How to…stop students from guessing

In our ‘how to…’ series we are going to delve into all things phonics instruction and give you our expert advice on developing confident readers.


Many pupils will have been encouraged to use guessing strategies by well-meaning teachers and tutors, such as guessing clues from the picture or the context, and/or skipping the word and reading to the end of the sentence to guess what a word might be. Despite research indicating the limited effectiveness of these strategies, they continue to be widely adopted in educational settings.

Guessing strategies may seem to help pupils reading a very simple, repetitive text; however, they let pupils down once the pictures fall away. Guessing leads to inaccurate reading, which affects comprehension. The clues for decoding a word are in the letters on the page and that is where pupils need to focus their attention.

Many older readers have bad guessing habits that are difficult to undo. One of the ways we can try and change these deeply ingrained habits is to reward the pupil when they demonstrate decoding. This can be in the shape of counters that the pupil accumulates as they work out the words by sounding them out.

A popular game is the “chest of gold”. The game involves pupils earning yellow counters as they decode their way through a text. If the pupil resorts to guessing, the teacher gets the gold from the chest. This game can help the pupil to focus on the task at hand.

Reading Jake the Snake

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