Can you hear that? Wait, be quiet. Shhh….if you listen hard enough, you can hear the cheers of teachers everywhere as they start summer. Yes, it is that wonderful time of year when students stay out of school for a couple of months traveling, playing video games, riding bikes until their hearts’ content, eating snow cones in the middle of the day, and swimming until they burn. And it’s that time of year when teachers finally catch up on sleep and Ellen.
But let’s not forget reading, shall we? Repeat with me: I will read with my child over summer break.
As a teacher I’ve had a lot of questions from parents over the years about how to help children with their reading skills. I’ve learned–and correct me if I’m wrong, parents–that telling a child’s parent that their child needs to ‘work on their fluency’ is not enough. Parents want specifics. They want techniques. Methods. Instructions on exactly how to help. And I think that is AWESOME.
Today I’m going to provide all of you with specific techniques to use over the summer (and throughout the year) to help your child progress in their reading skills. I figured summer break was the perfect time!
I’m going to break it down into the four main areas of reading as defined by The Daily Five:
FIRST: Understand that no matter how well your child reads, there is always room for improvement. Don’t assume because your child may be a few grade levels above the standard that he/she doesn’t need to be reading over the summer.
SECOND: You need to know which of the above areas your child needs help in. If you don’t know, ask your child’s teacher before the school year ends. Most of the time children need help in more than one area. For instance, children struggling with their accuracy will also struggle with comprehension since they are still trying to read the words. If your child is needing to work on accuracy, start with that. Once that skill improves, so will the others. Also understand that even if your child has amazing fluency, that doesn’t always mean their comprehension is amazing; the two are not necessarily linked. I’ve had students that could read whatever I put in front of them, but had trouble retelling what the read. So you need to know what area(s) your child needs help in.
THIRD: Let your child guide your reading session. Don’t jump in as soon as your child stops on an unknown word and give it to them. Let them use the cues they’ve learned. If they aren’t using cues, gently lead them to figuring it out. And please be patient with your child. I know it can be frustrating sometimes, but I guarantee it is more frustrating for your child than it is for you.
FOURTH: You do not want to get to the point of frustration. You should only be doing this in 20 minute increments. If your child is happy and wants to keep going, great. If your child gets frustrated at 10 minutes, stop. Don’t push them to their breaking point. You don’t want them to dislike reading…the point with these techniques is to give them confidence to keep going.
Okay, now down to business. Below you will find a list of specific techniques you can use to help your child progress in each area. I give this to my parents at the beginning of each year.
1) Check for Understanding: If a child is reading a picture book, have them read a page then stop at the end and retell what they read about before going on. If they can retell most of the details, they may continue reading. If not, they must reread. A chapter book can be broken up by paragraphs. If your child is really struggling with comprehension, this is the number one strategy you need to be using. Making the passages in shorter increments at first is key.
2) Back up and Reread: As a child reads and comes to a word they don’t know, have them figure it out then go back to the beginning of the sentence the word was in and reread it (just the sentence, not back to the beginning of the page). Sometimes students spend a long time decoding a word and forget what the sentence was about, which can impede their comprehension.
3) Slow Down: Many times very fluent readers lack comprehension because they read too quickly and substitute unknown words for what they think is right. Helping children slow down and spend time figuring out the correct word will ultimately help sharpen the picture in their mind of what is happening in the story.
4) Make a picture or mental image: This can be done after a child reads a small selection of text. The key to help students progress in their comprehension is to break the text into small increments. Once they train themselves to stop and visualize often, they can read for longer periods and do this naturally. Students could draw what they read or describe to you verbally what they saw in their mind. I tell them to think about the story as if it were a movie.
5) Compare and contrast: After a child reads a selection they should be comparing and contrasting what they read. This could be between characters, chapters, different stories of the same genre/author, or even themselves. They could write them down using a Venn Diagram (two interwoven circles) or verbalize them.
6) Asking Questions: Students who struggle with comprehension also struggle with monitoring their reading. Good readers constantly ask questions before, during, and after reading. We tend to ask children questions about reading only after the reading is done. To help train children to constantly monitor themselves, questions should be asked throughout reading. Read the selection PRIOR to when your child reads it. This takes a little extra prep on your side, but this way you can ask them before they read questions like, “After you read this I want you to be able to tell me….” For a child to already have a goal in mind before they begin reading is wonderful. This is a common technique used in guided reading groups in the classroom.
