Happy Cheetah Reading

How Much Should I Help a Beginning Reader? Ten Practical Steps!

Helping a child reach reading fluency can be an arduous task with no end in sight. The struggling and correcting can deflate the most optimistic parent. What should we be doing? Are we helping too much or not enough?

We often don’t know what we should be doing, which only increases our anxiety with the learning process. However, don’t fear! Here are ten practical tips to help you navigate the next lesson with your emergent reader.

How Much Should We Be Helping?

When students are learning to read, you cannot help them too much.

They won’t let you! If you try to help too much, they’ll say, “Let me do it!”

Which is great information in theory, but what does it look like in practice? What should you say and do?

Here are ten tips to support your next reading lesson.

How to Help Throughout a Reading Lesson

1 | At the beginning of the lesson, tell your children, “I’ll help you whenever you need it.” You’re letting them know you are not going to let them flounder! This support gives them the confidence to tackle new words without the fear of being stuck forever.

2 | In early reading instruction, always, always read the story first, maybe even a couple of times. Let your children get to know the story they’ll be reading. They will become more familiar with the sequence of the story and be more successful when they attempt to read it on their own.

3 | Once they know the story, and before your children read a page, offer some prompting. For example, if the page includes the less familiar word Meow, you might say, “The cat is going to do something on this page. What do you think the cat said?” That helps your children predict the words that are coming, helping them build a bridge for successful reading.

4 | Have your children point to each word as they read. You can control your children’s eyes by making use of their pointer finger. When they point, you can tell where your children are looking, and whether they are having trouble keeping their place.

With younger children, insist — at least initially — that they point. Over time, the finger will fall away as their eyes take over. That’s a good sign, and what’s supposed to happen. If your children bring the finger back up to finish the reading, that’s a sign of visual fatigue — time to be done with your lesson!

If the finger stays in place month after month and year after year, that’s a sign of a visual tracking issue. And if your children are older and don’t want to point? You can point instead. That’s not cheating. It’s helping. No need to turn pointing into a power struggle!

5 | You can fill in some words, making your children read only every few words, instead of every word. You can alternate pages and engage in shared reading, which allows your child to hear again reading with expression and timing.

6 | You can ask questions and give prompts. “What is he knocking on?” Or, “Here he’s talking again.” Questions and observations get your child thinking about what they are reading, and they will be better capable of making predictions, which is an essential reading skill.

7 | When your children reads the wrong word, say, “Is that ‘bulldozer’ or ‘truck’?” and let them correct themselves. Sometimes the simplest of prompts can lead a child to self-correction.

8 | If your children read the wrong word but with the correct first letter, say, “‘Stuck’ was an excellent guess because it starts with an ’s’ — but this word is ‘sinking,’” and then move on. Correcting errors in this manner allows us the opportunity to be positive, but to also create a connection they can call upon in future lessons.

9 | Praise far more often than you think you should. “Good job! That was super good!” “Too easy!” “You’re an excellent reader.” 

Yes, there are articles out there suggesting praise can backfire if given too often but praise is beneficial when used wisely. If every time your children read a book for the rest of their lives, you say, “That was the most incredible thing ever! I can hardly believe you’re so amazing!” — that’s excessive. Don’t do that.

However, in the process of learning to read, your children are working tremendously hard. It’s like running a sprint at nationals. Those athletes are working hard, and it’s appropriate to cheer as loud as you can, to boost their efforts and give wings to their feet.

Children learning to read need a boost and a cheerleader. That’s you!

10 | When your children self-correct, say, “Perfect! I liked how you went back to the right word!” Self-correction is not a “mistake,” as even skilled readers need to self-correct at times. Self-correction is evidence of connections being made right in front of your eyes.

Self-correction demonstrates that your children are comprehending the reading, which is, of course, the primary goal.

Stay Positive and Encouraging

As you start to incorporate these positive, encouraging interactions, you’ll find how relaxed and enjoyable your children’s reading instruction can be. It shouldn’t be a daily struggle of anxiety and stress; it is a moment of great learning and growth in your child.

Don’t worry that you may be helping too much; beginning readers need our support. Have fun and enjoy the process. I’m excited for you!

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