Actual Reading Errors Made by Struggling Readers

What These Errors May Indicate

How to Evaluate Reading Errors to Identify Deficiencies and

Target Instruction to Build Necessary Skills


Why do we need to evaluate the student’s reading errors?


We can learn much by carefully evaluating what children are doing incorrectly when they read. Much like a coach watching a child swing a bat or a physical therapist watching a patient walk, observing the details of what the individual is doing incorrectly helps us teach to strengthen their skills and rectify their difficulties.  Remember students face difficulties reading because they lack specific skills necessary for proficient reading.  Students make reading errors because they lack necessary skills to read the word correctly. Often by carefully observing their exact errors we can learn specific weaknesses and determine which skills we need to help the student develop so they can advance their reading. The bottom line is we can learn much from our mistakes.


“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”  Winston Churchill

“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery” James Joyce

“By ignorance we mistake, and by mistake we learn” Latin proverb


What can we learn from reading errors and how can we use these indicators of skill deficiencies to target effective instruction?


It is enlightening to closely scrutinize the student’s exact reading errors. We can learn much about how the child is reading and what skills he may lack from the types of mistakes he makes. The struggling student’s errors are the symptoms of the underlying deficiency in a specific skill. However, the child or student does not understand why they are making reading errors. For them reading is just hard and they make mistakes. The struggling reader does not recognize what they are doing incorrectly or realize the specific skills they need to acquire to develop proficient reading. Therefore, it is our job as parents and teachers to learn from their mistakes, identify the specific deficiencies and help them build the necessary skills.


Carefully evaluate the exact errors the student makes. Note not only that he made an error but precisely what the error was when he misreads a word.  Look for patterns in errors. Think about why the student made the error.  This information can help point to what the student is doing incorrectly and to what skills the student may lack.  Consider the individual skills the student needs to acquire (knowledge of the code, tracking, blending, phonemic awareness, attention to detail) and if the student applies the essential process of phonologic processing (sounding out the words converting print to sound). After examining the fundamental skills, consider the student’s abilities with the higher level skills (handling multisyllable words, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary). See the article Skills Necessary for Proficient Reading for more details on these necessary skills.


Although it is not precise science, you can generally evaluate the specific errors the student makes when he reads and interpret some of the common mistakes. Look for common patterns. It is not a single mistake but patterns of repeated errors that may indicate specific deficiencies.  What types of words did the student miss? What did he say when he missed the word? Is he skipping words when he reads?  Is he tracking? Does the student struggle with complex code such as vowel combinations? Are errors with the ‘short’ easy words or with multisyllable words? Careful evaluation often reveals patterns of errors that may indicate deficiencies in specific skills such as tracking, blending, attention to detail, and absence of phonologic processing.  Compare your observations of the errors the student makes to the skills necessary for proficient reading.  Interpret likely deficiencies and then target instruction to directly build the necessary skills.


Individuals who struggle with reading vary greatly in the specific skills they are lacking. For example, one student may have poor phonemic awareness, not know the sounds and not be processing print phonetically. Instruction would need to directly establish all fundamental skills to develop the proficient phonologic pathways. Another student may be ‘sounding out’ words but struggling with some of the complexities because their code knowledge was incomplete. This student would need to learn the complexities and strengthen phonologic processing. Another reader may only have difficulty with multisyllable words. Another individual may decode perfectly but not pay attention to or understand what they read so would need direct work on developing comprehension strategies.


Examples of actual errors, grouping of error patterns, and the specific reading problems these types of errors may indicate.


The following examples show common errors made by children and students who struggled with reading and the types of problems these errors may indicate. Once again, it is not a single error but the patterns of repeated mistakes that are informative.  All these examples came from actual experiences with students who struggled with reading. While each student is unique, these types of errors are common with struggling readers.  Although these listed examples may not apply to your student, they illustrate how we can gain valuable information from a student’s errors. For descriptive purposes, the errors are grouped into categories.  These are not clear-cut categories and overlap is common. For examples ‘whole word’ readers often are not tracking and often do not know their sounds.


