“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” – Dr. Seuss
Think about this for a minute: can your child read the words on the page of a book and sound them out properly, but when you ask what it means, they can’t tell you? That’s the difference between be able to read and being able to understand what they read. They are two parts of reading comprehension, which is the basis of literacy. It’s not just enough to know how to read, but you need to know how to understand what you read. Sadly, this knowledge usually doesn’t just magically happen.
Here are two more examples: Have you ever read something, a short newspaper article or a sentence in a book, and had to stop and ask yourself, “What does the author mean to say?”. Have you ever tried to summarize what you just read for someone else, in just a few words so they would understand the point of it? Believe it or not, those are two of many essential skills you need to become an active reader, and these skills are the basis of being able to understand what you are reading!
As we celebrate International Literacy Day, you may ask: in what ways can I help my children understand what they are reading? Well, believe it or not, you can make a huge difference by coaching them to become an active reader! That means helping them to build their own toolbox of reading skills and strategies, and the best place this can start is actually at home, with you, your child, and a book.
We’ve put together a short list of tips to help you build your child’s active reading skills to help celebrate this year’s International Literacy Day with your kids!
Here are some helpful tips to bring your child’s reading ability to the next level:
- Make Connections.
When kids connect what they already know to what they read, it helps them focus. Show your child how to make connections when you read aloud. If a book mentions places you’ve been to with your child, pause the reading and talk about those memories. Then have your child give it a try.
Reading Comprehension Skill: Building Mental Models
- Ask questions about what happens next.
Asking predictive questions encourages kids to look for clues in the text. When you read together, you can ask questions to spark your child’s curiosity, like “What do you think will happen?” or “What will the character do next?”
Reading Comprehension Skill: Predicting
- Make “mind movies”.
Visualizing helps bring a story to life. That’s where “mind movies” come in. When you read with your child, ask them to describe what the scene looks like in their mind. Ask them to talk about how it makes them feel. You can use other scenes, too. For example, if the scene takes place outside, what does it smell like?
You can make your own mind movie, too. Tell them what you imagine the scene is like, and point out how your child’s movie is different from yours. If you start with their point of view first, you don’t imprint what you imagine on them – and remember what they imagine is perfect!
If your child likes to draw or color, encourage your child to draw a picture of the scene (after reading, of course).
Reading Comprehension Skill: Visualizing
- Look for clues.
When you combine what you already know with clues from a story, you can make guesses about what they mean. These are inferences. And making them is a great way to build reading comprehension.
For example, when we read “Juma’s eyes were red and nose was runny”, we might infer that Juma has a cold or allergies. Help your child do this as you read. If you know Juma was playing football before, that might change your inference of the situation. What might have happened? If a character is wearing gym clothes and sweating, ask your child what the character might have been doing before.
Reading Comprehension Skill: Making Inferences
- Figure out what’s important.
Ask your child: who are the main characters? What’s the most important thing that has happened in the story so far? What problem are the characters trying to solve? When kids can point out what’s important, they’re more likely to understand what they read.
Reading Comprehension Skill: Finding the Main Idea
- Check understanding.
It helps to encourage kids to stop reading after a tough sentence and ask themselves, “Do I know what this means?” If your child gets stuck, suggest re-reading the part that didn’t make sense, and look for vocabulary words that may be keeping your child from understanding. What about it was confusing? Was there a specific vocabulary word that tripped your child up? Sometimes just not knowing just one word can keep a child from understanding a sentence or miss out on the point of a whole story!
Reading Comprehension Skill: Re-reading
There you go!
All of these skills and strategies (and more) build what reading experts call meta-cognitive strength. This strength is built through practice, and it’s essentially the ability for a reader to be able to stop reading, think about what is happening in the story, make up some opinions, and continue reading. It’s the basis of reading comprehension, which means a reader understands what he is reading. If your child can exercise any of these skills it means they are an active reader! Give them (and yourself) a high-five!