«Seven steps to the book» By Sergey Poliakov

A game method of teaching young children to read

Once I asked my friend, a physicist: — Why does it happen this way? The most part of our lives has gone but still we haven’t done anything important for our civilization. And nobody, whom I know, has left such a trace. And nobody of your acquaintances has done anything like that as well. Many things were invented in our lifetime, such as TVs, washing machines, spaceships, polymeric materials, computers, etc. It’s quite difficult to mention all the things that were created! None of these things had existed before. There must be somebody who has done all these! And what about us, we did nothing! How could it be?

He thought for a while and answered: “You see, every river has rapids, where water runs at a great speed, and a coastal area. The stream there is slow and sometimes water swirls here and there or even flows backwards. So our destiny has led us to the place like the coastal area. And all the progress is happening somewhere else in the rapids. But the river can’t be rapid everywhere, so we are also needed for something.”

These words imprinted themselves on my soul and on my friend’s soul too. After a while I have learnt that he began writing poems and even publishing his poetry. Surprisingly, he started doing it in his mid 50ties. And as for me, I took a great interest in teaching three- and four-year old children to read, count and do other useful things. I read some books, observed how other people did this. Some things I adopted, and some I rejected.

At first I devoted all my free time to it and then it became my main occupation. I built lessons in the form of games because typical school methods do not fit such little children and sitting at the desk at this age is not good for their health. I made up more new games and composed my educational supplies, so gradually I started teaching according to my own system.

Now, after 12 years, I can evaluate the results of my work. All the children whom I have taught in their early years are now the best pupils at their schools. So, it seems to me that I have found my niche in the quiet part of life’s river. Such a position also has its advantage: the water is warmer in the coastal area, so it is the best place for growing young fishes. One by one I push my little pupils from here to the rapids, giving them the initial impulse and the opportunity to become great creators in the future. There is no exaggeration in this. It is known that no further learning after the age of 7 influences children’s intelligence as significantly as an active stimulation of mental activity in their early years during the period of brain formation. Lev Tolstoy, a famous Russian writer, wrote in his declining years that there was only one step from him at the age of 7 to him at his present age, but that there was the whole eternity between him newborn and him 7 years old.

I consider that the most important thing in my system is to teach children reading. Among many ways of stimulating children’s mental activity at an early age, reading possesses such an advantage, that having learnt to read, in the process of self-reading, children then develop themselves, even without adults’ help, only satisfying their curiosity. So teaching reading should not be finished after children have learnt to read words by syllables, the way it happens in many pre-school classes (“it is quite enough for the present; the rest will be taught at school”). Undoubtedly being able to read words by letters and syllables promotes children’s development. But in order to reveal the whole natural capability of your child, to help the child to develop what is put in him by nature, you must teach him to read and understand books, and to get satisfaction from reading. You should develop in children a love for reading. So only then will you see how your child, who has read a hundred or more books before school, differs from children who come into the primary school to study letters.

I have separated the whole process of teaching children to read, from studying letters to reading children’s books, into 7 main steps. In this article I will try to explain what and how I teach children at every stage, moving step by step.

So, you have made up your mind to teach your child to read books. Surely at first you will start by teaching him letters. In what sequence should you teach them? Certainly you will not teach them in alphabetical order or at random, giving children both vowels and consonants mixed.

It is very important at the beginning of teaching that children should learn the 10 letters, denoting vowel sounds (further for simplicity I will name them just “vowels”). I often noticed that children who do not read well enough, even pupils at school, are unsure of the vowels and hesitate while reading, trying to remember whether it is Е [yĕ] or Ё [yō] or Ю [yū]. Considering the primary importance of knowing the 10 vowels for good reading (in order that the child does not hesitate on each syllable while reading), I worked out a game method for quick mastery of the 10 vowels and I have been using it successfully for several years already.

The 1st step – knowledge of the 10 vowels

When I teach a child according to my method, he memorizes the 10 vowels within 5 lessons. The duration of each lesson is only several minutes. The lessons can be conducted either by a teacher or by parents twice a week. The other days of the week parents repeat with their children the material of the previous lesson. It takes them 2-7 minutes a day to do it. I counted that the whole process of teaching children the 10 vowels according to my method will take a little bit more than an hour altogether.

The principle of repeated demonstration and synchronous pronunciation of the group of symbols with their gradual partial substitution, offered by a distinguished teacher-innovator Glenn Doman, is taken as a basis of this method. When we talk about the Russian language the task is even easier due to the pairs of vowels that rhyme with one another: A-Я, O-Ё, У-Ю, Ы-И, Э-Е [â – yâ, ō – yō, ū – yū, Ī – î, ĕ – yĕ].

