Published December 9, 2015

What is Stretch & Catch?

The culmination of teaching regular and special education, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses at Cleveland State University and teaching my own children how to read, led me to develop a multi-sensory and developmentally appropriate method called Stretch & Catch.  Stretch and Catch simplifies a research based teaching strategy that helps readers “see” patterns within words.  The simplicity of Stretch & Catch allows anyone to teach readers at any level and any age. This method simplifies for parents a well-known reading method making it more accessible and fun to use.

The Stretch & Catch Method is a tool that can be applied throughout the entire developmental process of reading. This method uses a tactile approach to help children “see” and experience patterns within words by using their fingers to “Stretch” (sound out the word by raising one finger at a time per sound) and then “Catch” the word by saying all the sounds quickly while bringing the fingers into a fist. The Stretch & Catch Method follows a specific developmentally appropriate word list that is easily adaptable to different levels of abilities.

In order to learn how to read, a child must understand how words work. By learning how to Stretch & Catch words, your child will use many of his/her senses to see how words are put together and pulled apart.

The following is an example of a child learning the short ŏ vowel sound. [Note that if I want you to say a sound and not a letter, the sound will be placed between two slanted lines and in bold print. For example, when I want you to say the short-a sound, it will look like this: /ă/. When I want you to say the name of the letter a, it will be capitalized and in bold print, A.]

Stretch & Catch short-vowel word: dot

step 1: Say, “We are going to spell the word dot.” Now tell your child: “When I say /d/ [sound the letter out and lift the first finger], /ŏ/ [sound the letter out and lift the second finger], /t/ [sound the letter out and lift the third finger], do you see that I hear three sounds? So if I hear three sounds, there are three letters. Let’s see what three letters we hear.” Leave your fingers up.

step 2: Say the following: “When I say dot, I hear /d/ [wriggle or point to your first finger]. What letter is the /d/ sound?” If your child says the letter d, that is great. If your child gives an incorrect response, model that the d sound is /d/, like in dog (dog is the key word for the d sound). The list of key words to use for each letter sound can be found in my book. This is used to model the correct response.

step 3: Your fingers are still up. Sound out the word again, stopping at the second sound. “/d/ [wriggle/point to first finger], /ŏ/ [wriggle/point to second finger].” Continue to say, “I hear the vowel sound /ŏ/. [Wriggle/point to the second finger.] What letter makes the /ŏ/ sound?” If your child gives the correct response, great. If not, model the correct response: “The /ŏ/ sound is the letter O, as in octopus.Again, notice the use of the key word to model the correct response.


step 4: Move on to the last sound. Sound out the word again. (Your fingers are still up.) “/d/ [wriggle/point to first finger], /ŏ/ [wriggle/point to second finger], /t/ [wriggle/point to third finger].” Emphasize the last sound while pointing to or wriggling the third finger again. “What is the last sound you hear in dot?” Make sure to emphasize the /t/ sound. If your child gets the answer correct, great; if not, model the correct response: “When I hear the word dot, I hear the /t/ sound at the end. The /t/sound is a t, like in top [keyword].” Now put the three fingers down.

step 5: Stretch the word again: “/d/ [sound the letter out and lift the first finger], /ŏ/ [sound the letter out and lift the second finger], /t/ [sound the letter out and lift the third finger].”

step 6: “dot is spelled d [wriggle/point to first finger], O [wriggle/point to second finger], t [wriggle/point to third finger].”

step 7: Then Catch the word by saying it fast and pulling the three fingers into a fist: “dot.”

You catch the word because your child needs to practice pulling apart and putting words back together so he/she can hear each word he/she Stretches. This technique will be crucial when your child sees an unknown word while reading and begins to Stretch it out. For him/her to figure out the unknown word, he/she will have to Catch it after Stretching it by saying it quickly to identify what word he/she Stretched.

step 8: Now say, “Did you see how I did that? That’s how you Stretch & Catch words.”

You can find more lessons in Teach Your Child To Read In Less Than 10 Minutes A Day! Stretch & Catch Words. By: Amanda McNamara Lowe