As a teacher, I constantly had parents approaching me asking how they could help increase their child's reading level. Below I have 5 great steps you can take toward that goal. These are techniques I, and other good teachers who follow the latest research in children's literacy, have incorporated into the classroom and found incredible results. I have adjusted the implementation so you can incorporate these techniques into your home seamlessly.
Step 1: Determine your child's "Just Right" Reading Level Research indicates that “fluency develops as a result of many opportunities to practice reading with a high degree of success.”1 Meaning, a child becomes a better reader by regularly reading books that are at their appropriate level. In my classroom, I call this their "Just Right" Reading Level. Students who only read books that are "too easy", significantly below their reading level, will, naturally, not improve as quickly since they are not being introduced to new many words, sentence structures and patterns, and are not required to learn and practice new comprehension strategies. Now I am absolutely not saying children should never read books below their reading level! I strongly believe in giving children freedom to choose what they would like to read (more about this later). If there is a book on a subject they are particularly interested in, but it happens to be below their reading level, of course they should still read it if they want to! Our main goal is to get them to enjoy reading! Readers who enjoy reading, read more often, and in turn become better readers. Children should be given freedom to choose what they'd like to read, but we can encourage them to choose books at and around their "Just Right" level, explaining the reasons. Likewise, books that are "too challenging", significantly above their level, may lead the child to become frustrated, which is completely counter-productive. Again, if your 8 year old boy loves space ships, for example, and he finds a book about aerospace engineering with lots of exciting pictures, by all means, read away! Again, our primary goal is that they enjoy reading. Now you might be asking, "fine, that sounds great, but how can I find out my child's 'Just Right' level?" There are a few ways. If you have an elementary age child (KG-5th), your child's reading teacher has most likely determined his or her reading level. Shoot them an email requesting that level. There are many different types of assessment out there, so they may give you their DRA level, Lexile Level, Reading Recovery Level, Guided Reading Level, etc, so ask them which assessment tool they used. If your child is not elementary aged, or his or her teacher hasn't given them an assessment, there are a few you can use at home. Free Online Assessments: If you want a quick, easy online test, I suggest doing all of the assessments (they don't take very long) and finding the average level between the three. Sound Reading Assessment - I found this to be a decent assessment, just encourage your child to move as quickly as possible, as it is timed. Reading Naturally - You can try out the free trial of this web-based reading comprehension software. I used to use a version of this curriculum years ago in my class. Fluency Assessment - this one you will have to print out and score yourself, but the directions are very clear Free Printable Assessments: These take a little more time but are often more accurate. Sonlight Quick Reading Assessment - this is great for preK-4th grade readers NRRF Assessment- this was a great one; here are the instructions on administering the test Teachers College Reading and Writing Project- this is by far the best one; it is actually the assessment that I use in my classroom; since it is made for teachers to use, it is much more complex and I suggest reading all of the instructions before you begin. A-L is Kindergarten- 2nd grade, and M-Z is 2nd - 8th grade.
Step 2: Find books at that level Go to a local library or book store and find books at that "Just Right" level. Here are two great online tools that tell you what reading level a book is: Scholastic Book Wizard and AR. On the scholastic site, you can also find lists of books at a particular level and order them straight from scholastic (or note the titles and order from Amazon). Since their are so many different types of reading level assessments, here is a conversion chart to help (and here is another). On the grade level score, the first digit indicated the grade level, and the digit after the decimal indicates the month into that grade level (for example 2.5 indicates a child in the 5th month of 2nd grade).
Step 3: Organize your child's "library" You most likely have a collection of children's books in your home. Probably all mixed up on one big shelf. I have a whole other post on how to organize your child's library. Having a clear, organized, library will make reading easier and more accessible, so your child is more likely to read independently and find interesting and appropriate books.
Step 4: Family DEAR time DEAR stands for Drop Everything And Read. Classroom all over the country practice having daily DEAR time, where all of the students and teachers stop what they are doing and pick up a book. When children see the people they respect and admire reading, it illustrates the importance and value of reading. Children who never see their parents with a book in their hands are significantly less likely to read regularly. This program has proven very effective in classrooms, and my husband and I have found it to be a very special activity for our family. Again, the more a child reads (especially books on their level), the better reader they become! Incorporating a daily, weekly, or biweekly DEAR time can not only be a cherished family activity, it can positively affect your child's attitude towards reading. Children who think reading is boring or unimportant will never become voracious readers.
Step 5: Read with your child daily! Here are some techniques to enhance that time. Let your child choose if they want you to read to him/her, he/she to read to you, or the two of you alternate pages. When you are reading:
- Glide your fingers under the words as you read, they will likely read along if they see where you are.
- Get them involved! I often read a line and pause before the last word, allowing my son to provide the word. (I love doing this with poetry!)
- Ask questions like, "What do you think will happen next?" or "Why do you think that happened?" or "Why did they say that?" etc. Questioning gets children thinking about what they are reading, improving comprehension.
- Pause after a while and ask, "So what has happened so far?" Summarizing is a very important comprehension skill.
- Talk about the story after it is over. Ask, "what was your favorite part? Why did you like it? What would happen if ___ happened instead?" etc.
- Stretch it out- start at the first letter and sound out each letter, then blend them together
- Chunk it- break the word into familiar chunks: for example, mon-key.... en-joy-able...
- Check the pictures for clues about what the word could be.
- Reread the sentence and ask, "what word would make sense here?"
- Ask some of the same questions as above to get the child thinking about what her or she is reading.
- Encourage them! Provide a lot of positive feedback. For example, "I love how you used so much expression as you read!" "Great job! That was a tricky word!" "I love how you used X strategy to figure out that word!" etc.
I'd love to hear your thoughts, questions, or ideas! Have you found other reading activities to do at home that have been a success? If you incorporated any of these techniques into your home, what were the result?
For more reading ideas and activities, see my post How to Get Your Child to Read More.References Armbruster, B. B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read: Kindergarten through Grade 1. Jessup, MD: National Institute for Literacy.