7) Making predictions: Children should also be making predictions on what will happen next, how a character might change, what a character might do, etc. Their predictions should make sense with the details given in a story. They may need prompting to do this at first, but should come naturally with time.
8) Recognize cause and effect relationships: “Why” questions are difficult for children to answer in the early grades. They expect to have a black and white answer to every question, but when it comes to a character’s intent or reasons for doing things, they can become stumped. They must identify clues in the text to help them formulate a cause for something happening or a possible outcome. Asking children questions like, “Why do you think that happened?” and “What happened as a result of…” and even “How would the outcome be different if the character would’ve…” will help them gain a deeper understanding of the text.
9) Using text features (titles, headings, captions, graphic features): This is mostly true with text other than fiction: nonfiction, magazines, articles, etc.
10) Making Connections: Connections are the cornerstones of comprehension. Text to self, text to text, text to world…all of them get the child thinking deeply about what they are reading. Have your child read a small section and lead with questions like, “What did that part of the story remind you of?”, “Can you think of another story where this happened to a character?”
1) Cross-checking (Do the pictures and/or words look right? Do they sound right? Do they make sense?): This three-fold strategy trains children to stop on words they do not know but replace. Some children who struggle with accuracy ‘run over’ the words they do not know, replacing it with either sounds, nonsense words, or different words altogether. Cross checking helps students become more active in their reading. If they realize what they are saying does not make sense, then it helps their comprehension. We practice this strategy by making three movements for each question: Do the pictures/words look right (right hand to left shoulder); Do the words sound right (left hand to right shoulder); Do they make sense (both hands onto legs). When your child says a nonsense word for a word, stop them and ask, “Does that sound right? Does that make sense?” Don’t forget to have your child reread the sentence the unknown word was in once they have said it correctly. This is KEY.
2) Flip the sound: Students should know at this point that the English language is made up of a variety of sounds. There are short vowels, long vowels, soft c and g, hard c and g, consonant blends, vowel blends, digraphs, etc. So when children come to a word they do not know, one of the decoding strategies they can use is flipping the sound of a letter. So if a child gets to the word ‘blade’ and says ‘blad’, remind them to flip the sound to a long vowel. Same with soft c (‘s’ sound) and soft g (‘j’ sound). Sometimes this step is all they need to decode a word because many children struggling with accuracy struggle with distinguishing between short/long vowel sounds (which is word work in school helps to strengthen).
3) Chunk letters and sounds: The secret with chunking letters and sounds is looking for them. Children often times don’t ‘see’ the chunks like we do; this is a learned reading behavior. So breaking a word up like “shack” would be sh-a-ck. An accurate reader would know that the ‘sh’ makes one sound, the ‘a’ can make two sounds, and the ‘ck’ makes one sound. It could even be prefixes or suffixes such as -ing or -ed. Reminding children of these rules will strengthen a child’s ability to decode words independently. If they get to a word like ‘shop’ and say ‘sop’, ask something like, “There are two letters in that word that make one sound…can you find them?”
4) Stretch and Reread: This strategy kind of blends with number 3, but in this case students specifically say each sound slowly then read it quickly as one word. We illustrate this by using a rubber band.
5) Look for words within words: Children struggling with accuracy never scan a word they are struggling with, they always start at the first letter of the word and try to figure it out from there. Have them look at the word from beginning to end and see if there are smaller words they already know within the word. For instance, ‘begin’ has the word ‘in’ at the end and ‘beg’ at the beginning. If your child gets to a larger word encourage them to look for smaller words within it.
6) Back up and reread: This strategy is also a comprehension strategy, but I always use it with my accuracy students. Once children figure out a word they must go back to the beginning of the sentence and reread it. Sometimes children spend so long figuring out a word that they forget what it was about in the first place. Again, helping build that comprehension in conjunction with the accuracy.
7) Use the picture: Children working on building their accuracy need to be reading picture books. Pictures serve as clues to help children decode words. Is the word they are saying match what is happening in the picture? Does it make sense with the illustration? Watch them as they read…they will constantly look at the picture. This is a wonderful thing, so do not discourage it. We call it “reading the pictures”.
8) Reread!! One thing that accuracy children struggle with in reading is confidence. They know they are struggling and their opinion about reading is usually reflective of that feeling. Having student reread a familiar text three or four times will help build their confidence because they become more familiar with the words and are in turn able to read it more fluently. A lot of parents have asked me if that just causes them to memorize, and it might, but as long as you are changing out the book every few reads, that is okay. You could also do this with a few pages at a time. Once a child’s confidence is given a boost, he/she is more likely to try hard and be more motivated with a new text.
