Quick "Getting Started" Video
Getting Started—Q&A, Tips, and Tools
General Information about Reading Bear
What is Reading Bear and who is behind it?
Please see our About page for a basic summary and personnel.
What age level is Reading Bear for?
Reading Bear is aimed mainly at children learning to read at the traditional ages of 4-7. The concepts, vocabulary, and length of the presentations were designed especially with these ages in mind. But even younger children do enjoy and get something out of Reading Bear.
Is Reading Bear meant to be a high-pressure program?
Absolutely not. It is best if the student proceeds at his own pace, using the program in many short and easy sessions instead of long, difficult sessions. The program can be played as a video that demands nothing from students, and at first, for many students, that is probably how it should be used. The program's fifty presentations are gradual and cumulative, and the several options within each presentation enable the student to thoroughly learn the phonics rules without pressure, mystery, or difficulty. Progress can and should be gradual and easy every step of the way.
Could schools use Reading Bear?
Yes! Early elementary classes especially, but preschool programs too. Consider:
- Free and accessible. The website is always available for free online, and should not be blocked by district Web filters.
- Painless. Reading Bear is an easy way to learn some complex phonics principles. We give many examples of a principle, and sound out each word clearly while the letters are highlighted, so students should quickly internalize the principles.
- Whole-class use. Reading Bear presentations can be shown to a whole class as videos.
- Individual use. Even better, students could go through the program at their own pace at individual workstations.
- Student accounts. Teachers can create student accounts from just one email address, allowing you to track individual student progress. Go to My Account>subaccounts.
- Systematic. Reading Bear presentations cover all the main phonics principles in a step-by-step way.
- But adaptable. Reading Bear is very flexible. You can pick and choose specific presentations and options to adapt our system to your needs.
- Good for remedial programs. As Reading Bear uses a systematic phonics approach, we expect that it might be especially useful in remedial reading programs.
- Good for ESL. Classrooms around the world use Reading Bear to help students learn English.
Is Reading Bear a "systematic, explicit phonics" program?
Yes. But we know that reading is not just decoding—it is also comprehension. So Reading Bear strongly emphasizes meaning with its rich media. Most of the sentences either define the word or describe some basic fact about the concept.
How is Reading Bear supposed to work?
Reading Bear combines carefully-matched text and audio with pictures and videos, to show the student precisely how each letter is sounded out and what words mean. This will, we hope, "unlock the mystery" of reading for young students both in terms of phonics and comprehension.
The student can systematically begin with a very easy presentation type—"Sound It Out Slowly"—and even have all the words demonstrated in advance, with no participation required. For the next step, the student hears the words blended slowly and is asked only to blend it quickly. By the third step, the student has heard the words two or more times apiece and has very likely begun to internalize sounds being taught. So the student is ready to start blending the word with only a quick sounding-out of the word as a prompt. In the last step, the student both sounds out and blends the words with only the text as a clue.
The student can then practice fluency by using flashcards and quick, easy quizzes. The quizzes alone are apt to be useful for many students.
See How to Get the Most from Reading Bear below for these steps in detail.
Why does Reading Bear spend so much time teaching basic vocabulary?
Research by Hart and Risley made it clear that
preschoolers with larger vocabularies have much better academic success later on
than preschoolers with smaller vocabularies. According to one study the researchers
did, as reported by Paul Tough in Whatever It Takes,
By age 3, children whose parents were professionals had vocabularies of about 1,100 words, and
children whose parents were on welfare had vocabularies of about 525 words. The children's I.Q.'s
correlated closely to their vocabularies. The average I.Q. among the professional children was 117,
and the welfare children had an average I.Q. of 79.
Reading Bear introduces and explains, in a way accessible even to three-year-olds, over 1,200 basic vocabulary
items. Repeated viewings of each presentation will go a long way to imparting much of the sort of basic vocabulary that
children of professionals have mastered. So those of us behind Reading Bear feel very comfortable in saying that our
resource helps develop not only decoding skills but also the sort of basic vocabulary that is so essential to learning to read.