All of the examples of actual reading errors are shown as: actual word à what the student said

(For example, spread à prize means the student looked at the word ‘spread’ and incorrectly read it as ‘prize’ )


“Whole Word” Errors: These types of errors occur when the student is attempting to ‘see’ or ‘visually recognize’ entire words as a unit instead of processing the print by sound. The student tries to recognize the overall visual appearance of the word. Often the words ‘look similar’ to words the student has already learned as ‘sight’ words. Words usually contain some visually similar letters or structure. Frequent ‘whole word’ type errors indicate the student is not processing print phonetically. Examples of ‘whole word’ type errors include:

exit à next                       everyàvery                   simpleàsmile                 sprout à poured

vanà have                       roamà more                dimà made                     years à yours       

value à volume               afraid à after               includeàlocating            agreeàargue

lord à rod                        speed à sleep             cork à clock                    text à next 

vane à have                    beingàbelong              navy à very                     clang à change

adult àabout                   spread à prize            will àwhile                       shift àfinish

since ànice                     scrapeà escape         when à then                    district àdistance

swallowed àshallow      childàcould                  relocate à recycle          scoundrelàschool

prolongàprogram          blinking à belong        wildàwould                     remindàrandom

emptyàempathy             relic àrecycle               pilgrimàprogram            enactàenchant

combine à become       balcony à balance


“Word Guessing” Errors: Frequent ‘word guessing’ errors are somewhat similar to ‘whole word’ errors because the student is not processing print phonetically. In ‘word guessing’ the student often only looks at the first letter and then guesses a word. Frequently, errors are completely ‘off’. Sometimes a recently used word will be used or a word will be guessed from an illustration. Sometimes the student will look at you (instead of the print) and in quick succession chant several options. Word substitutions are considered ‘word guessing’ errors as the student is not reading the print but instead guessing their own word from context.  Occasionally these are the ‘I have absolutely no idea where that come from’ type errors.  These types of word guessing errors are closely associated with students who do not process print phonetically and instead are relying on ‘whole word’ visual recognition techniques. There is usually overlap between ‘whole word’ errors and ‘word guessing’ errors.  Examples of ‘word guessing’ errors may include:

pencil à pear                        spoilàspecial              hound à hundred            gentleàgreat..giant.   

graft à giraffe                       hound à hundred         true à tunnel                    plenty à prehistoric

command à computer         detest àdentist            vitamin à vacuum

chart àchimp (read a book with the word ‘chimp’ so now says ‘chimp’ for words starting with ‘ch’)

value à Valentine (because it is February and student was recently exposed to ‘Valentine’)           

shell à shark (because there was an illustration of a shark on the page)

never à nurse (because there was an illustration of a nurse on the previous page)

stir à shirt..sister..sitter (student looking up at me while guessing various words)

angry à mad  or  class à school  (word substitutions guessed on context instead of reading print)


Tracking Errors:  These errors can sometimes appear similar to ‘whole word’ errors. The distinction is that the student appears to be attempting to sound out words. However, they are not properly tracking left-to-right. The words they say often contain the same sounds but are out of order. These tracking errors are closely related to ‘whole word’ processing. If the student looks at the word as a ‘whole’ instead of processing correctly in an orderly left to right manner they frequently ‘mix up’ the sounds within the word. Improper tracking is a symptom of whole word processing. Students can also make tracking errors if they are ‘hopping’ around looking for familiar bits and pieces that they ‘recognize’.  These types of errors indicate the student need to develop proper left to right directional tracking. Examples of tracking errors include:

was à saw             noàon                     slip à spill                    left à felt                 step à pest

lots à lost               slot à lots               form àfrom                   miles à smiles       balk à black

last à salt               tired à tried            act à cat                       persist à preset    tarnish à tranish


Lack of Code Knowledge/Difficulty with Complexities: When the student makes frequent errors or has difficulty with words that contain vowel combination and r-controlled vowel combinations it often indicates they lack knowledge of the complete phonemic code. If the student did not know the complexities in isolation and has difficulty reading words that contain these sounds, often the student needs is some direct instruction and practice in these sounds.  These students sometimes read correctly and accurately with the basic sounds and are attempting to sound out words but lack the complete code knowledge therefore struggle with the complexities. Examples of difficulty with code knowledge include: 

--a classic example of lack of code knowledge is exhibited by many young beginners when they learn t=/t/, h=/h/ but are not yet taught th=/th/. They frequently make errors, reading ‘that’ as /t/ /h/ /a/ /t/ or ‘the’ as /t/ /h/ /e/. Similarly they read ‘sh’ as /sss/ /h/ instead of /sh/.