1) Reading good-fit books: This sounds like a given, but believe it or not many children do not know how to choose good books for themselves. In my class we use IPICK, which includes the 5-finger rule. If you don’t know what your child’s specific reading level is, take them to a bookstore or library. Have them choose a book they might want to read. (They are going to choose it based on the cover, I promise). Have them open up to a page and begin reading. They should put one finger up for every word they don’t know on the page. If they get to 4 or 5 fingers, it is too hard. If they don’t have any fingers or 1 finger, it’s too easy. We are looking for 2-3 fingers up to be a good fit book.
2) Voracious reading: Fluency children must read A LOT and they must read out loud. Also, if your child is used to pointing to the words with their finger, discourage it. It was good when they were working on accuracy, but it will slow their fluency down.
3) Adjust reading rates to match text: Many fluency readers are not aware that good readers adjust their reading rate based on what it is they are reading. Many times they do not even notice when we pause between sentence or paragraphs. We describe the different reading rates as shifting gears, like in a car: first gear: slowest, used to memorize material; second gear: slow, used to learn material;
third gear: most of our reading is at this rate; fourth gear: quickest speed-for skimming and scanning.
4) Reread text: Since the fluency reader’s goal is to read and adjust rates appropriately, rereading a familiar text could help children gain confidence, although it should be limited to a few times before moving on to another text.
5) Attending to punctuation: Many children have fluency as a goal because they run right through
punctuation causing their reading to sound like one huge run-on sentence. Going back to adjusting reading rate, good readers know that there are slight pauses after ending punctuation and commas. They also know that the voice changes when reading a question rather than a statement. Also, when a character begins to speak or engage in dialogue with other characters, the voice should reflect that change by adjusting not only their expression, but their reading rate as well.
6) Use appropriate expression: As children begin to explore intonation they should be thinking about what the characters are feeling/thinking during the part they are reading. If two or more characters are involved, there should be a difference in the voice when reading aloud and appropriate pausing between each. When the characters are different ages, genders, have different personalities, all of this should be taken into account when reading aloud. Questions like, “Is that how you would’ve said it if that happened to you?” help a child begin to think about how they are reading aloud.
7) Read to your child: One of the best things you can do for a child struggling with fluency is read to
them while they are watching the words. Many fluency children are still reading word by word because they are used to it, so training their eyes to move quicker over the words will help them tremendously.
1) Tune in to interesting words: In my class children that are working on increasing their vocabulary are always on the hunt for new, interesting words in their reading. They have individual word walls in their binder that they use to record the words they find, and throughout the year they will be able to dissect these words to gain a deeper understanding of them. During their read to self time I provide them with a sticky note so they can write down interesting words they find without getting up and interrupting their reading. They can do the same thing at home during their 20-minute reading time. Students in this group are usually reading more advanced books.
2) Read voraciously: Yes, your child knows what voracious means! Children trying to increase their vocabulary should be reading challenging books often. They should be deep into chapter books that begin to explore conflicting emotions, real life issues, and figurative language.
3) Use dictionaries, thesauruses, and glossaries: At home these are great resources to have handy. Thesauruses are great tools to help expand a child’s vocabulary. Children could also look use online versions of these tools (I don’t know what it is, but using technology for the same purpose is always more interesting to them!).
4) Using word parts to determine the meaning of words: Successful readers are usually successful spellers. They know that words are usually made up of chunks that sometimes give clues to what words mean (prefixes/suffixes). Sometimes making word webs or lists using these patterns can help train them to break up more difficult words.
5) Read nonfiction: Nonfiction is a wonderful way to increase a child’s vocabulary. It is usually more challenging just because of that. Your child can make lists of new words they come across and then you can go through the list with them and help them understand each one. You can do this by showing them photographs of what the word means, explanation, or actually experiencing it. For example, my son came across the word ‘froth’ and I tried to explain it but I knew it just wasn’t connecting. So I went on the computer and brought up a a pic of ocean froth.
6) Read with your child: These kids are usually the ones we as parents don’t worry about because they are ‘doing okay’, but this is a WONDERFUL time for you to be bonding with your child through reading. Pick a chapter book a few grade levels above where they are, snuggle under a blanket, and read it together. You read some, they read some.
Okay, that is all I have for now! Please comment if you have any questions. I love to help in any way I can!