Tag Archives: build vocabulary to improve reading

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.

If my child reads slowly, he can pronounce almost all the words correctly, but he understands almost nothing. If he reads faster, he mispronounces many words but he seems to understand a bit. Which do I go for—accuracy or comprehension?

Accuracy. But let’s backtrack a little.

At what stage of reading is your son? Is he reading passages matched to his reading level? If a child is plodding laboriously through text, the text is too difficult for his reading level. He is not achieving fluency. I suggest you go back to easy readers which he can read accurately and with understanding in order to give him confidence.boy reading book

If he is in third grade, for example, you might find some first grade reading for him. Ask your librarian for help. If he can read sight words and CVC words at a good pace, with word accuracy and with overall comprehension, you know he is reading at least at an early first grade level. Gradually increase the reading difficulty. You want to maintain the child’s confidence, so increasing the difficulty level should not happen in a matter of days but rather over weeks or months.

Some problems to listen for:

  • If a child is stumbling, word to word, he is not phrasing within sentences.  For example, all the words in a prepositional phrase go together and should be said as a unit; the subject and it’s modifiers should be said as a unit.  Practice reading aloud with you modeling how to say a given sentence, and ask your son to phrase words so that they make sense.
  • If a child is reading in a flat monotone, his reading lacks inflection.  Some languages lack inflection (Korean, for example), and children from that background might feel foolish saying some words louder and some words softer, or saying part of a word louder than the rest of a word.  If you can read with inflection, let the child listen to you and then ask him to repeat the words the same way.  If you cannot read with inflection, a child can listen and read along to books on tape.
  • If a child is bulldozing longer words rather than sounding them out, he could have problems with phonics, or be dyslexic,  or  be an impatient personality.  Cover suffixes and prefixes, discuss the root word’s meaning and the meaning of the suffixes and prefixes, and then reassemble the word.  Reread the sentence and ask the student what the word means in the context of that sentence.

Some manufacturers have a reading level on the back cover of children’s books. “RL 2.2” for example means reading level second grade, second month. Other books are color coded by the library, and still others show reading level with a lexile score. In my public library, one long wall of books contains easy readers for children learning to read. You might find an author whom your child likes. Ask your librarian for help so that your child is reading at the correct reading level and gaining confidence.

As your child progresses to higher reading levels, he will probably read with less accuracy and at a slower speed unless you actively intervene. Ask him to read aloud. When he pauses or stumbles, let him try to figure out the difficulty himself, but if he can’t, stop him and help him. Perhaps you will notice he doesn’t understand a concept in phonics; or that prefixes or suffixes confuse him; or that he doesn’t know where to make the break in multi-syllable words so he pronounces words wrong; or that a secondary meaning of a common word baffles him. Teach him how to solve his problem. Then let him continue reading that sentence or that paragraph. Now ask him to reread it. If he continues to stumble at the same spot, you know that he needs stronger intervention on a particular skill.

At the end of paragraphs or chapters, it’s important to ask your child what happened (in fiction) or what is the main idea (in nonfiction). If he talks around the idea but cannot nail it, he was focusing on individual words and missing the meaning of sentences or paragraphs. The reading was too hard. If he can retell the story or explain the main idea, he is comfortable at that reading level, and should try a slightly higher reading level.

What I see with many of my students is that they begin to have difficulty with reading once they have mastered the basic rules of phonics. It’s not a decoding problem; it’s a vocabulary problem.  As the reading level increases, so do the number of words they don’t understand. It’s not a matter of pronunciation usually; it’s a matter of having no idea what a given word or an idiom means. This is particularly true for ESL students.

That is why I say accuracy is important. If a child cannot read a given word accurately and know what it means, then understanding a sentence or a paragraph—with lots of unknown words—becomes impossible.

Do you read stories to your children at bedtime?

Dad reading to children in bedIf you do, you are one of a small group of parents. An online survey of more than 1000 US parents shows that one-third of parents read to their young children every night. Half the parents said that their children prefer watching video games or watching TV to reading.

Another survey of 2000 mothers in Britain showed that about 2/3 of mothers read to their children, but only 13% read to their children every night. Parents say stress at the end of the day and lack of time are reasons that they don’t read to their kids. But TV, video games and other distractions also are factors.

Yet reading to children at bedtime can offer so many advantages.