Could I use Reading Bear as a baby or toddler reading program?
Reading Bear is intended first and foremost for students who are getting started with reading at the normal age.
That said, you could, and Reading Bear is simple and repetitive enough, and has features (such as videos of voiceovers), that make it attractive for "baby reading." We know that there is not enough research done to prove scientifically that this is a good idea. For more thoughts on this controversial subject, Reading Bear director Larry Sanger has written an essay on baby reading, which explains his surprising experience employing the word sets used by Reading Bear with his son at ages one and two—and who, by age five had become a very fluent reader.
One often overlooked advantage of teaching to very young children is that they are not intimidated by reading. They don't know that it's supposed to be hard. If you proceed at the child's pace rather than at a pace you pre-determined for him or her, if you treat it as a game, and if you take breaks when and for as long as needed, then your little student will have fun and learn much more than you might have thought possible.
But again, Reading Bear is designed first and foremost for normal-aged students.
Couldn't ESL learners benefit from Reading Bear?
Sure! It cannot teach English grammar, but it can help teach reading, pronunciation, and vocabulary. We recommend turning on "Always show video of word spoken" to help with pronunciation—you will be able to see a native (U.S. English) speaker forming the words.
Do you plan to develop versions of Reading Bear for British English and other languages?
Developing the U.S. English version has cost significant time and money. If we get funding for programs in other languages, maybe.
What are the "A B C" letters below the presentation titles?
They divide presentations into five-word chunks, for students with shorter attention spans. If you log in, then each time you click on one of these, a counter increments upward.
Why did you make videos of the words spoken—but turn them off by default?
Because some users, such as preschoolers and foreign students, might benefit particularly from seeing how the mouth shapes the word sounds. We expect that most students using Reading Bear will not need this feature, however.
What are "interludes," why do you have them—and why are they off by default?
Young beginning readers often have poor attention spans, but Reading Bear presentations are quite long. A "micro-break," if it is not too long, can actually improve attention.
How do I get a check mark?
You have to watch a presentation from beginning to end. If you skip many slides, you won't get the check mark.
How to Get the Most from Reading Bear
The following is just our advice on how to use Reading Bear as part of a reading program.
This is just one use scenario. For more advice on specific classroom and home situations, please see the next section,
"What path should I take through Reading Bear?"
First things first. The student should be very well acquainted with the letters of the alphabet before starting Reading Bear. It will help the student to know an alphabet song, how to say the ABCs, and most importantly, the sounds of the individual consonants and not just the names of the letters. The vowels are trickier and are taught systematically by Reading Bear. For this preparatory work, we have curated these videos.
Steps to follow. Reading Bear can be used in a whole-class setting, but for most efficient progress, students should use Reading Bear individually. You might follow this pattern:
- To introduce Reading Bear to the student, you could play the "Getting Started" video, which is addressed to students.
- Start the first presentation, and choose "Sound It Out Slowly" with the "Can you read this?" prompts turned off (in the settings). Show the whole presentation.
- Play "Sound It Out Slowly" again, with the "Can you read this?" prompts turned on. (Press the right arrow to go on after the prompt.) This should not be too difficult, because the words are blended slowly for the student, and all the student has to do is say it.
- If the student can say the "Sound It Out Slowly" words with no trouble, try "Sound It Out Quickly." It will probably be more difficult to say the words now, especially for the first several presentations.
- Once the student can say the "Sound It Out Quickly" words with no trouble, it's time to tackle "Let Me Sound It Out." This is also a hard step too, of course, but once it's done, the student is reading the words!
- Once the student can read the words, you might try the Audio Flashcards (with "Pause and ask me to say the words" unchecked) for quick review. Checking "Pause and ask me to say the words," or simply using Silent Flashcards, is good for quick practice.
- Finally, try a quiz. (See the "Take a quiz" links on the right side of the front page.) Be sure to both review and do quizzes over older word sets occasionally, to keep the rules freshly in mind.
