Teach children to predict, an important reading skill

Predicting means anticipating ahead of time what might happen in a story. As adults, we do it all the time. We read a murder mystery and we predict “who done it.” We read a romance and predict how the couple will get together. We read a thriller and predict if the characters will escape.

Predicting is more than making a guess. It is using what we already know and applying it to a new situation. When children predict, they make a connection between what they know and what they don’t know yet. They increase the likelihood that they will comprehend what they read. Wild guesses are not predictions.

Predicting from what we know to what we don't know graphic

Predicting focuses little children on what they are about to read. By looking at pictures, titles, subtitles, charts, photos, cartoons and other graphics, they grasp an idea about a story. Predicting attracts the child to a story. She wants to know if her prediction is correct. Predicting forces children to use visual or word clues to create meaning.

The Common Core State Standards include predicting in the reading standards.

However, predicting does not come naturally to all children. Children with dyslexia might be able to predict in a real life situation when there is no reading involved, but because they struggle deciphering the phonics code, they lose track of the meaning. Some children with dyslexia also have trouble sequencing. If so, predicting what will happen next is difficult.

Autistic children may also have trouble predicting since they have trouble interpreting social clues. The text might say that a character froze and was unable to talk, but the child might not know that the character is scared. How then can he predict what will happen next?

Here is a method of predicting that can be used with children of all ages. It combines vocabulary with predicting.

  • Go through a picture book or reading selection before the student reads it. Write down a dozen or more vocabulary words important to understanding the meaning of the text. Choose words which the child is likely to already know plus one or two new words.
  •  Write or type the words clearly on a paper, and then cut apart the words. Have one set of words for each pair of children if children are working in pairs. Put the words in plastic sandwich bags.
  • Explain to the child that he will be predicting what a story is about. He will be acting like a detective by using word clues.
  • Let the child pull out one word from the bag, read it aloud it and tell you what it means. If the child can’t read yet, tell him what the word says. If he doesn’t know the meaning, explain it to him. Lay the word on the desk or table in front of the child.
  •  Ask him what he thinks the story will be about based on that one word. Accept his answer.
  • Let the child pull a second word, repeating the previous two steps. Continue until all the words are read aloud. Encourage the child to change his mind about the prediction, or to become more convinced with each word.
  • Now ask the child to sort the words into categories or groups. (This step might be too advanced for some preschoolers.) Again, ask what he thinks the text might be about. Accept all answers, but gently steer the child into a prediction related to the text.
  • Now read the text. As you or the child read, note words the child pulled from the bag. Ask if the child still thinks his prediction is correct, or if he has changed his mind.
  • When the reading selection is complete, remind the child of his prediction and ask if he was correct.  Look at the words again.  Talk about what words helped and what words didn’t.  Ask what other words might have made the prediction closer to the truth.

Common Core English/Language Arts test results becoming available

Common Core test results for students tested at the end of the 2013-14 school year are beginning to be released. The youngest readers tested are third graders. Here are the results for grades 3 to 12 from the three states which have made public their results so far for the English/Language Arts tests:

Child writing with right hand.

  • In New York, 31.3% of students scored proficient or better, meaning more than 2/3 of the one million students tested flunked the English test.
  • West Virginia’s Department of Education said the majority of its students scored less than 50% on the tests, except for fifth graders who scored 51%. Third graders scored a 46% proficiency rate.
  • In Missouri, 59.7% passed the test; however, minorities and low income students scored 13% worse than the rest of the students.

Although students in these states did not take the same tests, they were tested on the same concepts.  Comparing the proficiency rates from one state to another is not fair since students took different tests and many eligible students opted out of taking the tests.  In New York, 200,000 students refused to take the tests.  These students fit the profile of white, with lower test scores, and from less needy areas.  This means a large number of students who might have raised the overall state test results did not take the test.

More states are expected to release test results later this month.

New York released a prompt which its third graders were required to read for their test. NY also released six test questions related to that prompt. Click here to see the prompt and the questions. If you find the test questions hard, so did NY third graders.  More than half the students missed two of the questions.

Is the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction reading justified?