--mispronunciations where the sounds of vowel combinations are sounded out separately such as

sound à /s//o/ /u/ /n//d/          tease as /t/ /ee/ /a/ /z/            ‘compete’ as /k//o//m//p//e//t/ /ee/

--difficulty with words that contain complexities when simple code is read accurately and easily

--lack of knowledge of the alternate sounds, for example every time the student comes across ‘ow’ they use the /ow/ sound and do not know and apply the /oa/ sound

--student will start sounding out the word and then ‘word guess’ because they don’t have knowledge to sound out correctly


Consonant Cluster Errors: These errors occur primarily with common ‘blended clusters’ such as s-st, st-str, d-dr, c-cl, c-cr, t-tr, g-gr, f-fr and ending clusters p-mp, and d-nd. In these types of errors the student will insert the ‘blended cluster’ sounds into words even when it is NOT present. These type of errors occur frequently in students who were taught consonant clusters as a unit (student  learned the consonant cluster as a unit such as st, str, tr, mp, gr, fr, dr…) The student consequently ‘sees’ and processes the blended sounds even when they are actually not present in a word. Often the student will look at the word several times repeating the same error. Examples of ‘consonant cluster’ errors include:

flip à flimp                 clipàclimp                 cap à camp              stiff à striff              gabà grab

tying à trying             dip à drip                  cop à crop                speak à spreak    sand à stand

tideà tride                 fog à frog                  chat à chant              teaseà trease       stout à strout

steakà streak           widest à windest      taper à trapper         tendencyà trendency


Attention to Detail Errors: These types of errors are when the student does not pay close attention detail, carefully processing all the letters in order. Attention to detail is closely associated with proper tracking and correct phonologic processing. The ‘attention to detail’ errors are when the student misses bits and parts of the word. Consonant cluster errors are a type of attention to detail error.  Sometimes the student will be sounding out the words correctly but misses parts.  The ‘fast and sloppy’ readers often make frequent errors with the details. Examples of attention to detail errors include:

inspect à insect       father àfarther       must à most          sonàsoon                    explainà exclaim

explore à explode    invent à invert        powder àpower    retortedàreported       adaptàadopt

+ missing details with plural words (inaccurately leaving off or adding /s/ /es/)

+ changing or missing other endings (such as ing, ed)


Word Family Errors: These errors occur when the student inappropriately ‘pulls’ common word families out of words when they are reading. Hopping around looking for ‘word families’ that they recognize also confuses proper tracking. Often in these errors you can recognize the inappropriate use of ‘word family’. Examples include:

train à into                   page à /p/ /ag/ /ee/           training à  /tr/ /in/ /ing/         managerà/man//ag//er/

stream à /str//ee//am/                                              indicate à /in//dic//at//ee/   


Difficulty with Multisyllable Words: These types of errors occur when the student appears to sound out and accurately read the shorter words without problem and yet struggles with multisyllable words. If fundamental reading skills are established (processed phonologically, knows sounds, tracks correctly) then often the student simply needs instruction in handling these more complex multisyllable words. Errors with multisyllable words tend to include missing or changing parts of the word, dropping or adding sounds inappropriately, difficulty putting the words together and general trouble handling the longer words. Examples of multisyllable errors include:

inconsistent à inconstant                opportunityàoppority                    eliminate àelimate     

committed à commititated             determine à deterimmine            objective à objectactive

representative à repsetive             fundamental à funmental              encountering à encounting


Slow Processing: If the student is ‘sounding out’ words but the phonetic decoding is slow and difficult, it may be that the reader is relying on indirect processing to phonologically process the print. For efficient reading the student needs to automatically convert print to the correct sound. If the student must first recall another word that contains the sound, extract the correct sound and then apply it to the new word, it involves slow indirect ‘long way’ processing pathways. While the student is able to extract the necessary sound knowledge it takes lots of effort. In this case the student needs to practice the direct print=sound relationship so the print can be processed rapidly and efficiently. In addition, once correct phonologic processing is established it still takes repeated practice of each word to develop fluency. Remember fluency is build word by word and requires repeated phonologic processing. Practice is necessary to build this ‘fast’ fluent reading.


Blending Difficulty: Difficulty blending is evident by the ‘choppy’ or ‘segmented’ sounding out. The sounds are said broken apart instead of being blended smoothly together. The ‘choppy’ sounding out is usually very noticeable. Sometimes the student says all individual sounds correctly but because they are segmented/separated they are not able to combine them back together. The student needs to learn to smoothly blend sounds. Have them take a deep breath before starting and if necessary sing the word. Directly teach smooth blending.    See the article “Blending Explained” for more information.


‘Fast and Sloppy’: This is where students appear to be rushing through the reading, moving so fast and careless they miss entire words and sections. When they slow down their accuracy and reading improves dramatically. They appear to have necessary skills but are in too much of a hurry to apply them. These types of ‘going too fast’ errors often correspond with the personality of certain students. They are simply in too much of a hurry to be careful. These types of students simply need training in careful reading! These students have the necessary skills, they simply have to slow down and apply their skills. Guided reading, where you stop the student at every error is the best way to help these students develop careful reading skills. Impatient individuals usually do not like to stop so forcing them to stop and go back usually motivates them to improve their accuracy!


