Reading with your kids has immense benefits. One of the biggest predictors of reading success is the amount of reading a child does. That means building fun, positive reading habits can help your child learn to read and have lifelong benefits.
Listening to beginning readers can be a challenge, though. They get distracted. They beg for help. They make mistakes.
You want to help, but maybe you’re not sure how.
When you are reading with your child and they make a mistake, what’s the best way to address it?
Often, I hear adults telling kids who get stuck on a word to “sound it out.” While that advice isn’t wrong, it’s kind of like telling a baby who wants to cross the room to “stand up and walk with your feet.” It is accurate advice but not helpful.
When a child makes a reading mistake or gets stuck on a word, it’s because something has gone wrong with “sounding it out.” They need some specific feedback and suggestions to get back on track.
Here are some things you can say to help your child learn to read when she or he makes a mistake while reading
- “I heard you say __. Did that make sense?”
- Sometimes just drawing a child’s attention to the mistake is enough to cue them to fix it. Focusing on reading to get meaning from the text will help your child learn to read purposefully.
- What are the letters in that word?
- Draw attention to a specific part of the word, like the first letter or the vowel, where they made a mistake. Getting a child to name the letters before trying the word again makes it less likely that they will guess.
- What sound does that letter make?
- This is a reminder young readers might need, especially for vowel sounds. They often mix up the sounds of e and i, or o and u. Drawing their attention to the vowel (and making sure they actually know the correct sound) helps them correct vowel errors. You can help your child learn to read by making sure that they are using accurate letter-sound relationships.
- Let’s tap out the sounds in the word.
- Use this technique if you hear the child leaving out sounds in a word (like saying cop for crop) or substituting sounds (like saying said for sat). This is what most people are thinking when they say, “sound it out.” Adding the step of tapping each finger to her thumb, or moving a block or penny on the table for each sound, helps a child focus on each sound and avoid leaving anything out.
- What would make sense here?
- This question can help when the word in the sentence isn’t familiar. For example, if the sentence said, “When I heard the noise outside the tent, I was petrified,” the child might be able to predict that the speaker would feel scared. Depending on their reading skills, you might have to tell the child that the word is pronounced “petrified.” But figuring out the meaning is the other half of the equation.
- What’s the first syllable?
- This works best when a child knows that a syllable is a part of a word with one vowel sound. If you can get him to identify the first part, he may be able to go on to read the rest.
- Does this word have a prefix or a suffix?
- This is a good question to ask students beginning in about second grade. Separating an ending like -ing or -es from the word, or a prefix like un- or re- helps with both pronunciation and meaning.
- That word is __.
- Sometimes it just makes sense to tell a child the word they missed. If it’s something they haven’t learned to sound out, especially a non-English word (tamale) or a proper noun (Cincinnati or Lincoln). Telling them the word might be the quickest way to get the back into the story. Don’t overuse this tip, though. It can undermine a child’s confidence if someone gives them the answer every time they are unsure.
- Do you want me to take a turn reading?
- Listening to a fluent reader is a powerful way to improve a child’s accuracy and fluency. Taking turns reading pages, or listening to you read something they can’t read alone is a great way to stretch a child’s vocabulary and comprehension and promote enjoyment of reading.
- Please read that sentence again.
- When a child has left out words or made multiple mistakes in a sentence, the whole thing might not make sense. Encourage him to point to the words as he reads them to make sure nothing is left out.
All these steps might seem like a lot to take in. The idea of coaching your child through everything he or she reads might sound daunting and exhausting. Don’t let it scare you off, though. Any reading you do with your child is an investment in his or her future as a reader. And using any of these tips, even if you pick a few and use them sometimes, can help boost your child’s reading achievement!