Perhaps the biggest change the Common Core is bringing to public school reading in the US is its emphasis on reading more nonfiction and less fiction. The reasoning behind this change is to prepare students better for the reading they need to do in their math, science and social studies classes and in their future careers, especially in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

Is the change really necessary? Let’s compare fiction reading and nonfiction reading for students who are beyond the picture book stage.

chart comparing fiction reading skills with nonfiction reading skills

(Adapted from State of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Governor’s Literacy Education and Reading Network Source)

As you can see, reading nonfiction is harder than reading fiction. It often requires more parent or teacher involvement prior to the reading to make connections to what the student already knows; during the reading to explain vocabulary and concepts; and after the reading to restate the main ideas and important details or to explain complicated concepts.

Fiction, too, can be better understood with teacher involvement, but usually fiction can be appreciated (if to a lesser degree) by the student reading alone so long as the student’s reading level matches the reading selection.

If you hope your child will have a great career someday as a doctor or environmentalist or physics teacher, you can appreciate why an increased emphasis on nonfiction reading is important even in first grade. You may question the Common Core, but its emphasis on more nonfiction reading can only help our kids.

Help children determine shades of meaning

Shades of meaning can be difficult for some children to interpret. What’s the difference between “yell” and “holler” or “huge” and “enormous”?

Dr. Timothy Rasinski, a professor at Kent State University, has come up with a fun way for children to work on distinguishing between close meanings. Here’s what he suggests:

  • 3 images of a muscleman--skinny, with muscles, really builtGo to the paint store and select five paint chips which are slightly louder or softer than one another, or darker or lighter. For each student you are working with, pick several sets of these color chips. The colors themselves don’t matter, but they should show incremental differences in color.
  • Offer the student three to five words  to distinguish among, such as whisper, state, exclaim, yell, and murmur. Give younger children fewer choices.
  • Let the child choose the word with the weakest word meaning.  Ask the child to write that word on the weakest color chip. Then let the child choose the strongest word meaning and write that word on the strongest color chip. Let the child arrange the other words in order on the other chips.
  • Have the child lay the cards on a table from weakest to strongest or vice versa. Let the child discuss why he chose the order he did.
  • For really young children who cannot read yet, pictures can be used instead of words for some ideas.

What kinds of word choices work well for this exercise? I would use verbs, nouns or adjectives that are similar. Go to a thesaurus to find near synonyms such as must, ought to, should; ignore, neglect, let slide; tuba, trumpet, trombone, flute, whistle.

Provide words from varied disciplines: square, rhombus, quadrilateral, rectangle; knoll, mountain, peak, ridge, hill; quiet, silent, still, peaceful, hushed; business person, entrepreneur, magnate, tycoon, merchant; eagle, hummingbird, dove, raven, peacock.

Many times students will disagree on the ordering. What is important is not the choices they decide on, but the thinking they use to make their choices. If you have an urge to say, “No, this one should come before that one,” let the child explain his thinking, and as long as it makes sense, accept it. This is a game in which the process is more important than the end result.

Making small words from big words—a variation for beginning readers

What if a child is truly a beginning reader still learning CVC words? Can the game of finding small words within big words or phrases still be used to improve the child’s understanding of words and spelling? Not exactly, but if you limit the letters strategically, a beginning reader can play.  Here is how.

children moving letter tiles

  • Instead of writing a big word or phrase such as “New Year’s Day,” write a handful of letters, including only the vowels and consonants which the child has learned.
  • If the child has learned only short a words (cat, ham, fad), write the vowel “A” at the top of the page followed by a handful of letters which you know can be used for form short a CVC words. B, C, D, H, R, and T might be good letters to begin with.
  • You could also use letter tiles (Scrabble letters, for example) so that the child can move letters around. Tactile experience helps young children in learning and makes the learning seem more like a game. Also, the child doesn’t have to hold letter patterns in his head; he can manipulate various letters until he finds a word which then you or he could write down.
  • Demonstrate to the child how mixing up the letters can form words. Write B A T and B A D, showing where you got those letters, and using enough examples so the child knows what to do.
  • The competition aspect of the game might be for the child to “beat” his last score, that is, to find more words than the last time.
  • As the child learns more CVC vowels, two vowels can be used with six or seven consonants. I recommend starting with A, then O, and then U.  E and I take longer to learn since they sound similar, so I would use them indeptndently (A and E, for example, or O and I) until the child is confident with all CVC words.
  • This is a game which pairs of children can play together as a team, providing one child does not dominate, leaving the other child out.
  • Restricting the number of letter choices can help the child to focus, so do limit the number of vowels and consonants for beginning readers. Once the child is an experienced reader, he can “graduate” to the longer word or phrase game we discussed previously.