- Once the student has mastered this rule, let the student press the "I have mastered these words" link on the end-of-presentation screen. This puts a satisfying gold star on the front page when you're logged in, and the "Choose For Me" button will then skip this presentation.
- Then go on to the next presentation!
Note: you could try using the Choose For Me button (on the front page and on the end-of-presentation screen). It's handy, but it might not be as effective as just figuring out where the student should be yourself. The Choose For Me button uses a simple algorithm to determine which is the next best presentation to show the student. This algorithm might not work for some students.
Some general advice
- Of course, follow the usual good advice on teaching children to read—most importantly, read as much as you can to them, and run your fingers under the words as you read to them.
- Don't ask a student to sound out words, or blend words, before they're ready. Figuring out how to go from sounding out a word to blending it is one of the hardest parts of reading. Go as slow as the student needs to, which might be very slow in the beginning. Your patience will be rewarded.
- Strike while the iron is hot. If your student is excited about learning to read and likes Reading Bear, let him or her use it as long as desired.
- If your student is capable of blending words without first sounding out, don't insist on sounding out. Some students sound out words in their heads very well.
- Let students decide when they're ready to take a quiz. A perfect score shouldn't be necessary to go on, because students can make errors due to things like a slip of the mouse, or just flagging attention. Quizzes are randomly generated each time you start one, so feel free to take as many as you want until mastery is achieved. You can take quizzes over not just a single presentation, but over the last five and over all presentations so far.
- Don't skip the review! Reviews are also randomly generated each time you start one. Reviews might seem redundant, but they help students a lot. Just because they knew a bunch of words and a principle "cold" a few weeks ago, that doesn't mean they know them now.
What path should I take through Reading Bear?
How you should use Reading Bear depends on your situation. Let’s address some cases.
As a classroom supplement for a phonics program.
Suppose you’ve already got a rigorous phonics curriculum in your pre-K, Kindergarten, or First Grade class, and you don’t want to give
up the curriculum, but Reading Bear looks great to you. In that case, you’d take a few minutes out to match, as best as you can, the
scope and sequence of your program to the Reading Bear scope and sequence. Not all phonics programs follow the same methods or introduce
the same rules, but there are often similarities or useful overlap. For maximum use in individual workstations, have your kids begin with
“Sound It Out Slowly” and, if they find they don’t need that preliminary practice, tell them to switch to “Sound It Out Quickly.” If they
don’t need words sounded out for them, then have them switch to “Let Me Sound It Out.” If they can already decode the words in a set, and
you want to use Reading Bear for reinforcement, then they could use “Silent Flashcards,” the review presentations, and the quizzes for
that. Note that the reviews and the quizzes are different (randomized) each time you open them. The sentences and videos in “Audio Sentences”
can be used as a little reinforcing treat, if students like them. Finally, if the students are advanced and just want some fun practice, they
can use “Silent Sentences.” While the sentences are not leveled, they are at a low (1st-3rd grade) reading level. If students get stuck on a
word, they can simply click on it and the pronunciation dictionary both sounds out and blends the word.
As a classroom supplement for a whole language program.
If your class has only limited exposure to phonics, and your focus is more on student reading of leveled texts and teacher read-alouds, then
you might want to use Reading Bear–which is 100% free–as a quick, efficient introduction to systematic phonics. The site teaches a complete set of phonics rules following a painless, yet
effective and proven method (it is basically a digital version of Flesch’s method from Why Johnny Can’t Read). We recommend that you use
the procedure outlined at "Steps to Follow." In individual work stations, let students understand that they should stay on a
presentation only as long as they have to. If they have mastered a set of words, and are getting 14 or 15 out of 15 on the quiz for a
presentation, then move on. We are confident that with just 10 minutes a day, your little readers could be recognizing words with renewed
As a resource for remedial work.