Letter Confusion: Letter confusion is most commonly encountered with the visually similar letters b - d - and p. For example:

bigàdig         dragàbrag    brownàdrown          

Letter confusion with other letters can also be created by certain writing styles. For example loopy cursive crossover print can create confusion with additional letters. The loopy cursive writing can create confusion between i-j-l. When curves and loops are added, i-j-l , these letters which are distinct under normal block print also become visually similar. Loopy writing of  k & h as  k-h   can create confusion not just between k-h but also with ch-ck. As a result, some students who learn these loopy cursive crossover styles will make errors such as:

ask à ash         much à muck            mash à mask           racket à rachet      basket à bashet

hill à kill            joint à loint               

Remediation for these letter confusion errors is to have the student repeatedly print the letters with proper formation in normal block style print. While print or font style is usually irrelevant for skilled readers it can create additional difficulty in students who are learning the printed language.


Memorization of Text: Many intelligent youngsters can easily memorize text. It appears the child ‘reads’ the text perfectly. However, when you observe the child you notice he is not looking at the print when he says the words. To read the child must be processing print. If his bright eyes are not focused on the print, he is NOT reading!   This is especially common in kindergarten and first grade where students are given simple stories with repetitive text and then repeatedly group chant the story. Check if your child focuses on the correct text as he ‘reads’. Notice if he can only ‘read’ books he already ‘knows’, tells the story from the pictures and if he is on the incorrect page as he ‘reads’ the text to you. I know a highly intelligent young boy who can memorize an entire book after hearing it one time. If you suspect your bright child is simply memorizing text, check their reading skills by having him read new material, without pictures or repetitive text.


How to Evaluate Your Child or Student’s Reading Performance and Errors


To evaluate reading/decoding skills, listen to the student read and record their exact performance and then interpret the results. Although there are many established reading test, this informal evaluation of decoding accuracy, speed and ability is useful. It is enlightening to carefully look at and evaluate errors that struggling readers make and think about why the student made those errors. This reading performance evaluation of accurate decoding skills is particularly helpful in establishing an effective remediation plan to build proficient reader skills in struggling readers.  


Select 4 or 5 pages of grade level material the student has NOT previously read.  Avoid material where text can be guessed from the pictures or a book with repetitive or predictable text the student can guess or memorize. It is helpful to make a copy of the pages the student will be reading so you can write your notes directly on your copy of the text as the student reads.  Then have the student read the material out loud to you. Make sure you can see exactly what he is reading. At this time, do not stop or correct the student. Simply listen to the student read and record the student’s exact reading performance. It is important to record every error, no mater how small. Be sure and record the exact error the student makes (not just that he missed the word but precisely what he said when he missed the word). Indicate all skipped words (even the little words  ‘a’ ‘an’ and ‘the’), incorrectly read words (write down precisely what the student says), replacing one word for another , missing part of the word, or difficulty with multisyllable words.  While you do not correct the student at this time, note any self correction the student does on his own. In summary, you record the student’s exact reading performance. Also make notes on any of your observations or overall impressions concerning reading skills such as ‘reading was slow and laborious’, ‘reading was fast’, ‘seemed to be rushing and missing words’, ‘student corrected self when made an error’, ‘frequently student did not notice errors’,  ‘student’s reading was choppy and slow’, or ‘difficulty with multisyllable words’.


For evaluation purposes, carefully evaluate the exact errors the student made. Identify common patterns in the errors and ask yourself, “why did the student make that error?” Once again the precise errors and patterns of errors are enlightening. Frequent, persistent, repeated patterns of errors often indicate deficiencies in specific reading skills and importantly in identifying the skills that you need to help the student develop and targeting instruction to help the student acquire those skills and achieve proficiency.


Important Note: This type of reading evaluation is not a ‘test’. The evaluation technique described is only an informal tool for indicating possible gaps in reading skills. If you have any concerns at all about the student’s hearing, vision, development or other medical concern, the student must be evaluated by a doctor or other appropriate professional. These informal evaluations do not provide any medical information or official diagnostic data. If the student has difficulty hearing (for whatever reason from an ear infection to a physical disability) it significantly impairs phonemic awareness and the ability to tap into correct phonologic processors.  Students with uncorrected vision impairment will have challenges seeing the print. Any and all medical concerns need to be addressed by professionals.


Additional informative articles and resources on teaching students to read proficiently can be found on the Free Reading Information page of the Right Track Reading website.



This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at ~ Copyright 2007 Miscese R. Gagen