readilearn: Help your child read – some strategies

  • Published on June 15, 2018

strategies parents can use to help their children become effective readers

The importance of reading

The ability to read is one of the most valuable skills we can acquire.  It is a tool for thinking, learning and entertainment. Reading opens doors and minds; it gives us the ability to unlock the secrets of the universe and release our imaginations. It is a skill that many of us take for granted, but without it the world would seem a more unfriendly place.

No wonder learning to read is a vital part of each and every school day!

Like everything else —the more you read, the better you get!

Reading is more than just saying all the words on the page in order. Reading is a process of getting meaning from print. Effective readers use their knowledge of the world and of language in their quest to make meaning from the words on the page. Reading takes place when the reader understands the message of the writer.

Strategies used by effective readers

Effective readers use a combination of three cuing systems to predict and check what the author has written. The use of these systems is obvious in the miscues (rather than “mistakes”) that readers make.

  1. The most important cuing system is knowledge of the topic. If you know lots about dinosaurs, you can read those big difficult-looking words and understand what they mean. If you know nothing of legal jargon then even sounding out those big difficult-looking words won’t help you understand.
  2. The second system is knowledge of language and grammar. We expect the words to flow with meaning and not be a jumble of nonsense.
  3. The first two systems combine to predict the words on the page. We then check with the print to ensure our expectations were correct.

For example, if the story is about a cowboy you may expect that he would jump on his pony, but when you look at the print, you find he actually jumped on his horse.

Effective readers may say ‘pony’ instead of horse, but they definitely wouldn’t say ‘house’ (which looks similar) as it just wouldn’t make sense!

reading for meaning requires a reader to predict a meaningful word

However, readers who are not taught that reading is a process of making meaning, who are taught that it is simply a matter of translating letters to sound, or of remembering what words look like, may be content to read “The cowboy jumped on his house.”

Errors such as this are indicators that a reader is unaware of the purpose of reading and is paying too much attention to the print and not enough to the meaning.

Growing great readers!

From when they are still very young, it is important to talk with children about everything. As well as increasing their general knowledge, talk increases children’s knowledge of the language and how it flows, what sounds right and what doesn’t, and helps to build their vocabularies. By the time they start school, children who have been immersed in a language-rich environment know how to form grammatically correct sentences without ever being taught a rule of grammar.

Children who begin school with a depth of general knowledge and a large vocabulary have a much greater chance of success in both school and life than those without.

Supporting beginning readers

From when your children first start to read, support their development by encouraging them to use the strategies and systems that effective readers use:

  • Engage their interest and help them to use their knowledge by looking at the pictures and talking about the book. Perhaps even read it to them first.
  • Encourage them to have a go at reading and to think about what would make sense and sound right.
  • Provide support whenever necessary by quietly reading along with them, or telling them any unknown words.

The most important things to remember with any reading session is to:

Have fun!
Enjoy the experience!
Be a listener, not a tester!


Continue to use these strategies as their reading develops but help children to become more independent in working out words for themselves. Initially, you may need to suggest strategies they can use, but as their confidence increases, you will notice them using strategies independently. Acknowledge their attempts and development.

Finding the cues!

If your child is unsure of a word, you can encourage them to work it out for themselves by cuing them into the clues. Suggest that they think about what would make sense, and

  • Look at the picture
  • Get their mouth ready for the word (say the first sound)
  • Go back to the beginning of the sentence and re-read
  • Leave the word out and read on to the end of the sentence.

You don’t need to use all these strategies for every unknown word, and if they still can’t get it —just tell them the word!


If your child reads something that doesn’t make sense but continues reading (for example, house instead of horse) stop them and ask: “Does that make sense? What could it be?’ Encourage them to go back and find the clues.

suggestion for helping child with a miscue that doesn't make sense

If they read something that doesn’t make sense and they realise and self-correct:  praise them! They have independently monitored their ability to maintain meaning! What effective readers!

supporting a reader with miscue then self-corrects

But it makes sense!

If your child reads an incorrect word that makes sense, don’t stop them. Let them read on to the end of the sentence, paragraph or book. Sometimes you can just ignore it. Sometimes you can praise them for maintaining meaning: “Well done! What you read made sense.” But encourage them to look more closely at the word and see what it would be. If they still can’t get it —just tell it!.

helping a child correct a miscue that makes sense

Remember—to grow great readers, from a very young age

Talk  about everything

Read for fun and information

Every day!

And let them see you read for real purposes and enjoyment too!