A number of remedial reading educators have praised Reading Bear. It is well-known that what many poor readers need is to have the phonics
rules of written English made extremely clear. They also often have trouble blending words. While Reading Bear is a brand new program and
so no studies have yet been done, these problems are things that it seems we can help with. Reading Bear is, first and foremost, a systematic
phonics site. Rule are simple, and typically illustrated with a few dozen examples. Our emphasis is on making phonics rules second nature.
We also do something that no other free phonics program does–sound out every word that is introduced, at two speeds, and blend it slowly,
before reading it at full speed. This teaches both the individual parts of words and how they come together as a whole. So we believe Reading
Bear’s unique strength, along with its combination of phonics and vocabulary work, is in its power to teach blending. We are sure that
remedial reading instructors are capable of determining how best to use the resources of Reading Bear, but we recommend that students be
allowed to go through the program at their own pace, not moving forward until they have achieved mastery. “Mastery” here means reading words
rapidly and accurately, without sounding them out, or sounding them out only “in the head.”
One last thing to teachers.
A couple teachers have complained that Reading Bear moves too fast. In their classwork, some teachers can spend a long time on a single word,
and they can’t get past the fact that Reading Bear, even in the “Sound It Out Slowly” setting, covers a single word in a half-minute at most.
If there is a disagreement here, it is methodological. But first, we do assume that students have completely mastered the consonant sounds
and do not have any trouble reproducing a sound immediately on seeing a letter. Once students are at that comfort level with the letters,
the Reading Bear method can teach students a rule rather than teaching words. For purposes of teaching a rule, going through many examples
quickly and explicitly, with the aim of making use of the rule automatic, is more effective than a slower, analytical pace. If a student has
indeed mastered the consonant sounds and then learns the short /a/ sound from the Reading Bear presentation, she should have no trouble
decoding the words. She will not have to memorize individual words.
As a homeschooling program for complete beginners.
Reading Bear is perfect for one-on-one work. You work at your own pace. But we do not start at the very beginning. The first step to learning
to read, using phonics, is to gain absolute mastery of the letter sounds–not just familiarity, but mastery. So if your students cannot
reproduce the sounds of the consonants instantly (the vowels don’t matter so much, because they are highly variable and are taught in phonics),
you could have them practice the consonants with books or with these videos. When they can instantly and reliably say the most common sounds
(hard c, hard g) of any consonant upon being presented with it, they’re ready for Reading Bear. Once they’re ready, if they’re between 4 and
6, we recommend easing students into the program with “Sound It Out Slowly,” gradually switch to “Sound It Out Quickly” and “Let Me Sound It
out,” and aim for mastery. They’ll pick up the rules automatically after they see many examples. Don’t go onto the next presentation until
your student really understands the previous one and can read the words without pausing to sound them out. The rules are cumulative after
the first five, so there are definite advantages to doing them in order. If you’re using Reading Bear as a supplement to your main phonics
program, however, you might want to do them “out of order”–see above under “As a classroom supplement for a phonics program.”
As an early-education program for preschoolers, toddlers, and even babies.
Reading Bear is highly visual and introduces its information explicitly and at a pace that can hold the interest of the very young–your
mileage may vary, but we know of many small children who sit still for Reading Bear. Very young children are at a golden age in which they
can absorb complex information effortlessly. This is how they learn to speak without any lessons–and even in multiple languages, or sign
language. Writing is, after all, just another and rather clearer form of this very complex phenomenon we call language. If you think about
it, there is no reason to suppose small children are incapable of decoding written language if they can pick up French, Spanish, or Mandarin,
or sign language, along with spoken English. Moreover, this is the experience of a rapidly growing community of people who use methods like
Glenn Doman’s and products like Your Baby Can Read.