  • Establishing a bedtime ritual—a bath, brushing teeth, kissing family members good-night, a prayer, and a snuggle with Mom or Dad while they read—is a time-honored way to settle children down and prepare them for sleep.
  • Children learn fluency by hearing an adult read. They learn to slow down for commas and periods. They learn to change their tone for direct quotes. They learn that certain parts should be read faster or slower, louder or softer, or in a high squeaky voice or a low threatening voice.
  • In the privacy of the bedroom, parents might feel more inclined to “act” out the words of the book—to be silly or gruff, whiny or sugary. Children sometimes see a different side of their parents during bedtime reading. This can be a great ice breaker between a child and a usually distant parent.
  • Children learn vocabulary. They can ask, “What does that mean?” and get an immediate answer.
  • Children learn about setting, plot, character, tension and happy endings. They learn about culture. Especially as children get older, parents can read books to a child which the child isn’t ready to read yet but which the child is quite able to understand.
  • Children often reveal what they are thinking and feeling during a nighttime read. Snuggled safely with Mom or Dad’s arm around her, a child might open up about her hopes and fears. This is a time for the child to feel protected.

In our next blog we’ll talk about how you can establish bedtime reading if you don’t already do it, or how to improve the experience for you and your child.

The American study was conducted by Macy’s and Reading Is Fundamental in 2013. The British study was conducted by Littlewoods, also in 2013

My child knows how to read pretty well for a first grader. Should I still read aloud to her?

Yes! Here’s why:

  • A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up with a child’s listening level until eighth grade, according to Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook. A younger child can appreciate a book she cannot read yet—the plot, the descriptions, the characters and the vocabulary—if an adult reads it aloud to her.

    Father reading to child and child asks, 'How old is Old McDonald?"

    To enlarge, click on the picture.

  • Reading aloud to a child attracts him to reading by himself. He takes pleasure from being read to, and will want more of that pleasure even if an adult is not available to read to him. He will delight in life-long reading.
  • Books contain rich vocabulary, words more numerous than what we parents say on an everyday basis to our children. Children learn the vocabulary from the books we read aloud because we pronounce the words properly and because we explain them to our children. With such a rich vocabulary they are better prepared to understand their teachers and the reading they do on their own.
  • In books read aloud, children hear more sophisticated grammar than they read in grade-level books. Subconsciously they learn good grammar.
  • Good books contain the kind of values we want to pass on to our children. Reading these books aloud offers opportunities to discuss these values with our children.
  • Reading to fidgety children increases their attention span. It gives them practice sitting and listening which they need to do in school to succeed since so much school instruction is verbal.
  • Read-aloud time is bonding time. Do you remember in To Kill a Mockingbird how first grader, Scout, would sit on her father’s lap while he read legal papers aloud? She didn’t care what he read. It was their special time together.

Strategies good readers use

Suppose you need to read something new to you, something you find hard to understand. What would you do?Discouraged child thinks there are too many words in a book she is reading

  • Would you slow down?
  • Would you start over?
  • Would you look for help on the page, using headlines, boldfaced words, diagrams, photos or highlighted words explained in the margins?
  • Would you underline main ideas as you go along?
  • Would you mark unknown vocabulary words to look up later?
  • Would you look up those words now and write the words in the margins?
  • Would you realize you recognize a word but not the way it is used, and look up this other meaning?
  • Would you take away prefixes and suffixes to see if there is a root word you understand?
  • Would you draw a diagram, sketch, or chart to make sense of relationships?
  • Would you read the whole thing from beginning to end to get a gist of the passage, and then go back to figure out individual parts?
  • Would you write paragraph summaries in the margins or on post-it notes?
  • Would you ask for help from someone who might understand it?
  • Would you seek out an easier version (assuming one exists), read it, and then try reading the harder version again?
  • Would you try to explain what you read to someone else to see if you really understand it?
  • Would you monitor your own struggle, trying to figure out why the reading passage is hard for you?
  • Or would you read until you are totally bewildered and then give up?

Good readers use many strategies as they read in order to figure out the meaning of what they are reading. They don’t use all the above strategies at the same time, but good readers “attack” difficult reading using many approaches.

Poor readers might just read the words as they appear, plodding along, hopelessly lost. Or they might try one strategy, and when they find it doesn’t help much, then give up.

In future blogs, we will discuss some of these strategies that good readers—even beginning readers—use to gain meaning from difficult texts.

How can I jump start my child’s reading comprehension

Reading comprehension—taking meaning from printed words—is the goal of all reading. Before reaching this goal, independent readers need to advance through three other stages: recognizing that the 42 sounds in English are represented by 26 letters and combinations of letters; recognizing that arranging those letters or letter pairs with other letters creates words; and being able to say the words aloud (or in the mind) in such a way that the sounds represent the way people speak English. If children can do this, then children are in a position to comprehend what they read.

Chart of 4 reading components

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

But even with all this good foundation, some children flounder when it comes to understanding what they read. There are many reasons. One of the most important, especially for ESL students and for culturally deprived children, is not understanding the vocabulary.

What can a parent or teacher do to jump start reading comprehension?

