visual learners. It’s called Trainertext visual phonics (TVP).

Reading is a subconscious skill, like riding a bike, not a rules-based process. So Trainertext visual phonics provides the brain a set of phonetic training wheels to support it as it learns how to sound out words. The training wheels consist of 45 memorable (and quite funny!) visual characters that each represent a single sounds. When floated above the letters in a word as a child is learning to read, they help a child pick the correct sound. Even in annoyingly irregular words like WAS or OF!

Take a look at how they help children in the three words below, which really should rhyme…. except this is English and of course they don’t!


In an independent randomized control trial of the TVP methodology, as seen in the literacy intervention called Easyread, children gained 2 years in reading age. And that was for learners who had been struggling for several years.

The genius of the visual phonics method really is simple. It takes what science tells us works best (reading by decoding phonetically) and uses the natural strengths of the child’s brain to make learning to read in that way easy.

You can now access Trainertext resources for FREE at helpingchildrentoread.com. Download a few of our workbooks, print out the card set to learn the images, or browse the other free resources. If you have an older struggling reader, you can check out the online Easyread System visual phonics program here.


This Guest Post was written by Sarah Forrest who is a founding member of helpingchildrentoread.com. She has a BA from Yale University, and has worked as an advisor for David Morgan Education since 2012. She loves coaching parents and children through Trainertext visual phonics (including her own 2 littles!).

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