In preparation for the following lessons, I make a set of cards with the vowels on them. The first vowel of each pair is written larger and in red. The second is smaller and in blue.

At the first lesson I show and name, one by one, 4 cards with big letters А, Я, О, Ё written on them (А and O are a little bit bigger and written in red color and Я and Ё – are a little bit smaller and written in blue). I show each card for no longer than one second. According to Doman you should do it playfully, in the form of the game, not looking at the cards but into the child’s eyes in order to see where he looks and to attract his attention. Most children already know letters A and O before studying with you. So you can pause and give the child an opportunity to name them without your help. But the letters Я and Ё you should name quickly yourself, before the child does it, in order not to give an opportunity for him to make a mistake. Do not ask the child to repeat them. You should quickly show these 4 letters to the child repeating at the same time a small rhyme:

“This is – A
“This is – Я
“This is – O
“This is – Ё

Children can memorize even longer rhymes without a problem, so they will quickly learn this easy one, which they will soon begin to repeat themselves.

I explain to the child’s mother, who is present at the lesson, that she should show and name these 4 letters to him at least 5 times a day, every day until the next lesson (it takes no more than 5 seconds for every demonstration). The first time I ask the mother to do it in my presence in order to correct her if she does something wrong.

By the 2nd lesson the child has already been repeating letters А, Я, О, Ё with his mother during 2-3 days and knows them in this order.

At the second lesson we play five review games, that I have created to help fix these four letters in the child’s memory and to help him remember those letters not only as a rhyme but also separately.

I put four cards on the table in pairs in front of the child and ask him to name the letters aloud in the order they were shown to him.

Then I begin the games.

1st game. “Wind”. I explain to the child that the red letters are “the big brothers” and the blue ones are “the small brothers”. Then I say: “The wind blew and mixed all the brothers”. I mix all the letters by myself for them not be turned over. Then I ask the child to put them in the correct order in pairs, saying aloud: “A – near Я, О – near Ё” (at first with my help).

2nd game. “Hide and Seek”. I cover “the small brothers” with “the big brothers” (red letters are on top) and shuffle these pairs:”The small brothers have hidden under the big brothers and changed their places for Helen not to find them. Guess what small brother has hidden under the big brother O. That’s right! Ё has hidden under О! And who has hidden under A? That’s right, Я”!

3rd game. “Hide and Seek, Vice Versa”. This game is like the previous one but this time vice versa – the big brothers hide under the small ones.

4th game. “The Crow”. I move my palms above the cards, which are put in the correct order and say: “The crow flew, flew, flew, flew and … ate a letter” (in the Russian language it sounds as a small rhyme). I put my palm on one of the letters quickly and ask: “Which letter was eaten”? I move both palms at the same time for it to be harder for the child to guess what letter I am going to cover. If he cannot answer quickly, I give him a hint, saying for example: “Beside O is… that’s right, Ё”! If he still cannot guess the letter again, I raise my palm for a moment and show him the letter. The crow eats the letters in random: for example after Ё it eats A, then – О, then – Я. After some time the child will remember the correct order of all the letters and he will guess the letters easily.

5th game. “Cards”. Now using these cards, I play cards with the child just like adults do. I shuffle the cards, and then I throw a card on the table in front of him and ask: “What is this?” If he names the letter correctly, he wins the card and takes it, but if he makes a mistake, I or another child takes the card. Do not be in a hurry to take a card away; let the child think a little bit. At first I throw the cards in pairs: at first – О, then Ё, АЯ. If the child wins confidently, then I throw the cards in pairs, but in reverse order. Then I throw them at random. Little by little the game becomes faster and there is less time for thinking.

The mother, present at the lesson, writes down how to play these 5 games at home. She should play these games only once a day if the child does not ask more. The mother should be careful not to play the games to the point where the child loses interest. Rather she should stop before the child is tired, saying: “We’ll finish next time”.

After this I add the next pair of letters to the previous ones and extend the rhyme to include the new letters. These will be practiced at home for the next lesson:

“This is – A
“This is – Я
“This is – O
“This is – Ё
“This is – У
“This is – Ю

At the third lesson I play the review games with these 3 pairs of letters already. Then I add the fourth pair (simultaneously taking away the 1st one) and give a new rhyme to learn for the next lesson:

“This is – O
“This is – Ё
“This is – У
“This is – Ю
“This is – Ы
“This is” – И

I draw the mother’s attention to the fact that after this lesson she should show the child these 3 new pairs of vowels several times a day, putting away АЯ, which he knows well enough already. But in the evening, only once a day, she should play with the child the review games with the first 3 pairs: А – Я, О – Ё, У – Ю (without ЫИ for the time being).