Ask the right kind of questions, according to reading expert Timothy Shanahan, a reading researcher whose views are highlighted in the February issue of Reading Rockets, an online source for excellent information about reading.  (For a link, see the end of the blog.)

According to Dr. Shanahan, three kinds of questions should be asked to guide students into understanding a text:

  • First, what are the important issues and important details raised by the reading selection? When Junie B. Jones misses the school bus, for example, the young reader should be questioned about why Junie B. didn’t want to take the school bus, not where she sat on the bus or who annoyed her. At the end of the story, why did Junie B. finally run outside to talk to the janitor? “Close reading”—the kind of reading demanded by the Common Core Standards—is not the same as trivial reading, according to Dr. Shanahan.

questions to ask when reading closely

  • Second, how has the author crafted the reading selection? These kinds of questions should be “text dependent.” That is, the child should be able to answer these questions only if the child has read the text. In Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, for example, what kind of mood is Alexander in when he wakes up? Why is that kind of mood important for the start of the story? Is Alexander the oldest child, the middle child or the youngest child? What difference does this make in the story?
  • Since a part of crafting a reading selection is choosing the vocabulary to use, children should be asked about important vocabulary words. What is Australia? Where is Australia? What is a janitor? Why is he at school when the children have gone home?
  • Third, what are the conclusions a reader can take from the story? What are the big ideas?  What has Junie B. learned?  Why are Junie B’s mother and teacher happy and not mad at the end of the story? Will Junie B. take the school bus in the future?  Why does Alexander’s mother say again and again that some days are like that, even in Australia? Why does she say Australia and not a nearby city? Why does Alexander say that too, at the very end of the book?  The purpose of these questions, according to Dr. Shanahan, is to interpret the text.

Dr. Shanahan recommends asking questions in the same order as the information is presented in the reading selection. He says it is not important to ask a particular number of questions, or that the number of questions from each of the three categories be equal. Always there should be some questions from each category asked, but sometimes one kind of question needs to be more thoroughly investigated than the other two. In particular, understanding how a writer crafted a reading selection will demand closer reading and might require more questions from a parent or teacher.

To read the posting on Reading Rockets, go to http://www.readingrockets.org/blog/examples-close-reading-questions. While you are there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter full of good ideas about teaching reading.

How to help a child frontload information before he reads

Frontloading means preparing a child to read new material by loading his mind ahead of time with information which will help him understand the new material.

Good readers either consciously or subconsciously do this before they read something new, but many poor readers do not. For new readers and poor readers, parents and teachers need to model this activity until the child makes it his own.

But how should a parent or teacher model frontloading?

• For a work of fiction, many teachers discuss ahead of time the setting, characters, plot, and problem the students are about to read about. If any parts of it are familiar to the students, the teacher will point them out, connecting the new with what the student already knows.

Students shouting I Know to teacher

• Some teachers prepare a list of vocabulary words the child will encounter in the new reading. Often, the children write down definitions of the words and use those words in sentences so when they see them in the text, the words will be familiar.

• For stories in reading textbooks or for nonfiction information in textbooks, teachers sometimes discuss what the title could mean and what the subheadings could mean. If there are illustrations, the teacher asks the students to describe what is happening or what information is shown in the table, diagram, map or political cartoon.

According to Kylene Beers, a long-time reading teacher and author of When Kids Can’t Read; What Teachers Can Do, these prereading techniques often work with skilled readers but not with struggling or passive readers. She offers other prereading strategies to reach them.

• Because struggling readers often skip reading titles, captions, and subheadings, and rarely page through a reading assignment to see if there is any nontextual information, they need to be assigned to do what good readers do naturally, often with a teacher’s direct instruction.

• One kind of direct instruction in prereading is using an “Anticipation Guide.” Before a reading assignment is given to a student, the teacher—or parent of a young child—reads the selection and composes a short list of ideas from the reading for the child to respond to. For example, if the child is reading or being read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, the list could include ideas like, If a child gets lost, does the mother and father stop thinking about that child? Or, Is there such a thing as a magic stone that can make people invisible? Together the adult and child can talk about these ideas which the child will encounter later in the book.

• Struggling readers often begin reading as if every reading—for school or for pleasure—is a cold read. While they are reading, they do almost no predicting what might happen next. Yet good readers do this all the time. One thing a parent can do is to pause as she is reading and to ask the child, “What do you think is going to happen next?” If the child shrugs, the parent might model some options—“Well, I think Sylvester will never come back to his family,” or “Well, maybe Sylvester will find a different magic pebble while he is invisible.” Gently encourage the child to respond, discussing the possible outcomes of those predictions.

For more ideas on prereading activities that can activate a child’s prior knowledge, see Beers, K., When Kids Can’t Read; What Teachers Can Do, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003. This book, by the way, is one of the best I have read about how to teach reading—useful ideas that have been tested by teachers.