By reading to your child — even after they can read on their own — and talking about the books you share together, you are sending a signal that reading is important. Like any conversation, talking about books can happen anywhere and at any time (in the car, at bedtime or at tea-time for example). Books can generate feelings that need to be shared. A great way to start a conversation about reading is to bring up what you have read and how it made you feel. Then invite your child to do the same.
There are many different skills that a child will need to develop in order to become a good reader. These include:
- using sounds to decode unfamiliar words (phonics)
- recognising words by sight
- knowing how to read a book (e.g. reading from left to right and from the top to the bottom of the page or, when they are older, using the contents, glossary and index pages)
- having some background knowledge about the themes in a book
- having a suitable vocabulary (understanding or working out what individual words mean)
- using the punctuation and recognising the grammar
- reading with confidence and smoothness (also known as being ‘fluent’)
- being prepared to think about and question what the author is trying achieve.
A child will need all these skills, to a greater or lesser extent, before they can understand a book, or a passage from a book. These skills are what teachers are referring to when they talk to you about your child’s ‘reading comprehension’.
So what does a ‘good’ reader look like?
Trying to help a child who is just starting to read get to know their letters and words can be a daunting task – and it's only the first step to becoming a good reader. Children learn to read in the same way as they learn to speak. Do you remember when your child first started speaking? Did they have a difficult time pronouncing their Ls and THs? Of course, almost every child does. But by practising and observing you, many children are well on their way to becoming excellent little speakers by the time they start school. Children learn to read in the same way that they learn to speak. It's an adult’s job to provide children with opportunities to practise their reading and to set an example so that their children become as fluent with reading as they are with speaking.
Being a fluent reader is about reading aloud without difficulty. It is about reading with expression and emphasis (not reading like a robot). It is about reading at a good pace (not too fast and not too slow), reading accurately and paying attention to the punctuation. Children cannot achieve fluency until they are able to use phonics skills automatically and when they can sight-read many of the words in their book. Without fluency it is difficult to understand what you are reading or to explain to others something about what you have just read.
Please spend a few minutes looking at the following video of a teacher reading with a child who is on the way to becoming a fluent reader. The child reads with expression and at a good pace. She is reading accurately and paying attention to the punctuation. She is being encouraged to think about what she is reading, predict what will happen next and talk about the story. Most importantly, they are both enjoying the experience. If you don’t show your child that you enjoy reading, how will your child ever learn to enjoy it?
It is important to make sure your child is reading a text at the right level if you want to make them into a fluent reader. If a text is too hard, they will spend too much time trying to sound out words and may even get stuck on some of the more difficult words. This will hinder their fluency. Typically, if a child misreads or has to sound-out more than 1/10 words, they will not be able to focus on their fluency.
How can you tell if your child is reading fluently? As yourself the following questions:
- Do they struggle to sound out words?
- Do they get ‘stuck’ on words?
- Do they read hesitantly?
- Do they need to use a lot of effort in order to read their book?
- Do they read a list of words rather than try to read a whole sentence before pausing?
- Do they correct themselves when they make a mistake and the sentence they have just read doesn’t make sense?
- Do they read without any expression?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then your child has not yet achieved fluency in their reading. So what now? Here are some tips and strategies that may help you to improve your child's reading fluency.
Model fluent reading
Has your child's teacher every told you to spend time reading to your child, and not just having your child read to you? This is why... children need to hear fluent reading in order to achieve their own fluency. Hearing an adult read smoothly and easily provides a model for how a child should be reading. As your child hears you smoothly and easily pronounce words, pause after commas, and stop when there is a full stop, they'll start doing the same. Reading to your child also exposes them to expressive reading. As you emphasise the emotion of the text you're reading, your child will catch on and begin doing the same as they read. Being a model reader for your child is key to helping them achieve fluency.
Echo reading is a form of modelling where you read a sentence to your child and they read it back to you. Echo reading helps children begin to recognise words and anchor important words in their vocabulary. As your child reads a passage back to you, it may be helpful to run his or her his finger under the words as s/he reads them. This ensures that your child recognises the words and isn't just regurgitating what s/he heard you say. As your child gets better at reading a sentence back to you, you'll want to increase the number of sentences they echo.
Practice Makes Better
Fostering reading fluency requires lots of practise. The best readers weren't born that way. They achieved fluency through repeated, consistent practise. The ultimate goal of reading fluency is to be able to read effortlessly. To be able to read effortlessly requires a great deal of effort over a long period time!
We would recommend reading the same passage aloud three times until fluency is achieved. Reading the same passage again and again will provide your child with the recognition and repetition needed to reach fluency. Start by reading a short passage (no longer than 100 words) aloud to your child. Then have your child read the same passage back to you, repeating this until it becomes effortless for them.
Memorising Can Help
As your child works towards reading fluency, have them memorise some short stories, nursery rhymes or poems. Having your child memorise sentences and short passages will achieve three things. First, memorising will allow your child to become very familiar with specific words that they'll easily recognise in future reading. Second, as your child memorises passages, they will learn the rhythm of written language. Achieving fluency with just a few sentences will empower them to achieve fluency with paragraphs and then longer passages. Finally, memorisation helps beginning readers feel like they're a success. And success engenders success. Once your child has memorised a few short passages, they'll immediately begin feeling like a fluent reader.
Keep It Fun
While practise, repetition and memorising are vital to achieving fluency, if reading turns into an arduous, painful experience for your child, they're likely to rebel. As you work towards improving your child's fluency, don't stick to a fixed routine. Mix it up a little and keep it fun. Incorporating games, activities and a little friendly competition into your reading will make it something your child enjoys. The following are just a few ideas for keeping your child's reading fun and engaging:
- Have your child pick the story or passage s/he wants to read.
- Act out what the characters are saying as you read using different voices and emotions.
- Help your child write his or her own story and read it together.
- Keep a record of how many words your child can read in 1 minute. A fluent reader (between 7 and 11 years old) will read at approximately 90 words per minute. Do a ‘before and after’: record your child reading a passage the first time; then record them again after their reading fluency has improved. Celebrate their success!
If you have any concerns about your child’s reading, please speak to their teacher.