At the fourth lesson I play the review games with the 4 pairs. Then I add the fifth pair (simultaneously putting away the 1st and the 2nd ones) and give a new rhyme to learn for the next lesson:

“This is – У
“This is – Ю
“This is – Ы
“This is – И
“This is – Э
“This is – Е

I draw the mother’s attention to the fact that after this lesson she should show the child these 3 new pairs of vowels several times a day, putting away А – Я and О – Ё, which he knows well enough. But in the evening only once a day, she should play with the child the review games with the first 4 pairs: А – Я, О – Ё, У – Ю, Ы – И (without Э – Е for the time being).

At the fifth lesson I play the review games with all 5 pairs.

After this lesson the child knows all 10 vowels. I give the child’s mother all 10 cards with the vowels and advise her to continue playing with the child these review games once a day, while he is interested in them. Eventually, she will stop all the games except the last one – “Cards”. This game lasts only several seconds, and she should keep on playing this game till the child begins to read.

If the parents follow this plan of the lessons exactly, then after the fifth lesson the child will know all 10 vowels perfectly: he names them all without thinking and making mistakes. Sometimes it happens that the child hesitates before naming a letter or mixes up two letters. I noticed that it happens if the child was taught unsystematically earlier and a mistake “stuck” in his mind.

In this case you should keep on playing “Cards” with him for some more time. In addition if the child does not remember a letter very well, for example Ё, then you should put the Ё – card in a pair with O: at first O and then Ё. Then put them in a pair but in reverse order, and only after some time you may put them at random. But never try to explain a letter according to its appearance or association: “This is your mother’s letter and that is Julia’s, this is Ё with dots above and that is E without dots above”. He will be puzzled completely and will only remember that one of them is with dots but he will not know exactly which one and he will try to guess.

So do not be tempted to teach your child letters as quickly as possible no matter how, but put into your child’s mind from the very beginning good fundamental knowledge of vowels with the help of this method.

The 2nd step – knowledge of all the letters and short syllables, beginning of reading by short syllables.

In the initial stage in the process of teaching reading I use the method of dividing words into so-called short syllables. They are represented in the form of a consonant followed by a vowel or separate consonants and vowels.

This method of teaching reading was well-known according to the works of 16th –18th centuries. It existed in our country in the 19th and even at the beginning of the 20th centuries. And the most ancient documental evidence of this method of teaching children in the ancient Rus is dated to 1224-1238. The birch bark writing # 199 relates exactly to this period. It was found in the process of archeological excavations of the Medieval School in Novgorod by the expedition of the academician V.L. Ianin in 1956. In the 1st line of this birch bark there was the whole alphabet from A to Я written by the child named Onfim. And then followed syllables: БА, ВА, ГА, ДА … and so on until ЩА; then БЕ, ВЕ, ГЕ, ДЕ …and so on until ЩЕ; then БИ, ВИ, ГИ, ДИ and so on as many syllables as fit on the birch bark. And on the back side of the birch bark there was a note from Onfim to his classmate: “The bow from Onfim to Daniel” (V.L. Ianin. The Birch bark Post of the Centuries. M. 1979).

Nowadays, the method of teaching reading by short syllables, which unfortunately had been forgotten, was revived by an outstanding Russian teacher-innovator N.A. Zaitsev. On its basis, Zaitsev worked out and implemented the well-known now method of learning short syllables by means of tables and blocks.

Instead of Zaitsev’s blocks and tables, at this stage of teaching I use the educational supplies I made myself. I called them “Houses for Letters” (they can be seen at the background of numerous photos placed in my site). It would be more correct to call them “Houses for short syllables” but children prefer to call them “Houses for Letters.” They give the child an opportunity to see all short syllables at once, to take them out of the “houses” and to use them for making up words. After that the child can bring every short syllable back into its “house”, and put it on the correct floor and into its own “room”. The usage of “houses” made the process of teaching much easier, especially while teaching those children who have difficulties in studying.

