• Strategy Circles • Guided Reading • Book Clubs • Reciprocal Teaching
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Welcome, Parents, to LikeToRead.com

By Karen Haag

I recognize that you are your child's first teacher and teacher for life. I understand the power of your help in your child's ability to make progress in reading. On this parent page, I offer suggestions for choosing books, reinforcing the reading strategies your child is learning at school, reading together using a variety of procedures, figuring out unfamiliar words, implementing stop-and-think reading to build comprehension, and developing test-taking skills. Read on!

A Bit of Background About Reading

Since most parents learned to read in school, reading instruction has changed dramatically due to the huge influx of research coming to us recently. On this site, I share the word as it comes filtered through David Pearson's lens. He recommends teaching 7 proficient-reader strategies to readers of all ages. I learned about the research upon reading a book called Mosaic of Thought by Keene and Zimmermann that you can order from Amazon.com.

Better yet, I would recommend a book written for parents, also available from Amazon, 7 Keys to Comprehension. The 7 keys are, of course, the 7 strategies readers should learn and practice. I've listed them on my website. Click on "Reading Strategies" on the index sidebar for a full explanation.

We teach proficient-reader strategies in kindergarten. As readers get more sophisticated, they apply the same strategies to reading harder texts and textbooks. In addition, in the younger grades, parents may hear teachers talk about reading levels. Many schools use leveled books determined by guidelines such as those established by Reading Recovery at Ohio State University.

Basically, there are concepts of print that all readers know intuitively or learn: the difference between a letter and a space, for example; the difference between a letter and a word; reading print from left to right; when moving to the next line of print on a page, return to the left side of the page; and understanding that pictures are drawn to illustrate text. Teachers start teaching these concepts in kindergarten and first grade. Most students master them and read at a level 24 by the end of second grade. Remember though, there are lots of exceptions. Just because a child is not on that level in second grade does not mean that the child will not be on grade level for life.

After level 24, it gets a bit messier. After all the concepts of print have been mastered, leveled books don't work very well. Above a 2nd-grade reading level, researchers have tried measuring the tiny differences in comprehension that occur in a grade-school year. That's not a HUGE difference in most cases, especially as our students get older. All we can measure are the child's ability to read (1) increasingly more difficult vocabulary, (2) longer sentences, and (3) quicker, smoother reading (fluency). Because reading is not math, it is hard to quantify.

What teachers and parents can do is observe whether students know when the text is confusing and whether they can effectively clarify the meaning. For example, one of the strategies, using phonics to sound out words, is very important. We teach students to stop when they come to the word "tear" for example. That's where sounding out words fails us. Is it "tear" like rip, or "tear" like cry? In order to know for certain, readers will probably reread and use the clues in the text to figure out the meaning. The other words in the sentence, "a tear rolled down my face," help the reader know for sure. By observing the child fix the problem, we know they are using their letter sounds and understanding the story. As you can see, using phonics and inferring (figuring out the word from context clues) are both important strategies to understand the whole text.

To put it another way, some students can call words and read pretty well. They have trouble understanding what they read, though. They may not do well on tests or they may not be able to discuss ideas confidently. That’s why children need to know all 7 strategies and not just stop at learning one of them.

So, the first step is teaching students to tell us when they don't know. That is harder than it sounds. Not all children recognize that the text isn't making sense. Some don't expect any text to ever make sense. Others read quickly just to get done. Some are afraid to admit the reading is not clear, and there's a host of other reasons for their reluctance or inability.

Encourage your child to stop a minute when she calls a word wrong or when she stops comprehending. At that point ask, "Does that make sense to you?" Give your child time (wait time) to figure out what to do. Resist the urge to just tell her the word because you will deny her the opportunity to figure it out. If you tell her, she will not get the chance to practice and strengthen all the strategies.

Suggesting a plan of attack would be a great help to the child. For example you might say, "This could be a good place to try skipping the word and reading the rest of the sentence to see if more reading can give you a clue about that word." (See list below, "Fix-Up Strategies: Working Towards Independent Reading," to try.)

Letting children make mistakes and try again (and maybe even again) demonstrates what you want your readers to do for the rest of their lives - with harder and harder texts. Only after the child has made a couple of attempts using different strategies should you make a suggestion or tell them the confounding word.

To be clear, try not to expect your child to be a 100% word-perfect reader. None of us are. Your goal is to teach your child to understand the text (comprehension). However, we want reading to be fun. You know your child best, so watch for signs of frustration. Read on for more tips that can be used at home. This page is designed to support and celebrate you. Thank you, parents!