Play word games to encourage or to reward reading

When I tutor reluctant readers or bad spellers, sometimes I reward them with a word game in the last five minutes of an hour-long lesson. The kids love the game and ask at the beginning of the next lesson if they can play again. I never play this word game at the beginning of a lesson or they will balk at doing other kinds of reading work, but it is great as a reward.
This game is also a good game to play in the car on long trips or when a child is bored. It turns dead time into learning time.game of breaking up a big word into little words

  • Start by choosing a long word or a phrase. I try to relate the word or phrase to the season or to what we are studying. For example, “NEW YEAR’S DAY” or “JUNIE B. JONES” might be appropriate. After the first game, the child will want to choose the word or phrase, but you must steer him to pick an appropriate word or phrase for the game’s purpose.
  • The word or phrase should have ten to 15 letters but not many more or the game becomes too easy. Good words or phrases to work with contain several vowels, including the letter “E.” Bad words or phrases contain few vowels, do not contain the letter “E” and repeat many of the consonants.
  • I write the word or phrase at the top of a blank paper, often in all caps, so the child realizes capital letters are irrelevant.
  • Next, I explain that we are going to make little words from the big word or phrase, using the letters in any order. So for the phrase “NEW YEAR’S DAY,” I might write “ear,” “way,” and “weed,” and point out how each letter in the little words is part of the phrase.
  • I also point out that if there is only one “N” in the original word or phrase, then there can be only one “N” in the made up words. Also, if there is punctuation in the original word or phrase, it can be ignored or used.
  • The object of the game is to find as many small words as possible in five minutes.
  • Eventually you want children to discover word families, words whose letters can be moved to create other words (tea, eat, ate), words within words (heard, hear, ear, he, head), and how having certain letters (E and S, for example) makes the game easier. This shows the child is thinking about word patterns.
  • I help younger children find words, and show them word families that can be made by changing a single letter. Once they understand the game, they usually do not want help.
  • For older children, I compete with them, sometimes giving them a handicap.
  • At the end of five minutes, if there is not a competition, the game ends. If there is a competition, the child names his words aloud, and if he and I have duplicates, we cross them out. His score becomes the number of words he has without duplicates plus the handicap.
  • Additional points are given for words of five letters or more and perhaps for the word which is the longest and which seems to be the most clever use of the original letters.
  • I allow proper nouns, but I do not allow repeating the words in the original word. You can make your own rules depending on the ability level of the child. Some children will put an “S” on every noun.

Is gesturing by a child learning to read important?

When my son was almost two, and not talking much, I often read to him a picture book by Helen Oxenbury which showed a toddler doing everyday things: pulling on his socks and pants, for example. I would ask my son, “What is the baby doing?” My son would show me by gesturing—pretending to put on his socks, or pretending to pull up his pants. Once he learned to say words, I stopped this practice.

child making letter T with his body

It turns out that I should have continued with the gesturing. Research shows there is a positive relationship between gesturing and learning in children. By noticing your child’s gestures, you might be able to tell when he understands a concept or when he is trying to figure it out.

According to research,If a child understands a concept, the child’s words and gestures are in sync.

  • For example, if you ask the shape of a triangle, and the child says “three sides” and then draws a triangle with his index finger, the gestures and words are in sync, and you can presume the child understands.
  • If a child is still learning a concept, the child’s words and gestures might be out of sync, and there might be an abundance of gestures or a shrug.
  • For example, if you ask a child to tell you what an orbit means, and the child says “space” and draws a rounded triangle,” the child’s words and gestures are not in sync. The child is still learning.
  • Out-of-sync responses offer parents and teachers an opportunity to help the child learn while his understanding is fluid and open to instruction and before he learns something wrong.

Is gesturing necessary for learning? Probably not, yet research shows that children who gesture while they are learning are more likely to learn. This is especially true if the child is asked to explain a general concept.

For more scholarly details on this subject, check out the work Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, an expert in this field.