Do you sometimes wonder how you can help your child develop reading skills while you’re reading a chapter book aloud together? Here are suggestions that I used with a child who was struggling a bit with reading Ramona and Her Father (by Beverly Cleary) but didn’t want to try another “easier” or “just right” book. You can use these methods with nearly any book that is at a “just right” level (no more than 5 “difficult words” per page) or a book that is challenging for your child, but she (or he!) really wants to read anyway.
First, we prepared for reading the book by looking at and discussing:
- The front cover [What does the title suggest? What do you know about this author? Have you read other books by her? What were they like? Why did you choose this book? Did a friend recommend it? Why? What ideas do you get from the picture? What does the sub-title tell you about the story?]
- The back cover [Read the blurb and discuss from it what might happen later in the book; look at the list/photos of other books in the series and discuss ones already read; talk about what is already known about the characters, about the way the stories go, etc.; read about the author (this may be inside the book, as may a list of other books by the author)]
- Other pre-reading strategies: preview (as with the cover material; also pictures inside the book, etc.); personal connections (What does this story remind you of? Other books? Movies? Own experiences in your life?) and predicting (What do you think will happen next? Later in the story? What clues in the story make you think that will happen? What else could happen instead?); vocabulary introduction (an important part of comprehension: even if your child reads a word or sentence smoothly, if you aren’t sure she understands, stop and talk about it); KWL (What do I already know? What do I wonder about? and after reading, what did I learn?)
Then have your child start to read aloud. After each couple of paragraphs, I ask some objective comprehension questions (information that comes directly from the text) and some inferential questions (information that comes from clues in the text: “reading between the lines”). If there is a picture related to what she has read, have her look at the picture and re-tell that part of the story in her own words. Looking at the picture, her memory of even small details not actually shown in the picture, but told in the story, will be stronger than just remembering from the words. If she includes details that weren’t in the story, that’s fine–part of good reading is using your imagination. These activities will help develop a child’s graphical strengths and her story-telling abilities.
While your child is reading, watch for things that she needs to work on and things that will help improve her reading skills. Introduce these ideas as they come up in her reading, but don’t cover them all at once or you’ll only cause frustration. You might work on one aspect per reading session. Some may take repeated practice. Don’t overwhelm. Encourage slowly and steadily.
- Punctuation: If your child seems to ignore punctuation marks (doesn’t stop momentarily at commas and periods; doesn’t use an appropriate tone for question marks and exclamation points, etc.) take time to discuss their use and read the sentence correctly to your child, then read it together, and finally have her read it herself.
- Does your child tend to add, or leave out, small words such as articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (joining words like: and, so, but, if, etc.), or prepositions (words that begin phrases like: in, from, for, with, etc.). This can happen as she tries to make sense of what she is reading, and she may also be thinking ahead and kind of guessing what comes next or thinking how she would tell the story in her own words (this is actually quite common with children–and even adults–who are good story-tellers). Or her focus may be on what she considers “important” or “difficult” words. Just gently remind her to read all the words. Even those little words are important because they affect the meaning, and because reading correctly will be helpful in learning to write correctly.
- Some children tend to mix up the lines or skip lines. Using a pencil or finger or ruler or bookmark to follow the lines can be helpful, but this can slow down comprehension of longer, more complex or detailed sentences. In that case, read the sentence to the child (using your own finger for her to follow), then read it together, and then have her read it. She’ll gradually be able to read these longer, multi-line sentences. For a child who has difficulty with lines that seem to blur into each other, try creating a paper “frame” that fits neatly around the words/line so she can only see one or two lines at a time; or try placing a piece of transparent plastic in a light colour over the page so the page isn’t so bright for her eyes (brightness can blur the words/line). Alternatively, a pair of light-tinted sunglasses might help, or move to a place without such bright overhead lighting.
- Does your child have difficulty reading expressively? Some methods you can use to help include watching for punctuation clues and looking for “hints” in the text (words like “she exclaimed” or actions the character takes in the story). Other useful methods include reading “readers theatre” style stories, poems, and short plays (even acting them out), and doing you read/I read (modelled or echo reading) and choral reading). Talk about the value of reading aloud, and encouraged her to read to a “safe” audience–a sibling, friend, grandparent or even a pet or a stuffy! Have her read a paragraph silently first, then have her re-tell it in her own words, then have her read it aloud to you. This will build confidence, expressiveness, and comprehension skills.
- If your child is having difficulty decoding words (sounding them out) try these methods: refer to picture clues; guess the word and then decide if the guess fits the sentence’s meaning (if it does but is still the wrong word, help her sound it out); skip the word or phrase then come back and try reading it again; sound it out with individual letter sounds and with “chunks” (combinations of letters she already knows the sound for). If a word really doesn’t follow “spelling rules,” write it down and add it to her “personal spelling and vocabulary list” so she can practice it, both in writing and speaking.
- Some children can read smoothly–and yet they actually have difficulty remembering and understanding what they have read, not to mention things like drawing inferences and conclusions and making predictions. If your child has difficulty with comprehension, stop frequently (every paragraph or two) and ask questions such as: What just happened? Who did this or that? Why do you think the character did that or said this? Do you think that makes sense, and why/why not? What would you do if you were this character? What do you think will happen next? What is the problem in this story? How might the problem be solved? What would you do? What might this character do? Do you like this character and why/why not? Use questions that require more than a one-word answer! As your child gets better at comprehension, you can wait until she has read a full page or two, then a full chapter.
Here are a few other things you can do with your child as you read together:
- Teach her to watch out for quotation marks. They mean someone is speaking. Tell her to glance ahead to see who is speaking, so she can use that character’s kind of voice. Encourage her to use a different kind of voice for each character.
- Teach her to look for “key words” and actions that give ideas of how the person might be speaking (sighed, confided, contented, complained, calmly … jumped up, slammed the door, slumped into the chair, )
- Have her watch for words that sound like the sounds and emotions they describe, and say them as much like the sound as possible (tee-hee, yuck, shrieked…)
- If your child tends to read really quickly and is making errors because of it, encourage her to slow down. If she’s having trouble reading slowly and clearly, read together (chorally) as if you were singing a song or repeating a rhyme she knows together.
Here are some actual examples of how to help your child decode words, taken from my reading time with the child who was reading the Ramona stories. You can use these ideas with other words, of course!
- since (find the small word “sin” … Ask: do you think that c sounds like “k” or like “s”? Try it both ways with “sin.” What makes sense?)
- anxious (tough word … needs to memorize … discuss meaning and practice spelling)
- newscaster (divide into words and sounds you know: news – cast – er)
- strike (remember: magic e at the end of the word makes the “i” say its name)
- merest (tough word … discuss meaning of root word “mere,” then with the ending)
- smidgen (new word … sound out: smid-gen … discuss meaning)
- ensnarled (take off the prefix en- and the suffix -ed … “snarl” is left … then add the prefix and suffix again … discuss change of meaning)
- shudder (explain: when a word had a double consonant, we divide it into two syllables: shud/der … this usually happens when the vowel before the double consonant has a short sound) (then have her act out “shudder” and she’ll never forget the word!)
- touched (take off the suffix “ed” = touch … then add it back on)
Want more tips? Check out the “Home Education Tips” page for links to all my posts, divided into topics; and also the Tutoring Tips on Quora page for links to more tips. If you feel overwhelmed and would rather hire a tutor, check the Tutoring Topics page for links to posts with how-to tutoring information. Specific questions? Share them in the comments for this article, or email me from the Contact page.