Working toward independent reading

When children get stuck on words, we say they need to use a fix-up strategy. Try suggesting some options from the list below. Tell your child: "Try 2 or 3 (strategies) before me." For example, you might suggest she (1) sounds out the word and then tries (2) skipping, reading on and coming back to the word before she asks you to tell her the word.

Fix-up strategies

  • Sound It Out! If it's a short word, say. "Sound it out. Look at the letters. Match the letters with their sound. Read through the whole word."
  • Divide and Conquer! Divide big words into small parts. If the word has a short vowel, divide after the consonant: win-ter, ses-sion, af-ter. If the word has a long vowel, divide after the vowel: ho-tel, tu-tor, mo-tion. Use what you learned to take apart fantastic, tonsillitis (fan-tas-tic, ton-sil-li-tis)
  • Reread! Reread the sentence and see if the word comes to mind.
  • Stop and Think! Say, "What would make sense there?" By looking at the pictures or thinking about what she has read so far AND looking at the letter clues, the word may come to mind.
  • Skip Along! Try skipping the word and reading a little bit farther. Then come back to the word and see if she can figure it out.
  • Find The Root! Older children can be encouraged to figure out what words are within the word or related to the word that could give clues to what the word means. Combined with the context clues, the reader may just figure out what the word means. For example, memorial relates to memory. How might knowing what memory means help the reader figure out memorial?
  • Go Slowly! Sometimes just reading more slowly helps a reader figure out a word. Using a pointing finger or an index card to keep their place is recommended for children who are having difficulty.
  • Look It Up? Children need to figure out what words to look up or ask about, and what words to do the best they can with. If the child figures out that the story just isn't making sense, she needs to look up the word or ask someone. On the other hand, readers need to know that they can't sit and puzzle over every single word. Names, for example, are words they can do the best they can with and just keep reading.

Please Note: Most words with capital letters cannot be sounded out. That's because they're names and we borrowed them from many foreign languages. So, if your child comes across a word like Albuquerque, Mr. Delaney, or Dachshund, just tell them those words. If you don't know either, tell your child to think of a substitute like Al, Mr. D, or dog. Unless a child is going to read in public, it really doesn't matter how the name is pronounced. I've seen children puzzle over names forever, refusing to read on until they've figured it out. Knowing that they don’t have to pronounce names correctly frees the child to concentrate on what's important - the main details in the story.

Beginning reading sessions

  1. At the end of your reading session with your child, set aside time to just talk about the book. The very first thing you should do is respond to the book to emphasize that reading is for enjoyment, first and foremost. You can say, “So what do you think?” Or, you might say, “You know, this really is a funny author. I really laughed when ...” Sometimes, I say, “I'm not getting why ... I hope we find out tomorrow when we read. Do you get it?”
  2. Next, praise your child for the good work she is doing. Make your praise specific. For example: “I like the way you kept reading when you came across a word you didn't know. The best part is that when you read ahead you figured out the word and came back and corrected yourself.”
  3. Then, choose 1-2 words to teach. Pick words that are common and your child is likely to see again. Point to the word and say, "When you came across this word, you said _____. Does that make sense to you now?" Sometimes your child will correct the word right away once you've brought the word to her attention. However, if your child doesn't recognize the word, go ahead and teach it. Say the word. If possible, relate it to something familiar. For example: “I've seen you read the word /born/. This word is just like it except for the first letter: /torn/.” Or for older children, “I've seen you read the word /memory/. This word comes from that word. It's /memorabilia/. Care to take a guess as to what it means in this sentence?”
  4. If you both like, keep a list of new words she’s learning in a journal.

A critical step: Choosing books

At all ages, it is important that each child read 3 different ways throughout each day as many days as possible. I suggest choosing independent books to read using the Goldilocks Method.

  • Choose "easy" books to read sometimes. These are books where your child can read almost every word without help. If the book is a year or two below your child's grade level, he/she will build confidence, smooth reading and expressive reading. Your child can read these books independently or aloud, practicing expressive reading and even different voices.
  • Choose "challenging" (hard) books to read sometimes. As a general rule, if your child reads the first page of a book and misses 5 or more words, that book is difficult for the child to read. Reading these books aloud to your child will help build vocabulary, a sense of story and excitement for what's possible. Plus, it's just plain enjoyable to listen to someone read and then to talk about books. You are never too old for that!
  • Choose "just right" books sometimes. If your child can read 9 out of 10 words on a page, that's a "just right" book. By missing one word every so often, your child gets a chance to try the strategies that she is learning in school. Every child needs practice using the strategies. If she is missing more words per page, it will be difficult to get any meaning from independent reading. When your child comes across an unfamiliar word, it's a good idea to have him run through a variety of strategies to try and figure it out independently. However, your child should not get to the point of frustration. Reading should be fun!