The greatest start you can give your children is a love for books and learning.


And when they start—don’t stop! Keep going! Read with them! Take turns! Have fun!

Read! Read! Read!


introducing new resources on readilearn

Help your child with reading - a brochure of suggestions for parents

Information contained in this post is presented in a brochure Help your child with reading that can be distributed to and discussed with parents. The strategies are useful for parents to use with their own children at home or when volunteering in the classroom. Teacher aides may also find the information helpful.

The brochure supports other readilearn resources designed to help teachers and parents understand what we do when we read in order to help children develop effective reading strategies and a life-long love of reading.

This post follows up on last week’s post What do we do when we read? and others to do with the reading process; including:

The importance of reading aloud — a guest post by Jennie Fitzkee

Learning sight words by reading and writing in context

Teaching phonics and letter-sound relationships in early childhood classrooms

What’s in a name? Teaching phonics, syllabification, and more!

have you used

Other resources about reading for parents  include:

a series of ten newsletter for distribution to parents to provide them with information about helping their child with reading

Help your child read newsletters 1—10

suggestions for maintaining reading momentum during the holidays to prevent the summer slide

21 suggestions for maintaining reading momentum over the holidays

a exercise demonstrating the reading process to teachers and parents showing the importance of prior knowledge

How we read — an exercise for teachers and parents

introducing new books to children guided reading shared book strategies

Introducing a new book to children

And check out the literacy, especially reading, teaching resources too.

readilearn: teaching resources for the first three years of school
Resources beyond worksheets – lessons for teachers made by teachers.
Let readilearn lighten your workload.

Subscribe now for access to all readilearn resources or Register to begin using free resources.

I appreciate your feedback and comments. Please share your thoughts below.

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    I was only thinking about this the other day when looking back to why I have always loved reading. I think having two sisters 10 and 11 years older than me, who took on the role of bedtime stories helped them as much as it did me. And once I had hoovered my way through the toddler and early readers I had a plentiful supply of their books to dive into. Books were lying around everywhere and I loved reading aloud to my younger brother when he came along. Books were always lying around waiting to be picked up and I do wonder if a household that only reads digital editions will engender the same enthusiasm.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on catching a love of reading, Sally. I am tickled at the thought of you ‘hoovering’ your way through books. What a fabulous way of expressing a need to read. It is wonderful that you and your siblings shared a joy of books. I agree with what you have said about books ‘lying around waiting to picked up’. I don’t think digital books will create enthusiasm in quite the same way, but I can’t see into the future so I’ll keep my figures crossed. I think storytelling and a need for stories is an inbuilt part of who we are so a way will need to be found.

    Children are definitely influenced by their parents when it comes to reading. The children I know you read all come from families where one or the other or even both of their parents are readers. Parents that read also read to their children when they are young and develop a love of reading.

    That’s right, Robbie. The role of parents can never be overestimated. Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. They play a crucial role in the formation of attitudes to most things in life, including reading. I love to see parents sharing books with their children, and reading to and with them. It is such a wonderful activity for many different reasons.

    Goodman’s Reading Miscue Inventory (RMI; 1965) arose from the whole language method of teaching reading (which we now know is far from best practice) which relies on semantic, syntactic and, to a lesser extent, graphophonic cues to interpret print. Consequently, this method can lead to a miscued word with a similar meaning being acceptable, for example if “puppy” is substituted for “dog”, as long as the meaning remains substantially the same. Likewise, words with similar spelling or that are a syntactic fit are assessed as being more tolerable than words with disparate spelling or words that are grammatically incorrect. According to Hempenstall (1998), the whole language method requires little attention to the letters making up a word, except for perhaps the first few, with greater emphasis being placed on deducing the word from syntax, semantics and the context in which it appears. He posits that skilful readers decode unknown words rather than use context, but that remedial instruction based on the RMI analysis would require students to rely increasingly on context and not letter arrays.
    Although the overlap between Running Records and RMI obfuscates some studies of miscue assessments, Hempenstall (1998) contends that the RMI lacks reliability due to the lack of a theoretical basis for miscue classifications, imprecise descriptions of the ratings associated with miscues, and the use of texts of varying levels of difficulty. Similarly, student factors such as by which method the student was taught to read, their age and the amount and type of texts that they have been exposed to, all have the potential to confound results. The RMI is also thought unsuitable for most beginning readers who generally have had little exposure to reading texts.

