A Parent Guide to Reading Strategies – Decoding

How to support your child to become a better reader

Many parents want to help their child become a better reader, but may not know the ins and outs of how to go about it. This parent guide to reading strategies will help your child become a better reader and should offer the help you need!

The first helpful thing you can do for your child is make sure you have books available within your reader’s ability. Check out my post about Just Right Books for a guide. Now here’s your crash course in supporting your children as they read!

Before You Begin Reading

Before your child begins reading, have them check out the front & back cover. Ask questions like, “What do you notice?” Get them thinking about who the characters are and what the book will be about. Do a “picture walk”, which just means look through the pictures to find out more. This is a good time to make sure your child has a good understanding of any new vocabulary or concepts the pictures might alert you to. Don’t worry about the words yet. Illustrators spend a lot of time on those pictures for a reason – look closely.

Ask your child to read the title and make sure they point as they read if they are a younger reader. Teachers call this one-to-one matching. We like to see their eyes, pointer finger, out loud voice, and brains all on the same word. Tell them the author & illustrator’s names – names are tricky!

Get started Reading

If they are an new reader, make sure your book is predictable. That means the same sentence repeats on each page throughout the book, usually with only a one or two word difference on each page. This language pattern gives lots of support for a new reader.

For these emergent readers go ahead and read the first page so they hear the pattern of the book. As your child reads, listen for the kinds of struggles they have. It’s really in the struggle that you find out what they are not understanding yet. Don’t tell them the word. Let me say that again… DON’T tell them the word… yet. The hardest part of listening to a child read is being patient. Yep, you have to learn to wait these little people out. They are very slow readers when just getting started! If they know you trust them to do it, they will become a more confident reader. Remember that you are a support, not a supplier of words that they don’t know.

Be a guide for the reader when they stumble on those tricky words

Now let me fill you in on a few issues kids have and what to listen for when they get hung up. This list trial-and-error list of strategies can be used for most decoding – which is just a fancy word for figuring out new words. When one of these strategies doesn’t work, the reader must try another one and learn to pick the best strategies for each situation. Parent support is important to help them remember to use a different strategy if the reader stays stuck. Just don’t jump in too soon!

Strategies are the tricks for figuring out those new words: use this list to help you take action as that guide

When a child pauses on any word:

  • that is in the illustration, remind them to use their Eagle or Owl Eyes. That is look closely at and use the picture and the beginning letter of the word.
  • make sure they use their Fish Lips to say the beginning sound out loud so they can hear the sound. Some readers will substitute another word that makes sense, but if they say the sound out loud they hear it and learn to fix it.
  • make sure to use Stretchy Snake to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the word out s-l-o-w-l-y saying each letter sound. This helps them read through the word to check if their given word is right as they say the word all the way to the end.
  • use Chunky Monkey to read chunks of letters or little words inside of bigger words instead of isolated sounds (instead of u-g as separate sounds, say ug or instead of a-n-d as separate sounds, say and fluently and quickly).
  • use Skippy Frog to skip the tricky word, read to the end of the line or sentence and then reread. Hearing the word in context helps them think about what would make sense.
  • try the Flippy Dolphin strategy when they are stuck on a vowel or group of vowels that have more than one sound. You have to “flip” to the other sound it makes to see if that is the word that sounds right and makes sense. This is often needed when kids use a short vowel sound instead of the long vowel sound or vice versa.
  • just have them try a word that makes sense because it might be right if it looks & sounds right. This is called Tryin Lion!
  • you, the parent, can be the last resort and that is Helpful Hippo. Just don’t let your child constantly use this as a strategy. As a teacher I will only tell them the word when I know they are not ready for the strategy the word calls for or when it’s a new one we’re working on. If this strategy is happening too much during your reading time, the book is too hard and the parent should be doing a read aloud instead.

Copy & use these bookmarks from Growing Firsties as reminders to help you and your reader out!

Whenever a child is stuck on a word, the best thing to do is WAIT. Guess what parents instantly do? Tell the word. There is some automatic rescue mechanism inside of us that wants to save them from a little failure! Well stumbling over a word is not a bad thing. In fact, when you hear your child make a mistake or work really hard on a tricky word without giving up, THAT is what good readers do! They search for what will work. This is how they become an independent reader.

Many readers I’ve seen instantly want to give up. They do this especially if they have been used to someone bailing them out. That is not how to train a good reader. When your child looks to you for the bailout and you are anxiously wanting to just tell them the word to ease your own pain, spend your time looking at the word yourself.

Learn to decide what strategy reminder will best benefit your child for that particular word. I tell them, “there are no words on my face, look at the word. Check the picture. Check the beginning sound. Stretch it out…” Just give clues, not the answer.

After Reading

Reread to develop fluency or smooth reading

Learning to offer clues to unlock the strategies allows your child to become an independent reader at any level. That is the reading goal. When your child has read a book with some struggles, don’t put it away yet. Reread the book for a second or third read to find out if they have mastered those tricky words. Next listen to how it sounds. If it is still sounding like a robot is reading it, shift the focus of practicing for fluency. That is how reading sounds if you read in your “story voice” or like you are talking. It’s with expression so that it is fun to listen to. Fluency helps us understand the meaning behind what we are reading.

Helping your child understand what they are reading …during and after the reading

So figuring out the words is not the only thing readers do when they read. Many parents make the mistake of thinking their child is a fantastic reader if their child has this vast list of words they can read. The ability to read isolated words is useful, but that is just that – reading isolated words. The ability to read the visual clues in the words is what we call phonics and that is ONE of the kinds of strategies we teach readers. Understanding what we read is the goal of reading, so we must also give children ways to show they understand what they are reading.

My post on Comprehension Strategies will help you understand the ways we can help children become better thinkers as they read and listen to books. You can check out my post on Epic as an online resource if you are needing books for your child to read.

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