TRUGS and what it means to “teach reading”?

If I gave you a list of foreign words, taught you the generally applicable rules for decoding those words, then invented a game to let you practice this decoding, would you be able to read a novel written in that language?

Would I have taught you how to read in that language?

How about these words? I’ll teach you how to pronounce every one, then give you a poem written in this language:

noll, fyra, femte, atta, tjugoforsta, tjugo, tolv, arton, tack, hejsan, kvall, nej … and so on

Could you read it?

Or could you just ‘word call’ it – make every word sound just right but have no idea what the piece was about?

In other words, is learning to pronounce single words correctly, without any syntactic or semantic, context really reading?

Of course not!

Reading is about making meaning and without any syntactic or semantic cues individual words have wavering, shifting meanings, and sometimes no meaning at all.

So why is it that a card game that helps children to decode individual words, devoid of meaning or context, called ‘Teaching Reading Using Games’ or TRUGS?

Quite simply it is NOT a reading game. It’s a coding game. And reading is about far more than coding and decoding.

The game is fine, and the ability to decode words through phonemic analysis and the application of grapho-phonic rules is an important skill, but let’s not pretend that playing the game is the same as teaching reading.

In an article in The New Yorker of June 3, 2013, Adam Alter writes:

“These studies suggest a sort of linguistic Heisenberg principle: as soon as you label a concept, you change how people perceive it.”

Names are powerful. The change the way we think.

So please, let’s not call this game TRUGS.

It doesn’t teach reading.

It is a great decoding game.

How about calling it Teaching Decoding Using Games  instead? TDUGS?

You can read more about this here:


Filed under Classroom practice, Language and literacy, Thinking

3 responses to “TRUGS and what it means to “teach reading”?

  1. JDP

    Pat, you hit the nail on the head yet again……such a smart one , you are!
    Needless, to say perhaps, this is why we have now have so many ‘non’ readers (of books,etc.) in our country these last twenty or so years. Seems so to me , since I have left (2000) the school system. Decoding is a wonderful thing ,if after that they develop the love of reading and understanding what they read. ….I always felt when you teach a person (not just a child) to read and understand what they are reading, you have opened so many doors for them to explore the rest of their lives. I was never very fond of the ‘rush’ to push reading as much as having them ‘understand’ what was being read and to learn how to ‘think’.
    The use of ‘decoding’ is one of many , and it always annoyed me when it was referred to ‘teaching’ reading…..:) just the ramblings of an ole women I guess. JDP

  2. Indeed a great blog-post. i am volunteering my services at a school run for poor kids. there, we gave a lot of emphasis on phonics but now, after reading your words, i have a different perception of learning… wonderful read. stay blessed.

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