Cross Checking: What it is and why your kids need it

Learning to read can be such a difficult task.  There are so many skills that are necessary, for a child to go from a non-reader to a reader.  Many children are fortunate enough to be read to at a young age.  These children are given the opportunity to experience books and enjoy them as a story.  Through this simple act, children learn that books tell a story and there are beautiful pictures to match.  Eventually, those same children will begin to pick up books on their own.  They will tell their own story according to the pictures that they see.  They are doing exactly what we, as adults, have modeled for them.  But they are still non-readers….

So how does a child go from reading the pictures of a story, to reading the words?  There are so many skills involved in this process that we could discuss it all day long.  Children need letter recognition, letter sounds, decoding, rhyming, phonemic awareness, concept of word, and the list goes on and on.   

Today, though, I am going to discuss one skill that many people often forget about.  It is one of those skills that seems to come naturally for some children and is very difficult for others.  It is one that we, as teachers, often forget to explicitly teach.  It is cross checking.

In my classroom, I use the Beanie Baby Decoding strategies to help many of my students remember these strategies they need for reading.  The first two strategies that I always teach to my non-readers are Lips the Fish and Eagle Eye.  These are the very basic beginnings of reading.  Lips the Fish reminds my students to get our lips ready to say the first sound in the word.  It gives them a starting point when reading the word.  Eagle Eye reminds students to look at the pictures to help them with unknown words.  I teach each of these skills explicitly and separate in my classroom.  Then, I go back and teach them together.  THAT is cross checking.

Cross checking is the ability of a student to use BOTH the picture on the page (or the meaning in the story for higher level readers) and the letters that create the word to determine the unknown word.  This means that child has to use both meaning AND visual cues while reading.  Most students have no problem doing one or the other, but combining them is a difficult task.

To teach this skill, I give my students several prompt cards that I designed specifically for teaching this strategy.  Each set has identical pictures, but with two different words that could describe that picture.  Often times, students will look at the picture and choose an obvious word for it without realizing that it could be something entirely different.

For example, this card has a fairly obvious word in it.  Students will look at this card and know that it is a picture of a horse and they will read “This is a horse.”

However, some stories may not use the word “horse.”  Some may use the word “pony.”  Students without the ability to cross check will look at this second card and read “This is a horse.”  They may not even notice that the word begins with the letter P rather than an H.

You will notice that I added our symbol for Lips the Fish and Eagle Eye to remind students that they need to use both strategies to determine what the sentence says!  

Here is another example:

 There are so many instances in stories in which this is such a necessary skill.  After I have taught this skill using these cards, it is time to try it in a book.  I then purposely choose a story or two in which they will have to use this skill to read the book accurately.  In a book, the picture cues are no longer there, so they may need to be reminded when they come across it the first couple of times.

As students become stronger readers, the pictures in the stories become fewer and fewer.  They also become more vague.  Students will no longer be able to use picture cues as often.  Instead, they will have to cross check by using meaning.  They will have to decide what word would not only match those letters, but would also make sense in the story.

If you would like a copy of the example cards that I have made, click here and check them out!


  1. I love the idea of Lips the Fish - there are a few children in my class who need reminding of this from time to time so I think I'll introduce it to them (And the Eagle Eye). Thanks for sharing!
    Growing Little Learners

  2. I love the use of cute Beanie Babies to engage learners. Some great points in this post, as most of us learnt to read ages ago, it is now intuitive and it can be very difficult to remember what our first steps were. Thanks for the lesson!