    Goodman, K. S. (1965). A linguistic study of cues and miscues in reading. Elementary English, 42(6), 639-643. Retrieved from ED015087.pdf

    Hempenstall, K. (1998). Whole language, reading assessment the reading miscue inventory: A critique. Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, 3(4), 32-37. doi:10.1080/ 19404159809546576

    Thank you for your detailed response re miscue analysis. I was aware of Goodman’s work, but not Hempentall’s. Thanks for the link. I think the purpose of any assessment of a child’s reading development must be to inform how best to progress that development. We must focus on the child and the child’s learning needs rather than promote a one-way-fits-all approach.

    Thank you, Barbara. I’m pleased you see value in the strategies. Talking with children is a great way to build up their general knowledge, and interest in words and language. 🙂

    P.S. I read a number of books to my 5-year-old grandson last night, Norah. And with the start of each one, he looked at me earnestly and asked, “Did you write this one?” I guess because he likes the one children’s book I DID write, he thinks I’ve written them all. 🙂

    Oh Pam, that is just priceless. How gorgeous is your grandson! I think he needs you to write some more books for him – and us! 🙂

    These strategies make so much sense ! (Horse sense? Not house sense… 🙂 ) I find that they reinforce how I work on reading with my grandchildren. But no, not work, but PLAY with them as they learn to read (some of them struggle with it) and make it fun and easier. Thanks, Norah!

    Thank you, Pam. I’m pleased you see the value in the strategies. I think play is an important part of learning, and playing with language is a great way of getting children ready to read.

    What a great post! People ask me how come my children can read so young. I sort of did all these things intuitively, so I didn’t know what to tell them. Now I’ve got a resource to send them to!

    Thank you, Jen. I’m so pleased you did all these things intuitively. So many literate parents do. Unfortunately, many don’t and we need to keep explaining to them why it’s important to talk with their children, play with them, and read stories to them, every day. I’m so happy you’ll share the resource with others. Thank you. 🙂

    I am pleased you can see the value in providing examples, Charli. I thought you might like the cowboy. I only thought of changing it to cowgirl after I’d finished all the images. 🙂

    This is an excellent followup to your ‘What do we do when we read?’ post, Norah. This would be a great addition to any book on parenting ❤

    Thank you, Tina. I appreciate your comment. Both these posts are part of a ten-week course I offered to parents some years ago and have been compiling as a book. Still in progress.

    Thank you, Anne. I very much appreciate your comment. I do aim for easy-to-read accessible content.

    Children today are so much more prepared for going to school than we were. I love the library programs here that encourage parents to sign their little ones up to reading 5,000 books before they go to school. Many more parents do read with their child every day, talk about the book and have just plain fun. I know bedtime can be a positive experience when parents can spend fun quality time when they read to kids.

    That’s an interesting observation to make about children and preparedness for school, Patricia. I’m not sure that I agree. I’ll have to think on it for a while. Perhaps it is so, but I’ve seen so many children begin school who haven’t been talked with, played with or read to before they come to school, that they require a lot of help just to be ready to learn. This is why I am so passionate about early childhood education. In many ways, the most important years are those years before school, and it is difficult to catch up on opportunities that may have been missed. This is why those library programs encouraging children to read 5000 books before they start school are so important. While many more parents do read with their children even day, there are still too many who do not. I’m definitely with you in encouraging parents to spend fun quality time with their kids reading stories to them at bedtime. If we can encourage even a few more to do that, and I’m sure you do with your wonderful posts, then it has to be a good thing. Thank you for joining in the conversation.

    Love your thoughts on reading, Norah! The way we can help our students learn to read is so important. If someone enjoys reading as a child, it can be a life-long love. Being taken to magical places that they can’t be taken to in real life, travelling the globe, “meeting” so many diverse people – there’s just not enough of it, I say!! … now I’ll just get off my high house and get stuck into some reading … 😉 🙂

    Thank you so much, Robin. I am very passionate about reading and ensuring children are taught in ways that encourage a love of reading so they can be taken to those “magical places that they can’t be taken to in real life, travelling the globe, ‘meeting’ so many diverse people”. You’re right. There is not enough of it. I think we should all stand on our (house) rooftops and share it with the world.

    Reading starts at home. As you mention, it is important for the adults in the house to be seen as readers, and for them to read to and with the children in the house (not horse). If the readers and the books are around, the reading will happen without too much force. Which is the best way.

    Thanks for joining in with your words of wisdom, D. You are right. A home that values books is a home that encourages the development of readers.

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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