Reading aloud alternatives

Sometimes nightly reading becomes tiring. Here are some ideas you can try to keep your child motivated to read.

  • Choral reading - Read together, side by side, the book placed between you. Don’t worry if your child misses a word or two. Your reader will be listening to you when new words appear. Your reader will chime back in when she feels comfortable.
  • Echo reading - I read a line. You repeat the line.
  • Expressive - I read a part. You read the same part with more expression than I do.
  • Parts - I read the narration. You read the character's parts.
  • Taking turns - You read a sentence, paragraph or page. I read the next sentence, paragraph or page.
  • Silent reading - I read silently with my parent nearby so that I can ask when I need help.
  • Say-something reading - I read a section and say something to my partner: a question, something I noticed, a connection to another book, a prediction... Say something! You can’t be wrong!

Stop and think

This strategy helps children comprehend what they're reading. They see you model what you're thinking as you read. Then they practice explaining what they're thinking.

  • Divide the reading into smaller parts to stop and think.
  • Read a page or a section of the text, for example. If your child is reluctant to read, read aloud.
  • Stop and talk together at the first place you marked to stop. To get started, share what you are thinking: what the book reminds you of, what a character looks like, what the setting looks like in your mind, or what questions you have. Laugh where there's humor, explain your sadness where there's sadness, get excited when the book gets exciting... You get the idea!
  • Ask your child to read in the same way. Encourage your child to stop and think out loud about what comes to mind. Questions? Memories? What do you already know about this topic? What pictures are you seeing in your mind?
  • Often times, I use Stop and Think to model wondering. For example: I wonder if…? Have you ever thought of…? Do you think that…? What does this word mean? Who is this person? Why would the character do that? Where does this book take place? I don’t understand…
  • We can answer some questions right away and we should. Some answers are in the story. But, others are confusing and we need to keep reading to find the answers. Example: Is the mother going to get really sick?
  • Still others never get answered, even at the end of the book. Example: Why did the author write this book? However, that doesn't keep us from posing and discussing the questions we have.

If your child has trouble with Stop and Think, then take a look at the book ahead of time and mark a dot at the places you would like your child to "think aloud." As your child gets comfortable with this read-aloud strategy, thinking aloud will become automatic. Make sure your child knows that you will answer any questions and that any "think aloud" is O.K. The best part is you will enjoy reading and thinking together.

Meaningful test preparation for grade levels 3 and up

Reading feels like a test sometimes, especially when you’re peppered with "comprehension questions”. When children struggle with reading, a test is the last thing they want to face.

I suggest reading books together and talking to one another. The discussion you and your child share can be the best preparation for the standardized tests your child faces. It's true! There are plenty of studies to indicate that when readers talk about books, reading scores improve.

Think of it this way. When your child asks a question about a book, she is showing you what she doesn't understand. You have a chance to help her figure out the answer by rereading the text, finding the evidence and drawing a conclusion. That's EXACTLY what tests require of kids. This question-posing, evidence-seeking practice is just the thing children need to get ready for tests.

Sometimes parents don't know what to talk about. That's where the best invention for teaching comprehension comes in - sticky notes. Give your child 2 sticky notes and take 2 for yourself. Read the book silently, sitting side by side, and mark what you want to talk about with the sticky note. You can write your questions on the sticky notes or you can mark the confusing place with the sticky notes without writing on them.

Compare your sticky notes. Talk about the confusing parts. You will be surprised by what your child doesn't understand. Listen carefully and help her by asking questions and leading your child in the right direction to solve the comprehension problem. Don't quiz your child. If, after a few minutes, you feel the question has not been cleared up, share what you think. Talk more about your reading process and how you make sense of reading, rather than testing your child on the book.

You can use this time to talk about anything. From reading the book, you may have ideas about how you think the story will turn out, what the characters will do, why the author wrote the book in the first place, or how the book is changing your thinking about a specific topic. You will be surprised by what you want to say. Your child might say, “I can't think of anything.” Then model what you're thinking. By listening to you talk, your child will learn how people explain their thinking.

