Teaching children about reading strategies is equipping them with tools to solve reading problems. Using reading strategies effectively will help children become confident, fluent and expressive readers who develop a love of reading.
Welcome to my second blog in the series “How to read to your young child” This blog outlines the strategies (or tools) that children need, to decode (work out) words that they are unsure about while reading. All these strategies need to be developed to enable the child to become an efficient reader.
In my experience, most parents tend to focus on one or two strategies to help their child work out a word. These are usually “Sound it out” or just tell the child what the word is straight away. Unfortunately neither one is helpful to the child!!
Why we never say “Sound it out” to a child
“Sound it out” was a familiar statement used by many teachers and parents in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s. It requires the child to look at each letter in a word and say the corresponding sound. The English language is a complicated one. There are many spelling rules that we follow; however, there are many exceptions to these rules. It is a phonetically irregular language that doesn’t always follow the expected pattern.
Consider the word ‘rough’ - How would a child sound this word out? If they did, it would sound completely different to what the word really is. Then there is the other problem of letter patterns changing their sound from word to word. If you think of the ‘sound chunk’ ough; does it have the same sound in the following words; thought, dough, through, drought?
“Sounding it out” really confuses beginning readers and struggling readers. It is not a successful strategy in working out unknown words.
Why we do not tell the child the word straight away
Usually if a child cannot “sound an unknown word out” the parent resorts to telling them the word. This really limits a child’s ability and offers them no alternatives to problem solve the word for themselves. What happens if you were not there? Would the child have any idea as to how they could work out the word?
Now let’s look at the reading strategies that will benefit your child. I like to think of these as tools for your child’s reading toolbox. Each tool has a different purpose and when used correctly can help a child solve an unknown word successfully.
Strategy Number 1: Look at the picture
Encourage your child to look at the picture to help them work out what the text might be. In simple books, the texts match the pictures exactly. As the books get more complex, the pictures still relate to the text but they do not always show everything that is written in the text.
Text relating very strongly to the picture – excerpt taken from “Where is the Green Sheep” by Mem Fox
This is one of the first strategies that your child should become an expert at. Many parents tell me that they cover the picture when their child reads so the child doesn’t “cheat” by looking at the picture. Looking at the picture is a very efficient problem solving strategy for beginning readers. If a child is reading and gets stuck on a word, tell them to look at the picture carefully and try reading the sentence again.
Tip for parents: Do a picture walk through the book with the child before reading the text. This means you talk about each picture with your child and you may focus your child on a particular aspect of the picture that will come up in the text. This will emphasise to your child the importance of pictures in a book.
Strategy Number 2: Get your mouth ready
This strategy is another great one for beginning readers. Using this strategy with the strategy of looking at the pictures will help your child think of a word that makes sense in the sentence. Getting your child to make the initial sound with their mouth will help the word “pop” out if they are reading in a smooth reading voice.
For example if the sentence is “A sheep lives on a farm” and your child is stuck on the word ‘farm’, encourage them to make the first sound of the word (f) with their mouth and it may just come out if they are listening to what they are reading. If they have stopped reading, give them the instruction to get their mouth in position to make the first sound and then tell them to have another go at the sentence and this time try not to stop.
Tip for parents: Encourage your child to read like they talk. A lot of children resort to a “robot type” reading which stops the child from understanding what they are reading as it is very disjointed. You want them to read, like they are talking so when they come to a word they don’t know and they get their mouth ready to make the first sound, it will usually just come out.
Strategy Number 3: Does it make sense?
The main goal of reading is for the child to comprehend (understand) what he/she is reading. They constantly need to be reminded that if they read something that doesn’t sound right, that they need to have another go at reading it. Parents can help with this by asking them if what they read made sense. By the parent repeating what the child said , they will be able to hear that what they said does not make sense. This is a strategy that develops over time as their reading ability improves.
Tip for parents: Record your child reading on your phone, iPad or any other recording device. Let your child watch it and ask them to comment on what they did well and what they could do better. Children love watching themselves and this can be a powerful tool to teach them how important it is to listen to how they read while they read.
Strategy Number 4: Sound chunks
This is a strategy used to help the child look at the entire word to see if they can use any prior knowledge they have about the sounds that letters make together or prefixes (letters added to the beginning of a word e.g. un, dis, in) or suffixes (letters added to the end of words e.g. ed, ing, less) Parents can help the child locate these in an unknown word.
Parents tip: Always try to get the child to come up with the word by asking the right questions. This will lead them to ask their own questions to themselves while reading if this is a common practice that you do with them. For example “Do you notice anything at the end of the word? ”
Strategy Number 5 : Little words in a big word
A lot of words in our language are made up of smaller words. Children can look for known words in a larger word to help them work out the entire word. Using this strategy with the “Does it make sense” strategy can help your child work out a word.
Parents Tip: The child needs to have a good knowledge of sight words (words that are rote learnt by sight) to be efficient at this strategy. Practice sight words often with your child and encourage them to find them in texts that they are reading. Examples of sight words are; I, am, in, on, look, like, here, there, is, it,
Above all, reading needs to be enjoyable. If you find that your child is struggling on every second or third word, the book is too hard for them. We want children to be challenged but also experience a sense of accomplishment. Too often I hear about the arguments family’s experience to get their child to want to read each night (or day). Give your children time to develop their reading. Pushing harder books onto them too early will do more damage than good.
When a child finishes reading a book make sure you praise them for using some strategies to work out unknown words. Flick back to the page or pages that they worked out a word on and show them what they did again. Emphasis how proud you are of them that they are working out words independently.
If your child has tried to work out the word by using different strategies and they were unsuccessful, the parent can say the word and ask the child to reread that sentence.
Thank you for taking the time to read my second blog from the series “How to read to your young child”. I will be finishing off this series next week with my blog “What to read with your young child”
If you liked this blog and found it informative and useful please share it with your friends and family. I look forward to hearing any thoughts or comments that you have.
Until next time …….
Click here to email this post to yourself or a friend