Reading strategies to teach children 4 - 9 years old

imgresWhen we start teaching children to read, it is essential that we give them the “tools” to be successful. The main purpose when teaching a child to read is that they develop their level of comprehension. There are many elements that affect comprehension such as fluency, level of vocabulary, field knowledge (Are they familiar with the concepts that the text presents eg Antarctica or a circus?), reading strategies and their critical thinking skills.

This blog is the first article in our new series about the little details every parent and teacher needs to know about reading. In the blog today, we are focusing on 12 strategies that children must be taught to be able to work out unknown words.




Successful readers are confident at using many of these strategies and are able to select the correct one to use when faced with an unknown word. Many children plateau on a reading level because they have insufficient strategies. Their strategies may work at lower level texts but as the text gets more complicated they need to develop other strategies.

Below is a list of the 12 strategies with a brief description about each. How many of these does your child use?





imgres1. Look at the Picture

The child needs to do a “picture walk” through the book before reading it. Ensure that they understand what could be happening. Get the child to look for clues in the picture to help them decode an unknown word.

imgres2. What sounds are in the word?

Try not to use the words “sound it out”. Encourage your child to look for all the familiar sounds they know and put them together. eg ing, sh, er, br, ough




imgres-13. Look for smaller words within the word

Encourage your child to find smaller words in the unknown word that may help them. Eg homework

imgres-24. Break word into syllables

Breaking the word up will help the task of working out the word seem more achievable for your child. eg unbelievable    -un be liev a ble

imgres-35. Use the punctuation to help

Get your child to look all around the word to see if there are any punctuation clues. A question mark at the end of the sentence could help your child work out what type of word it may start with. Speech marks or quotation marks helps the child realise that it is what the character is saying. This may give them another clue.

imgres-46. Go back and read it again

When your child solves an unknown words, especially if it took them a little while always encourage them to go back to the beginning of the sentence and read it fluently to ensure they are reading for meaning.

imgres-17. Read on

Children can skip a word and read on until the end of the sentence. This strategy is like a cloze passage and checks to see if they are reading for meaning.

imgres-28. Listen to your voice

Many children do not listen to themselves while they read. This is essential at the beginning stages and children need to hear how they sound to check they are saying the correct word. You can even record them reading and play it back to them.

imgres-39. Does the word look like another word you know?

Ask your child if they know any other words that look similar and could help them work out the word. eg trough for an animal is like cough. Same sound ending with the same spelling.

imgres-510. Imagine what is happening

Get the child to visualise what is happening in the text. This will really help them to connect with what they are reading and work out possible words that may come up. eg Reading about putting out a fire usually would include the words fireman, hose, ladder etc

imgres-611. Ask a question

The child can think about a question that might help them work out the unknown word if they are reading for meaning. Eg What is the name of a car that has no roof? = convertible

imgres-412. Does it make sense?

Get the child to ask themselves, does their reading make sense?. If it did not then they have to go back and read it again.

Below is a table with all the twelve strategies for you to share with your child and help them to remember what tools they have in their reading tool belt to help them solve unknown words.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.44.59 pm(Copyright) Creating A Learning Environment

How to use the table?

  • Put colour counters on a strategy each time they use one
  • Use it as a memory card that can fit into their home reader. (like a bookmark)
  • Talk about two strategies the child is going to focus on by pointing to them.
  • When a child gets “stuck” on a word, give them the table and they can choose a strategy to try.

It is important that children can name their strategy that they are using. This helps with their metacognition - deep understanding about the concept of reading. The strategies increase in difficulty but it is important for children to use all strategies to be a successful reader. It can be tempting to just give the answers to a child but they learn nothing from that experience. They need to try and use some strategies themselves to work out the unknown word to experience real learning. As adults, these strategies are built in from years of reading. For a beginning reader (4-9 years old) they need to be explicitly taught.

Next week, part 2 of this blog series will be online. In the meantime if you want to read more articles from this author click on the links below.

20 ways to help your child learn their sight words

20 ways to help children remember multiplication facts.

20 ways to help your child learn their sounds

Until next time…

Kelly Pisani

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