Your child has started to read a little. You are so excited and want to encourage him to read more. So you buy him books or go to the library. You sit next to him on the sofa and expect him to start reading away. Instead he gets stuck.
The most common thing for a parent to say is “Sound it out.” Sometime that can help but it depends on him knowing the phonics rules that apply to that word. Frequently in English, the way we say the word is not phonetic at all. If it did the words though, thought, and through would all sound similar.
Here are some ways to help your stuck reader tackle reading snafus. Giving clues is not cheating. It helps him develop strategies to decode the unfamiliar words he will encounter as he becomes a more secure reader. These should help you stay relaxed while your child reads to you.
Rhymes With: It is perfectly acceptable to give clues such as “It rhymes with gift.” You can even use a word that is spelled differently such as “fed” for “head.” The idea is to give them support for part of the word while they figure out the rest.
Word Within: Ask your child if she sees any words she recognizes within the word she is stuck on. For example, within the word “window” she may see “in” or “wind.” My warning with this is to make sure the word within has the same vowel sound as the word she is decoding. The word “in” hidden in “find” will just be confusing.
Chunking: This is similar to sounding out a word. Instead of sounding out each letter, however, you ask your child to sound out chunks of letters. Cover the end of the word with your finger and have them sound out the beginning letters together. Then cover the beginning of the word and have them sound out the end in one chunk. The word “think” could be chunked into “th” and “ink.” “Address” either could be “add” “ress” or “ad” “dress.” This is a more natural way to use phonics in decoding.
Picture Clues: Encourage use of the pictures to help figure out an unknown word. Pictures should be there to support the text. If the word says “sheep” and your child reads “lamb” after looking at the illustration, have them look at the word again. Point out that the word doesn’t begin with the letter L. Let them try again.
Freebies: Characters’ names, long words, or a word they have never seen before even if they can decode it (i.e. “din” or “fret”) should just be given. They will likely remember it when they next encounter it. For those new words, just say “Din means noisy.” Don’t spend more time than a short definition. The goal is to finish the sentence with understanding. Too many interruptions and they will not loose sight of the meaning of what they are reading.
Too Hard: Too many errors per sentence or on a page is a sure sign the material is too hard. You know your child best but generally they way to tackle this to read the text aloud while running your finger under the words. Stop at the words your child knows and let them read those aloud. Even very beginning readers can do this with words such as “the” or “go.”
Reread: After you have a sentence that you’ve had to stop a couple times to decode words, go back and reread the sentence together. You are providing the support to help your child remember what was just read. As soon as you finish, tackle the next sentence.
Some children hate this strategy because they think it makes the story too long. If your child complains, you can ask them to tell you what the sentence said. If they understand, I would just move on without rereading. You know your child best.
Buddy Read: Beginning reader become fatigued easily. By you reading every other page, your child has a chance to rest and recharge for a minute before the hard work of decoding begins again. This is a strategy many children have learned at school and are usually quite comfortable sharing the job of reading a book.
Have Fun: Be sure to enjoy the text. Express surprise at something in the story. Laugh at the funny parts. By you being engaged in the story, you are modeling how to respond to literature.
Review: When a book is over, instead of asking what the book was about, ask your child to show you what his favorite part of the book. Ask them to reread the page they liked best. You should share and reread the parts you loved. This gives them the chance to discuss how they felt about the book.
Compliments: Make praise genuine and criticisms to a minimum. Focus on the skills or how you feel when you hear them read. Try “You worked so hard to figure those words out” instead of “I love the way you read.” It helps them know you really recognize their effort.
I hope these suggestions help you support your beginning reader. Sharing a book should be a joy that helps instill a love for reading. Happy reading!
I’d love to hear how these strategies worked for you and your reader.