Readers need to learn several skills to go from recognizing letters on a page to understanding what is happening in a story. Working on these skills separately can make the challenges of learning to read more approachable.
Before learning to read, children need to be able to hear separate sounds within words. Children can then learn to match sounds to written letters.
The rhythm and rhyme in songs helps children to hear individual sounds. Books and games that use rhymes or focus on a certain sound or letter also help to break down words into their sounds, and they are a good way to practice connecting sounds to letters. Check out this booklist of Stories to Sing About for ideas.
Fluency is the ability to read accurately and smoothly. Decoding skills contribute to fluency, as does learning sight words. Sight words are common words that children learn to recognize quickly, without having to sound them out.
Developing fluency takes a lot of practice and repetition. Re-read favourite books often, act out a book or try reader’s theatre so that young readers get a lot of practice with the same words and phrases.
It is also important for new readers to hear what fluent reading sounds like, so keep reading aloud to new readers. Read-along sets are also great to follow along with while listening to a story.
Learning new vocabulary is essential to comprehension, and kids can be exposed to new words through reading, listening to stories and music, conversation, games and more. When you come across new words, use context to help children figure out what they mean.
Background knowledge is another essential part of comprehension. If, for example, you are reading a story about a soccer game, it will be easier to understand if you already know the rules of the game. Our background knowledge comes from a vast array of life experiences. A favourite hobby, a trip to the grocery store, the books we read, the movies we watch—these all contribute to our knowledge of how the world works.
One way of intentionally adding to a new reader’s background knowledge is to pair fiction and nonfiction. Look for nonfiction books to go with your favourite stories, or log in to BookFlix with your library card for some fiction and nonfiction pairings for young readers.
- Reading Basics (Reading Rockets)
- 6 Essential Skills for Reading Comprehension (Understood.org)
- Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years (The Atlantic)
- 5 Surefire Strategies for Developing Reading Fluency (Scholastic)
- The Evidence on How Kids Learn to Read (Psychology Today)