While there is no hard-nosed research on methods of teaching babies to read (see discussion), there is a lot of individual experience
shared in books like Doman’s (and one by Timothy Kailing) and in the BrillKids.com Forums. Reading Bear can be used with some of these
methods. Simply playing one part (i.e., the A, B, C, etc. parts under the title) of the “short a” presentation using the “Sound It Out Slowly”
setting to a two-year-old, once per day, can be enough to let the child infer phonics rules and, eventually, learn to read. But by itself,
Reading Bear is unlikely to have this effect. The child should be exposed to his ABCs and letter sounds and be read to daily, and in other
ways benefit from a rich language environment. It also helps greatly to point to the words as you read them to your child, even a very small
child who can’t read at all. Finally, don’t expect immediate, dramatic results, and don’t test your child–doing so tends to put small children
off, and increase stress levels, we have found. Simply think of your early language development tasks–including use of Reading Bear–as just
fun enrichment activities, and enjoy the journey.
The Reading Bear Software
The Reading Bear system is pretty self-explanatory, but here are a few tips on slightly less obvious things.
Create an Account
It is not necessary to log in to use the site! But you should! If you do, you will be able to save your quiz scores as well as track which presentations and parts you have viewed and how many times, and whether you have mastered the words (in your own opinion). The "Choose For Me" button will appear. Also, your place in each presentation will be automatically saved for you, even from day to day.
Teachers can also make accounts for their students. Click “My Account” and then “subaccounts”.
Select a Presentation
When you click a presentation (e.g., "short a"), you will see seven choices. Each option draws from the same content. The first three are the core "intensive teaching" modes.
- Sound It Out Slowly: this is where to start if the student has no experience with the phonics rule the presentation covers. It slowly sounds out all words and includes all the media. It is the longest presentation type, but bear in mind that you can always come back to where you left off later.
- Sound It Out Quickly: after some experience with the rule, switch to this presentation type. It omits the slowest sound-out and also omits the slow blended version. If you choose "Pause and ask me to say the words" (in Settings), this is perfect for the student who needs only a little help sounding out.
- Let Me Sound It Out: when the student has had enough exposure to the words and is ready for an in-depth "test," choose this option. The software simply presents the word and asks the student to say it. Then you use the right arrow to move on to the picture, sentence, and video slides.
The next two presentations are useful for review:
- Audio Flashcards: a quick way to review the words passively.
- Silent Flashcards: useful for quick self-quizzing of all the words. If you can't remember the word, you can click it and have it sounded out.
The final two presentations are for more advanced students who want to use the sentences from Reading Bear for self-study. These presentations cannot be used by beginning readers, because they contain many more advanced and irregular words that have not been introduced in the early levels of Reading Bear.
- Audio Sentences: an entertaining way to receive a detailed "karaoke" presentation of sounds of whole sentences.
- Silent Sentences: for students who are ready to try to read whole sentences—again, not beginning readers—you can take a stab at these. If you can't figure out a word, click on it. All phonetic words in sentences are sounded out.
- Access settings via these buttons: and
- Turn on "Always show video of word spoken" if you want to see a video of someone reading the words. This might be used with very young children and ESL students, who could benefit from seeing (not just hearing) pronunciation modeled.
- Simply uncheck "Pause and ask me to say the words" if you want the presentation to play without any interaction needed.
- Check "Enable interludes" if you want to be shown, for an occasional "break," a 15-second art and music video. Some people like them, some don't!
- If a presentation is loading very slowly for you, toggle off HD (press the HD button).
- The "Auto" button is on by default. This makes the slides advance automatically, like a video. But you can turn this off and advance the slides manually (with the right arrow).
- If the presentation screen seems too small or too large, adjust the size by clicking the As at the top.
Videos of the Presentations
Sometimes, you don't need the interaction and options—just want a video. So we're making videos of the Reading Bear presentations and putting them up on WatchKnowLearn and YouTube.
See Reading Bear presentations in video form at this YouTube playlist. Here is the first one:
Reading Bear's interludes (go to Settings > Enable interludes to show them in presentations) provide a brief "micro-break" for students and, we hope, will refresh their attention. You could use the art-and-music interludes as a quick introduction to some of the greatest themes and artworks of Western art. The paintings are kid-friendly (the only nude is Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam"). So we made videos of the interludes, grouped into six parts. Note, the last one has all of them in a single 19-minute video.