If you need to zero in on a particular reading problem, try the list of questions below. You may notice that your child struggles in an area or two. Your child's teacher may indicate some weaknesses to you. Or, the list may help you see the kinds of questions posed on tests. You can work 1 or 2 questions into your nightly discussions. Your conversations will eventually take off and you probably will only have time to discuss 1-2 questions.

One last point: When you’re sharing, make sure you support your opinions with quotes or summaries from the book. Teach your child how to do the same. It?’ best if your child can express an opinion and back it up with evidence from the reading. That is a difficult skill, so the more practice, the better. I promise you, all of this discussion will foster comprehension.

Open-ended discussion questions

Harste, Short, and Burke suggest using open-ended questions to discuss a book with a child. Choose questions to talk about - around 5-minutes’ worth - after the reading. It's great when parents and children can read the same book and then come together to talk. Discussion should be fun!

  • Ask your child, "What do you want to talk about?" Wait and listen. If your child does not respond, continue with, "What do you need clarified? What are you wondering about? What words confused you?"
  • What's one thing the author did that you wish he or she had not done?
  • Does this remind you of anything else you've ever read, seen, done?
  • What do you make of this story?
  • Comment on something important to you.

After Reading a Book

  • What is this story really about to you?
  • What do you think about the author's writing and language?
  • Did you know (the character) was going to (die)?
  • What was your strongest feeling when you read this part/chapter/book?
  • Do you feel changed by this book? How?
  • Who else should read this book and why?
  • What's one thing you are going to remember?

Discussion questions about author's purpose

Questions about author's intent are a big part of standardized tests. You can help your student understand that authors write for a variety of purposes. The most common reasons are (1) to entertain, (2) to persuade, (3) to inform, and (4) to explain. Your child will understand author's purpose better if you analyze your favorite stories from the author's point of view, asking questions like, “Why did the author use THIS word?” or “Why did the author end the story this way?” or “What do you think the author meant when she said>>>?”

In addition, she will learn to write with a purpose in mind, using specific words and author’s techniques like foreshadowing. The whole idea comes full circle with writing instruction.

  • Why did the author write this passage or book?
  • What is the author's purpose? How do you know?
  • How is the author affecting me as I read? Who is my audience as I write?
  • You can help your child understand author's purpose by talking about these topics in a conversational tone while you read with your child. Just a question or two spread throughout the reading is sufficient. Here are some sample question stems you might use:
  • What is the most important thing the author wants you to know?
  • How do you think the author feels about...?
  • What is the purpose of [the information]?
  • What is the purpose of the words...?
  • Why did the author include...?
  • How does the author explain the word...?
  • How does the author make the passage interesting to read?
  • If the author wanted to add one more topic to this article, what might it be?
  • What questions would you ask if the author were here? Which would be the most important question? How do you think the author might answer it?
  • What does the author do to create suspense to make you want to read on to find out what happens? Point out places where you were totally in the reading zone - so involved you didn't want to stop.
  • Were there any clues, that the author built into the story, that helped you figure out the ending? If so, what were they? Did you think these clues were important when you read them?
  • Every writer creates a make-believe work and creates believable characters. Even where the world is far different from your own, how does the author make the story seem possible or probable?

Discussion questions about main ideas

Another area that is tested often is determining main ideas and themes. Again, this concept is difficult to learn at first. A child must be able to generalize. She has to determine which ideas in the book are details and which are main ideas. One place to start the discussion is about movies. When you watch movies together, try to figure out why the author wrote the story and what she was trying to say. If you and your child could talk to the author, what would she say she believes? Another way to think about themes at very young ages is by writing your thought as a lesson, bumper sticker, slogan or proverb. For example, a “Wizard of Oz” theme is, “There is no place like home.” The main ideas are: A girl tries to run away from home, gets carried away by a tornado, has an adventure in a strange land, and finally makes it back home.

  • What are the main ideas behind the story?
  • Point out the places in the text where you thought the author was telling you the main ideas.
  • Do you think you could summarize the theme of the story in a few sentences?
  • What idea or ideas does this story make you think about? How does the author get you to think about this?
  • Who told the story? How would the story change if someone else in the book or an outside narrator told the story?
  • Is this story like any other story you have read or watched? Talk about how they are alike or different.

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Copyright 2015 by Karen Haag