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8 Tips to Encourage Stronger Reading Skills

Pre-K Grade Connections

8 Tips to Encourage Stronger Reading Skills

Lisa Bloomfield, Director of Student Learning

In the primary school years, children gain the foundation for literacy learning.  Seemingly simplistic activities like playing rhyming games, reciting nursery rhymes, and substituting beginning letters of words in silly songs all contribute to the building blocks of the reading process. In kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, children transfer these verbal and aural sound experiences to printed letters, words, and sentences.  This is when children acquire the phonics skills needed for authentic reading experiences.  

Once a child enters third grade; however, he or she is no longer learning to read, but reading to learn.  The focus shifts from learning to sound out and recognize sight words to comprehending the printed word on the page and extracting meaning on the topic presented.  Once directly taught, reading comprehension skills must be practiced repeatedly. Successful readers understand text, make connections within stories, and relate what they’re reading to what they already know.  Even if your child is a fluent reader, it is important that he or she demonstrates effective comprehension skills.  Just like strengthening certain muscles with regular workouts, reading comprehension skills can be strengthened with consistent practice.  This is especially important during the summer months.

Here are 8 tips to increase reading comprehension in children of any age:

  1. Read to your child.   This can not be stressed enough.  Even if your child can read on his own, there is still value in reading aloud to him.  A child’s listening skills are usually stronger than his reading ability (typically by two grade levels).   As a result, your child can comprehend more complex vocabulary and story lines than he can comfortably read on his own.  Strong listening comprehension leads to stronger reading comprehension overall.

  2. Encourage visualization.  While your child reads or listens to a story, encourage her to visualize the events as if creating a movie in her mind.  After a short selection, ask her to describe what she pictured. Visualization creates a more personal experience and links her with the story in such a way that she forms stronger memory of what was read.  Recalling details is a key component in comprehension.  

  3. Ask for predictions.  Whether reading aloud together, or asking about what your child is reading on her own, it is important to ask what she thinks will happen next.  It doesn’t matter if her hunches are indeed correct; asking for predictions encourages her to pay very close attention to what is read next.  This will also help you gauge the level of  her understanding of the text thus far.

  4. Show interest in what your child is reading.  It might make you cringe when your child selects yet another graphic novel or fairy series book.  Just go with it!  The comprehension questions you ask are the same ones you would ask with more sophisticated material:  Who is your favorite character and why?  What do you like/dislike about this book?  Does this book remind you of anything else you’ve read or learned?  Have you learned any life lessons from this book?  And many more!

  5. Increase word power.  The stronger your child’s vocabulary, the better her comprehension.  Ask your child to use a sticky note to record any unknown words to ask you about, or if reading together, pause to ask if your child knows what certain words mean and provide the definitions when needed.

  6. Translate figures of speech.  Some children have a tendency to be overly literal.  Reading that a character “looked like he’d seen a ghost” can confuse and break down story comprehension.  Figures of speech are acquired over time with intellectual development, but at times, it is worthwhile to address these on the spot for the sake of understanding the story.  

  7. Build on background knowledge.  It’s easier to understand a subject that you know something about and that you can connect to personally.  Help your child to do this by selecting books that reflect his interests and encourage him to bring his own experiences to his understanding of the book.  Conversely, encourage your child to learn about new topics but prepare for the reading by filling in some background yourself or researching together before the reading begins.

  8. Read between the lines.  One of the most complex skills in reading comprehension is making inferences.  This is a critical skill that must be practiced repeatedly.  Point out sentences in which information is implied rather than stated directly.  Ask your child to fill in what is missing from the sentence.  For example, she should understand that the statement, “The sky was gray and full of clouds, so John grabbed his umbrella before leaving the house,” means that it looked like it was going to rain.

One of the best ways to boost your child’s reading comprehension is to have her discuss the books she is reading on a regular basis.  Consider having your child organize a virtual book club this summer.  Discussion questions or topics can be prepared ahead of time based on some of the tips provided here.  It could also be fun to collaborate on an online project, such as a skit or video book review.  (I’m happy to provide more ideas and best practices for kids’ book clubs!)

I hope these tips are useful to you as you continue to support your child’s learning.  If you have questions regarding your child’s reading development, or the reading process in general, please reach out to me via email:  lbloomfield@stannesde.org