What Do Good Readers Do?

What do good readers do?

Strategies to Improve Your Child’s Reading Skills

As a parent, it’s concerning to see your child guessing words when reading. You might wonder, “Is this normal? How can I help?” Understanding what good readers do can offer valuable insights and strategies to support your child’s reading development.

Reading is a fundamental skill that impacts all areas of learning. Proficient readers excel not only in language arts but also in subjects like science and social studies. They enjoy reading, comprehend texts better, and develop critical thinking skills. So, what do good readers do that sets them apart?

Characteristics of Good Readers

1. Use of Phonics and Decoding Skills

Good readers rely on phonics and decoding skills. They understand the relationship between letters and sounds, enabling them to decode unfamiliar words. Rather than guessing, they systematically break down words into manageable parts.

Strategies to Develop Phonics and Decoding Skills:

  • Phonics Instruction: Engage in phonics activities that focus on letter-sound relationships.
  • Decoding Practice: Use flashcards and reading games to practice breaking down words.
  • Reading Aloud: Encourage your child to read aloud, helping them sound out words.

2. Building a Robust Vocabulary

Good readers have a strong vocabulary. They recognize and understand a wide range of words, which aids in comprehension and fluency.

Strategies to Enhance Vocabulary:

  • Read Diverse Texts: Introduce books from various genres and subjects.
  • Word Games: Play word games like Scrabble or Boggle to make learning new words fun.
  • Discuss New Words: When encountering new words, discuss their meanings and usage.

3. Using Context Clues

When faced with unfamiliar words, good readers use context clues from the surrounding text to infer meanings. This strategy prevents them from resorting to guessing.

Strategies to Teach Context Clues:

  • Modeling: Demonstrate how to use context to figure out unknown words.
  • Practice: Provide sentences with missing words and ask your child to fill in the blanks using context clues.
  • Discussion: Talk about how certain words or phrases help reveal the meaning of unknown words.

4. Active Engagement with the Text

Good readers engage actively with the text. They ask questions, make predictions, and connect the material to their own experiences.

Strategies for Active Engagement:

  • Interactive Reading: Ask your child questions before, during, and after reading.
  • Predicting Outcomes: Encourage them to predict what will happen next in the story.
  • Relating to Experiences: Help them relate the content to their own life or previous knowledge.

5. Employing Reading Strategies

Good readers use various reading strategies to enhance comprehension, such as summarizing, visualizing, and making inferences.

Strategies to Employ Reading Techniques:

  • Summarizing: Teach your child to summarize paragraphs or chapters in their own words.
  • Visualizing: Encourage them to create mental images of the scenes described.
  • Inferring: Practice making inferences about characters’ feelings and motives based on textual evidence.
How to help children who guess words when reading
Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

Recognizing the Signs of Word Guessing

Before addressing the issue, it’s essential to identify the signs of word guessing. These may include:

  • Skipping Words: Your child skips over difficult words.
  • Substituting Words: They replace unknown words with similar-looking ones.
  • Hesitation: Frequent pauses and hesitation when encountering unfamiliar words.
  • Lack of Comprehension: They struggle to understand the text, indicating a lack of decoding skills.

How to Help Your Child Stop Guessing Words

Now that we understand what good readers do, here are some practical steps to help your child stop guessing words and become a more proficient reader.

1. Boost Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in words. Strengthening this skill is crucial for decoding.

Activities to Improve Phonemic Awareness:

  • Sound Matching: Play games that involve matching sounds with letters.
  • Segmenting and Blending: Practice breaking words into individual sounds and blending them back together.
  • Try Word Chaining: Word chaining is a literacy activity where students spell a word, then change the word by just one sound at a time. It leads them to focus on individual sounds in words and to notice the similarities and differences between similar words.
  • Download Games: The Florida Center for Reading Research has a terrific array of free downloadable games, including some for phonemic awareness.

2. Improve Sight Word Recognition

Sight words are common words that children come to recognize instantly without decoding. Often, when teachers talk about sight words, they mean words that are common in stories at that grade level, but have patterns the kids haven’t learned yet. Common sight words lists are Dolch and Fry lists, but focusing on a list isn’t ideal.

Strategies for Sight Word Recognition:

  • Support Decoding: Help students learn how to sound out words. Some sight words can be decoded when students know short vowels (can, am, at), silent e (like, came, make). As a student becomes a better decoder, there will be fewer tricky sight words to memorize.
  • Play Games: Turn the sometimes repetitive work of decoding practice into a game. Games can be as simple as writing pairs of words on index cards and playing go fish or memory. Or you can make things fancy with online games from wordwall.net or from Emily Laidlaw.
  • Spell Tricky Words: Have your child copy down, practice, and spell from memory important words with irregular spellings – aka sight words. Practice with writing and spelling a word has been shown to cement it in memory better than reading alone.
  • Need-to-Know Basis: Keep sight word practice limited to words that are truly tricky, or that your child needs to know right away, like for today’s book. The brain can only remember so many words by sight, so save those lessons for truly irregular spellings, like of (/u/v/).

3. Encourage Daily Reading

Regular reading practice is essential for developing fluency and confidence.

Tips for Daily Reading:

  • Set a Routine: Establish a daily reading routine that includes a mix of independent and shared reading.
  • Choose Appropriate Books: Select books that match your child’s reading skills and interests to prevent frustration. Offer a variety of options. Consider graphic novels, magazines, non-fiction, and picture books to keep things interesting.
  • Discuss Books: Have conversations about the books they read to reinforce comprehension. Help your child practice explaining why they know something or believe something. “I think she’s friendly because she said…”

4. Provide Positive Reinforcement

Encouragement and positive reinforcement can motivate your child to keep improving their reading skills.

Ways to Encourage Your Child:

  • Praise Efforts: Acknowledge their progress and efforts in reading.
  • Celebrate Milestones: Celebrate reading milestones with small rewards or special activities.
  • Stay Patient: Be patient and supportive, focusing on progress rather than perfection.

5. Seek Professional Help if Needed

If your child continues to struggle with reading despite your efforts, consider seeking help from a reading specialist or tutor.

When to Seek Help:

  • Persistent Difficulties: If your child consistently struggles with decoding and comprehension. You may hear your child stumble on the same words over and over, or you may notice that his reading is very slow. When your child is done reading, can they remember and discuss what they read? Some students find decoding takes all their concentration, leaving little attention for remembering the story.
  • Frustration and Avoidance: If they show signs of frustration or avoid reading altogether. Some kids read just fine, but they strongly prefer not to. Other kids put up a front of being too busy or bored to read. Sometimes this is a defense because they lack reading skills.
  • School Recommendations: Certainly, if the school expresses concerns, it is probably worth having them assess your child. Even if they don’t approach you with concerns, notice your child’s scores on assessments. The school often tests reading progress at the beginning, middle, and end of the year and should be able to provide scores. Ask, “What is the benchmark for this time in [grade]?” Teachers can tell you whether your child is making expected progress for her school and grade.


Understanding what good readers do is the first step in helping your child improve their reading skills. By focusing on phonics, vocabulary, context clues, active engagement, and reading strategies, you can guide your child away from guessing words and towards becoming a proficient, confident reader. With patience, practice, and support, your child can develop the skills necessary for reading success.

One way to make reading more fun is to use our FREE Summer Reading Bingo Board. Download it here.

If it’s time to get some highly trained, 1-on-1 help to teach your child to read, contact us for a free consultation and demo lesson.

What should I do if my child is using the pictures to guess words when reading?
Some children learn to use the picture or other clues to guess words that are hard to read. Here is how to help your children move away from using pictures and rely on the words printed on the page.

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