If all children learnt everything easily, there would not be any necessity in developing new educational supplies and methods of teaching. My “Houses for Letters” I made up when I taught reading retarded girls in a boarding house for the mentally disabled. One of them was Oksana Malaya, a “Mowgly-girl”, known through television programs as a girl who was brought up by a dog until 3 years old. (Trud – 7.15.05. 2003 “It’s Difficult to be a Human Being.” Ukrainian Pravda. 08.05.2003 “The Holy Monday of a Nuclear-Engineer”). And now these “houses” have become my indispensable helpers in the process of teaching all children.

I worked out a series of games, in the process of which the whole detailed picture of all short syllables, looking out of the windows of the “houses”, imprints on the child’s visual and motor memory. Just as in the teaching of vowels, I use here the same principle of Glen Doman’s method: repeated demonstration and pronunciation of consonants and short syllables in several “houses”, with their gradual change as they are memorized. But this time we pronounce short syllables not as a rhyme but through their singing, suggested by Zaitsev in his method. And after that follows a series of games, which I have worked out for learning short syllables. As a result, after 13 lessons or earlier, children know all the letters and can name any short syllable. My main goal is to teach the child not to read these syllables but to accept them directly and entirely like letters.

It is known that Sequoyah, an Indian of the Cherokee tribe from North California, achieved just this result. In 1821 he created a writing system for his native Iroquois language. It consisted of symbols denoting not letters but the whole short syllables. Several years after the creation of this syllabary, most Indians of the Cherokee tribe mastered reading and writing of their native language.

I make an exception for the letter Ъ and for some rarely-used short syllables, which I introduce a bit later. For example, such short syllables as ЙО, ШЮ, ЖЮ, I give to the child when he can already read, by asking him to read such words as: ЙОД (IODINE), ЙОГУРТ (YOGURT), ЖЮРИ (JURY), ПАРАШЮТ (PARACHUTE).

The result of the 2nd stage of teaching is reading simple words by short syllables, such as РЫ БА (FISH), ДО М (house), Я МА (pit) and so on.

The 3rd step – reading words of any difficulty by short syllables

This step is the last in the initial stage of teaching reading and it is intended to take 12 lessons. Using an easy game-training I try to make the child accept short syllables automatically. At the same time, with the help of a set of several games, the child masters reading any words by short syllables. According to my thought-out plan the words, which the child reads, gradually become more and more complicated in such a way that he does not even notice it. When at the 12th lesson of this stage, the child reads such words as ЛЕ КА Р С Т ВО (medicine) or Э ЛЕ К Т РИ ЧЕ С Т ВО (electricity) printed in capital letters and divided into short syllables, I consider the initial stage of teaching reading successfully completed.

The 4th step – reading by syllables and smooth blending of words

After 30 lessons of the previous 3 steps of teaching reading, the child has perfectly mastered reading complicated and even unknown words by short syllables. I consider it to be only the beginning of the whole process of teaching reading. In the next step the child should proceed to a faster reading by any type of syllables and then to the smooth blending of words. If the child does not master this now, he will not be able to read sentences and stories well, as the breaking up words into short syllables not only makes reading slower but also makes it difficult for the child to interpret what he reads. So, as the child has got used to the process of reading by short syllables, you should now make an effort to overcome the power of this habit.

By means of my method, at the 1st and 2nd lessons of the 4th step the child is taught to read such words as кот (cat), соль (salt), and by the 12th lesson – взгляд (glance), гвоздь (nail), blending them smoothly, and more complicated words, such as ми нистр (minister), скульп тор (sculptor), – by syllables. By the way, he reads now in lower-case letters, since the necessity of reading in capital letters, caused by the usage of the cards with short syllables at the initial stage, falls away at the 4th step.

The 5th step – reading of sentences

The reading of sentences we begin with simple declarative sentences (complex and compound sentences I give later when the child reads books). In my texts words are not divided into syllables by gaps any more. At first I make sentences using words which are easy to read. I do not burden the child’s memory with terms and do not try to explain him what the falling or raising intonation is and so on. I do not have the purpose of making a little philologist out of him. I just show him the full stop at the end of the sentence and say that he should read to it and stop. And then he should repeat what he has read again, trying to pronounce this time each word smoothly.

Then I cut the sentences into separate words and cut off the full stop. The child counts the number of words in the sentence. I draw his attention to the fact that the 1st word begins with a capital letter. Then I mix all the words on the table and the child finds the necessary words and rebuilds the initial sentence. Children like this game. It helps them not only comprehend the definition of the term “word” but also catch sight of each word as a whole while searching for it. Then the same thing I do with interrogative and exclamatory sentences. Children like to read exclamatory sentences loudly and interrogative sentences as if they ask about something. Three lessons usually are quite enough for mastering the reading of sentences.

