Reading is a complex action that comprises a large variety of skills. While teaching reading, the teacher gives attention to, among others, perceptual skills, decoding, speed reading and reading comprehension. Despite purposeful teaching of reading and focus on learners’ reading problems, there are still many children with insufficient reading capabilities who are unmotivated to read. Some learners experience problems with identifying words in a reading passage quickly and accurately and the need to first decode the words may lead to inadequate reading speed. Sight vocabulary is relevant to speed reading, and the rapid recognition of words contributes greatly to reading success. As a result of this observation the question underpinning this investigation is: How could the sight vocabulary of learners be improved in an enjoyable manner? The purpose of the investigation was, therefore, not only to improve learners’ sight vocabulary and consequently their reading speed, but also to examine the influence of the support on reading accuracy and comprehension.
A purposive selection of participants was used in a case study using flash cards as an aid to enhance the sight vocabulary of learners. Learners with reading deficiencies were identified and their backlog was established by means of reading tests. A support programme 18 learners in grades 2 and 3 was run for 10 weeks. Different types of words were used for making flash cards, namely words with short sounds, long sounds, diphthongs and merging sounds, and some polysyllabic words. These words were mainly of the consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) type.
The support programme with flash card games and activities was specifically planned to support learners who have not sufficiently mastered the reading process and who do not like reading. Word games that were “played” (performed) in a group setup were used to motivate learners to read and enjoy the reading. The ultimate purpose was the possible improvement of the learners’ sight vocabulary in an enjoyable manner.
During activities of this study which were done with flash cards, the focus was on behaviouristic principles of accuracy and fluency, practice and repetition as well as on the principles of effective learning. During our process of support, however, we also kept in mind the learning theories of Piaget and Vygotski as well as the Dual Coding Theory for acquisition of vocabulary. The learners who participated in the research are, according to Piaget’s theory, in the concrete development phase and we achieved better results by using concrete words which may, according to the Dual Coding Theory, render better results. We also applied support (“scaffolding”) as explained in Vygotsky’s theory. In our approach we consequently moved away from the traditional use of flash cards, namely to flash the card for learners to read. Apart from the behaviouristic use of flash cards for repetition and drilling, we also applied the flash cards as a tool to address identified learning disabilities, to enhance vocabulary and to increase reading speed.
The method includes elements of precision teaching (PT), which focuses on the importance of accuracy and fluency in behaviour as a basis for mastering, maintaining and generalising skills. Further practising and repetition of systematic activities, like clear pronunciation and sounding of words, were emphasized with a view to improving sight vocabulary. Principles of effective learning, according to Morrow and Dougherty (2011), namely modelling, scaffolding, guided practising, goal-orientation and feedback to participants, were followed. Elements from both these views were used when activities were done with flash cards.
Six different activities with flash cards were used in practising the words and addressing reading deficiencies.
i. Show the word on the flash card to the learners and read the word. Point out that the word, e.g. cat, comprises the sounds c, a and t (CVC pattern).
ii. Read the word on the flash card and learners name the beginning, middle or end sound; e.g. cat: beginning sound c, middle sound a and end sound t (decoding of word).
iii. Read the word and learners say the word without beginning or end sound; e.g. cat: without the beginning sound it is -at; without the end sound it is ca- (decoding of the word).
iv. Divide the learners into groups of two. Flash a word at a specific group and let the learner who first reads the word have the card. Should the two read the word simultaneously, each earns a point. This game is played twice and the learners try to improve their achievement second time around (an improvement of achievement is likely if a word is read by both learners simultaneously, thus each earning a point).
v. Play a memory game with the flash cards. (Use only the newly acquired words for the game, as too many words make the game time-consuming and clumsy.) Turn the cards with words face down. Learners pick up two cards and if it happens to be the same word, they retain their cards. Each card picked up is shown to the group and read out aloud.
vi. Flash the cards to be read by learners. Speed up the flashing process as learners master the recognition of words.
Improving sight vocabulary of learners with reading deficiencies by means of flash cards was not the only purpose of the exercise; it was also for them to enjoy reading. Initially some learners had been negative, distracted and unwilling to participate in the activities, but behavioural changes gradually took place and learners started participating enthusiastically. Both the activities where the learners who first read the word could keep the flash card and the memory game were very popular and learners repeatedly requested more. It is clear from the response of the learners that the reading of flash cards and the flash card activities were enjoyable and they did not find them boring. All the learners participated enthusiastically in the activities of the programme.
Some learners who were initially insecure and tense, also thoroughly enjoyed the sessions. There were clear signs of excitement and they regularly enquired from the class teachers about the next session. The type of reading activities ensured pleasure with the learners and they particularly and enthusiastically participated in the reading activities in pairs and the memory game with flash cards.
Although the support was directed at the improvement of the learners’ sight vocabulary, the assessment of learners’ achievement also enabled the researchers to identify learners with problems regarding decoding, recognition of sounds, reversals and even insufficient vocabulary. Where possible, shortcomings were attended to during the flash card sessions, while some learners were referred for more intensive support after the 10 weekly sessions. It can be assumed that the diminished reading deficiencies empowered the learners to recognise words more quickly and in this manner contributed to improvement of sight vocabulary.
The researchers are aware of the fact that variables such as natural development and the programme in the classroom also influence reading performance and the positive outcomes cannot be attributed to the flash card activities only. It must, however, be taken into account that the learners are already in grades 2 and 3 yet still do not meet the reading requirements after a year and longer at school.
The objective of this investigation, namely to establish whether learners’ sight vocabulary can be improved by means of enjoyable flash card activities, was achieved. In general there was improvement in reading speed, reading accuracy and comprehension. The outcomes of this research confirm the value of purposeful teaching of sight vocabulary (which was done in the research with the aid of flash cards) and as such it contributes to the extension of the particular field of research. In almost all instances the learners’ sight vocabulary and reading comprehension improved. The use of flash cards to enhance sight vocabulary did not only improve the learners’ reading speed and reading comprehension, but also contributed to the enjoyment and motivation to participate in reading activities.
Keywords: flash cards; memory games; reading; reading activities; reading concept; reading speed; sight vocabulary; support (scaffolding)