10 Strategies to Help You Support Your Child’s Reading Comprehension
Reading is nearly miraculous. At this point in your life, you might take the ability to read for granted. You might not remember your earliest teachers and the process of learning sounds, mapping those sounds to symbols (letters), combining those letters to make words, and combining the words to create meaningful sentences.
In my years teaching elementary students, parents always ask how they can help their children read at home. I’d like to offer a few suggestions, but first it is necessary to understand what reading is.
As a second grade teacher, many proud parents have told me that their children who are “advanced readers” can read Harry Potter. By this, most parents mean that their children can sit with one of the books and say most of the words. But when I ask the students to explain the story, they cannot.
These students are not reading. They are word calling. Word calling is the ability to recognize the word without understanding the meaning.
Reading is more than knowing and decoding the words. Reading is making sense of the words and understanding the text. Here are a few ways that you can support your child’s fiction reading comprehension. Children love to read stories, and you can help them get the most out of their favorite stories.
1. Read to your child. Children need to hear good reading so they can imitate it when they read independently. Be sure to read as distinctly and naturally as you can. Your reading does not have to be perfect. It is more important that you are reading than how “perfect” your reading is. Some children think “good reading” is “fast reading.” So you can model the pace of good reading. Also, as you read to your child, ask questions and make observations like: “I wonder why that happened? What might happen next? What do you see in the drawing?” This allows you to model how readers interact with texts. This is true for reading to older children too. Fifth graders need to hear how adults read more complex texts.
2. Read with your child. Take turns reading page-by-page or line-by-line. You can even read the same words at the same time. This will help you model and monitor your child’s prosody, intonation, and rhythm. Don’t be afraid to reread a page or sentence several times. Be sure to ask your child questions to bolster comprehension. Reading with your child will enable you to help your child understand vocabulary, context, and shades of meaning. Again, older children benefit from this as much as younger ones. As your children get older, you will have fewer opportunities to read with them. This is a special activity to help build your relationship.
3. Have your child read to you. Sit with your child and listen to your child read. Sometimes kids just need to have someone listen to them. Encourage them in their reading and let them be proud of their skills. Along the way, you can help with difficult words and ask comprehension questions.
4. Check for elements of nonfiction. All stories have characters, settings, plot, problems, and solutions. The characters are the actors in the story. They can be people, animals, robots, aliens, giants, fairies, and so on. The setting is the time and place. Does the story occur in a neighborhood, a forest, or a castle? Is it at night, in the future, or a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? A problem in a story tells what the main and secondary issues are. For instance, Sam-I-Am does not want to eat green eggs and ham. The solution is how the characters solve their problems, and the plot is the sequence of events that tells how the characters solve the problems. Additionally, children as young as second graders will be able to identify certain genres such as realistic fiction, fable, and fantasy.
5. Before Reading: Preview the book. This technique allows readers to see the book, activate prior knowledge, and gain their interest and attention. Explore the front and back cover and ask your child what they see. Ask about the title, the author, and illustrator. Have they read a book with a similar title or by the same author and illustrator? Go on a “picture walk.” Preview each page and ask what they observe. Is the book colorful? Is the print large or small? Are there animals, people, rocket ships? If this is a new story, ask the children what they think the story will be about. Who do they think the characters and settings are? Prediction is an important skill to develop for comprehension and eventually for writing. Preview 3–5 vocabulary words that you know the reader may need to understand the story.
6. During Reading: Check for comprehension. Ask about characters, settings, and plot. Before turning a page, ask your child to predict what might happen next. Then check the prediction with what actually happened. Prediction is an especially important skill that compels readers to engage with the story. Correct misread words. And again, don’t be afraid to reread the same sentence, page, or section multiple times before moving on. Are there words on the page that rhyme? Why are some words in bold, italics, or colorful print? Always be on the lookout for new or challenging vocabulary, and ask children to use context clues to determine what these words might mean.
7. Spend time with the illustrations. How do the illustrations support the story? Why did the illustrator use a red background if the character was angry or a blue one if the setting is Antarctica? Do the pictures look like drawings, paintings, or photographs? Is there anything hidden in the picture?
8. After Reading: Have your child retell you the story. This is essential for comprehension. Children who cannot give a solid retell or summary did not understand the story. (You can ask for a retell as you read also.) Ask your child about the characters, settings, problem, and solution. Does the story have a lesson or moral. Did this story remind your child of other stories? Would your child read another story by this author? How would the story change if one of the main events changed? What would another title of this story be? Ask your child to create an alternate ending. Maybe your children would like to write a story or create illustrations based on this story.
9. Become the Student. Children love to correct adults. Let the child be the “teacher” and show you how to read — especially with a story they know well. Let them ask you the comprehension questions that you would ask them. As you read to them, “accidentally” misread a word so they can correct you. Skip a line so they can tell you that your reading doesn’t make sense. Read like a robot or read too fast so they can model for you what good reading sounds like. You can even ask your child how their teacher teaches reading at school. Ask them to show you what they do in their reading groups at school.
10. Create a Culture of Reading. Children need to see the important adults in their lives reading. Talk to your child about the stories you liked as a child and the stories you are reading now. Do you enjoy mysteries, comedy, or historical fiction? Who are your favorite authors? Go to the public library often and let your child roam the children’s section. Ask the children’s librarian for recommendations; they would love to help you. Most libraries have fun reading programs, especially during the summer. Buy your children books. You don’t have to spend a lot of money; go to Goodwill and get two books for a dollar.
Of course, you will not utilize all of these strategies all of the time. Pick a few now and again so that you can support your child’s fluency and comprehension. Most of all, have fun. Reading can feel like a chore sometimes. The more children enjoy reading, the more they will read.