Ask Dr.Blank:My son is in second grade and is having some reading problems. One of the ones that keeps coming up is with the little words –words like is, were, they, and who. One of his teachers thinks he may have dyslexia. Is there anything I can do to help him?

The issue you raise is very common. Those words have a variety of names—as you mentioned, they are sometimes called the “little words”, other times “functors” and still other times “non content words.” These words tend to be small in size, and they are also small in number. There are only about 200 in the language and only about 100 are commonly used (words like heretofore, for example, almost never appear in the material that children read). What is amazing is that those 100 words form the majority of words on a page—generally about 60% of the page. At the same time, they are known for not following the phonics rules so they can’t be sounded out. As a result, even though they dominate every page, they receive very little teaching time. This neglect in teaching affects both a child’s decoding and comprehension skills. For example, see what the single word “not” does when you compare the sentence The boy is running and the sentence The boy is not running. One of the key features of the ReadingKingdom is that it devotes significant time to teaching these neglected but very important words.

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