The 6th step – reading of adapted books

When the child reads sentences pretty well already, we start to read small stories. You should write stories yourself. Any children’s books, even the simplest ones, like Little Red Riding Hood, are too complicated for the child to read by himself yet. The content of existing reading books for the first grade in a primary school does not fit a preschooler as well. Besides, even the largest print of children’s books is not big enough for a four- or five-year old child. So I print my books using a home printer, beginning with the 36th bold print and little by little I reduce the print to the 28th size. You may use any plots from interesting children’s books, abridging them and using simple sentences. It is necessary to insert some scanned pictures into the stories, as it is not interesting for the child to read stories without pictures. Sometimes I find in the Internet children’s pictures-comics with short phrases and make up stories using them. I add the comma to the three punctuation marks the child already knows. I tell the child that while reading he should stop for a while after commas. I do not use hyphens to carry parts of words over to the next line yet. The direct speech I write like simple sentences without necessary punctuation marks. All remaining punctuation marks I introduce later, at the last step of teaching. And so far I teach the child to follow with his finger under the line and not to stop at the end of the line if there is no full stop but move the finger to the beginning of the next line.

Some teachers may say that the child should not follow the line with a finger, that it is a bad habit. One methodologist in the kindergarten pointed this out to me. I told her that most babies suck pacifiers, but this habit passes in due course and that I do not know anybody who still has such a habit.

So far the child is not able to retell the story he has read on his own. I teach him to retell what he has read by asking him questions as prompts: “What toys did Nick have? Who gave them to him? What was his favorite toy? What has happened to it?” and so on.

I have written several such simplified books. It takes the child nine lessons to read them.

The 7th step – independent reading of children’s books

For the last 7th step of teaching reading I wrote 16 more books. I introduce hyphenation and gradually all punctuation marks and explain their meaning to the child at a level he can understand. The contents of the texts become more complicated from book to book. It is estimated so that the text of such a size can be read by the child within 20-30 minutes. The text becomes longer depending on the speed with which the child can read it. I use standard Arial print, the 24th size. At first the child reads a new book at the lesson by himself and then he does it again at home with his mother: the mother reads the first sentence and he reads the next. The next day he reads with his mother again but this time he reads the first sentence. During such team reading, the child catches the intonation and the manner of the adult’s reading, and learns to pronounce the words smoothly. At the next lesson the child retells the contents of the book he has read and reads a new one by himself.

As an example, I would like to give here a part of the fairy tale About a Little Girl, Olya, and a Monster. I wrote it for a kindergarten as a textbook for a curriculum program called “Principles of Personal and Social Safety”.


There was a stranger in a car. He smiled in a friendly way and said: “Children, who wants to have a ride in my car? Get in.” But nobody got into the car. All the children knew that they must not get into a stranger’s cars. Their parents warned them about it. But Olya was the only one who thought:

What’s wrong with it? I’ll have a little drive and then get out of the car. And my mother won’t know …”


This book like the others that I have written for the 7th step of teaching reading, is illustrated by a painter. The books without pictures are not popular among preschoolers.

Here my course of teaching reading may be considered complete. The child who perhaps did not even know the letter A when he came to me, now reads through 25 books by the 70th lesson and is ready for reading children’s literature.

I want to give this last advice to the child’s mother about how to make the child keen on reading. She needs to make an effort to awaken in the child more interest in reading, than in watching TV or playing computer games.

My advice is: she should continue team reading of interesting books together with the child. But now the child’s mother reads not every second sentence but every second page and then every third and so on, until the child starts to read a book by himself. It will certainly bring success, but only if during the following several years the child’s parents supply their child regularly with books, which are interesting especially for him.

I have placed in this Internet site all my know-how of teaching children to read with the detailed description of the content of every lesson. I’ve also attached consecutive series of 64 video fragments, made during my lessons with children over a period of 9 months, so that any mother could observe them and repeat all my teaching games and lessons with her child easily. I’ve also put there outlines of my “Houses for Letters”, to help the mother make the same ones by her own. And I’ve also included a full set of all necessary text materials and books illustrated with pictures.

I’ve done my best to make this material as available to everybody as possible, so that it will become useful in practice not only for specialists, but for everybody who would like to teach a child with the help of this method: for parents, grandmothers, governesses, nannies and kindergarten teachers.