How to Teach a Child to Read - Frequently Asked Questions
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How to Teach a Child to Read – Frequently Asked Questions

How to teach a child to read: Over my career as a teacher I have been asked many questions about reading.  From these experiences I have compiled this list of those that seemed to come up more regularly.  If you have any concerns about your child’s reading please talk to their teacher first. A positive and collaborative relationships between parents and schools is, in my experience, one of the most effective ways to make an impact on a child’s academic progress. Once you have spoken to your child’s school you may find it useful to read these and realise that you are not alone in your concerns.  If you want further information about any of my responses please don’t hesitate to contact me.


How to teach a child to read Q.1:

Is it ok for children to memorise parts of a book and guess sentences based on the pictures?

These are wonderful and very useful strategies. This is an important step on the learning journey and can often be an indicator that your child loves this book!  Support their development of decoding the written words by asking them to find words or graphemes (written sounds) that they recognise on the page. Can they find them on the next page too?

Here are some other strategies you could use to help them learn words and sounds.

Try these useful tips for hearing your child read.


How to teach a child to read Q.2:

How can I prepare my child to start reading when they begin school?

Listen to any advice given by the school. Then read! Read to them! Read near them! Talk about their books! Talk about new books and old favourites! Build the joy of a story and the wonder of a fact!  The best start to a child’s journey as a reader is to already adore books, to love the worlds they create and the knowledge they impart. Spend the summer loving books with them!

Try these ten steps to grow a bookworm.

Try this video with examples on how to use story time to support the early steps of learning to read.


How to teach a child to read Q.3:

Should I discourage my child from reading books for toddlers?

Often the benefit a child gets from a book is less about its target audience and more about how you use it and how much they enjoy it. Even a book with no words can be great to talk through a story ark and spot the action in pictures. Embrace all books that your child is interested in and let them lead you in getting the most out of each read. (See further down this page for more details about how to get the most out of a book that can already be read fluently.)

Some suggestions on how to support your child to choose their own books.


How to teach a child to read Q.4:

What do the colours mean on the book spine?  To what extent do the books get harder as the colours change?  What new things are introduced?

The coloured tabs indicate book bands or books of a similar level of challenge. Some books come with their own bands but often schools will organise them into their own system. As your child moves to a higher band you should see a wider range of sounds, words with more syllables and trickier common exception words (words learnt by sight). You may also notice that the sentence and story structures become longer and more complex. There is a wide range of bands so these changes should be gradual between adjacent bands.  Because schools often build their own bands from different collections their can some times by quite varied challenge levels within one band. Try and support your child to fully master each band and keep talking to your child’s teacher about how it’s going.  Also don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit. Trying books of different challenge levels or sharing the reading of a tricky book with you can be great fun too.

Try these alternatives to hearing your child read.

Try letting your child choose a book to read entirely independently.


How to teach a child to read Q.5:

Why has my child stopped progressing with their reading?

Often within the first year or two of learning to read children can reach a point where it appears that they have stopped progressing or even struggling where they didn’t before. There can be many reasons for this. The most common reason, that I have seen, occurs as the child moves into a new book band/stage or year group. The increase in new sounds and words in a book or lesson maybe more than they can take on all at once resulting in low confidence.  If you think this is happening talk to your child’s teacher about strategies to effectively narrow their focus onto a few new areas at a time. Keep up with story time and sometimes just share books together instead of asking them to read.  This is a good time to return to some favourite stories with them to keep them positive and occasionally mix it in with short focused reading practice sessions. As you do this they will gradually build up their bank of sounds and strategies and soon be back on track.  If they don’t appear to be progressing following these strategies it is really important that you speak to your child’s teacher and outline everything that you have tried so far.

Some more ideas on mixing up reading time.

The benefits of story time and some handy tricks to use.

Some tips to use during reading time.

Just in case they’ve become reluctant to read.


How to teach a child to read Q.6:

What can I do if my child sounds out and reads a word and then forgets it when it appears on the next page?

If this happens with lots of words choose 3 or 4 to start with. Once they’ve read the word write it down, show them and tell them what you’ve written. Say it, sing it or even chant it together until it starts to stick in their head. Now place the word just above the book so it’s clearly visible. When the word comes up again point to the word and encourage them to say it from memory.  If they can’t, ask them to say the first couple of sounds to try and jog their memory. If they still don’t remember repeat the first part again until it works. This process models the idea that once you’ve decided a word you can take a short cut next time. If you want to add an extra layer to this cut up some colourful card or special paper into small cards. Make or buy a special treasure box and put the cards inside. Write these memory words on the card and keep them as treasures in the box. You can keep using them with different books until the words are totally secure and can be read by sight.

Here are lots of great uses for sound and word cards.


How to teach a child to read Q.7:

What can I do if my child loses interest during story time or reading time?

Start by trying to minimise the risk of this before you even start. If at all possible read in a quiet environment with nothing nearby that might distract their attention. Try to be aware of the signs that they might be about to lose focus. Give them a small target to read to and try and finish on a positive note. Only reading or listening to one sentence daily in a positive state will be so much more effective than dragging a distracted child through a whole page or even book.

Some alternatives to hearing you child read.

Some tricks to use during story time.


How to teach a child to read Q.8:

How do I challenge my child when they seem to read everything fluently?

It’s really wonderful to hear a child read fluently and with confidence. However, fluency is only one of many goals of learning to read.  If your child finds a book really easy to read that doesn’t mean that they won’t learn anything from it and there are ways that you can still make the experience challenging for them.

Check that their expression fits with the flow and action in the story.

Check their understanding of the trickier words.

Do they understand what they are reading and can they draw conclusions about events and characters based on this?

Can they make predictions?

Are they able to evaluate the use of language?

Can they summarise part of the book?

Ask them to compare within and across books.

Once you’ve tried a few of these you will have a good idea of the areas you can focus on. Now you can work on these specific areas when reading and ask questions to check understanding.

How to support your child to deepen their understanding of what they read.


I hope you have found these useful and they have given you an idea of just how many strategies there are that can help in all sorts of situations.

  • Marcella Kenny
    Posted at 01:03h, 04 November Reply

    All great ideas for the love of reading. With the holidays coming up ! would love to have you you a top ten list of books to read as a guest post. Let me know if your interested in working with me. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    • tomrussell
      Posted at 01:22h, 04 November Reply

      Thank you Marcie, that sounds great I’ll be in touch.

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