When you’re listening to your child read you a book and he stumbles through a tricky new word, do you rush in to tell him what it is? Don’t worry, I sometimes do, too! But, if we can prompt our child to solve the new or unknown word for himself, he’ll become a better reader. So, how do you know what to say to help him solve new words?
Learning to use specific, key strategies to figure out new words is an important skill for beginning readers. The more strategies they have, and the more practice they get for using those strategies, the more confidence they’ll have as readers! Kids need to learn what good readers do when they come to hard words, so they’re set up for success to decode (or solve) them.
I’ve seen variations of these eight beginning reading strategies in every literacy curriculum I’ve worked with as a teacher. They are key word-solving strategies that are perfect for new readers – pre-k through probably second grade. I’ve taught them one by one to my son, focusing on one new strategy at a time as we read during his daily book time. Then, after a few weeks, or when I felt that he was comfortable using that strategy, I introduced another one.
I’d love to give you the bilingual printable reading guide (download below) I’ve created with the eight key strategies – have it with you as you and your child read together, ask her if she knows some of the strategies from school, or hang it up on the wall where she reads her books! However you use it, I hope that it helps you support your little reader as she learns!
Beginning Reading Strategies
Point to Each Word
When your child is reading and loses his place, or like my son, tries to read too quickly and skips words, you could say, “Don’t forget to point to each word.” Pointing helps readers keep their place on the page, and beginning readers can use their finger to slide under each sound or syllable of the word as they say it (/m/ /a/ /s/ /k/… mask, or /ma/ /pa/ /che/, mapache).
Look at the Picture
Sometimes my daughter, who is reading very beginner phonics books in English and Spanish, works so hard at getting the sounds right, she forgets to stop and use visual cues (the pictures!). So before reading, we take a picture walk together. To do this with your child, look at each page and talk together about what you see, pointing out new or tricky words you notice she’ll encounter. You might say, “I see a river there, too, and sometimes a small one like that is called a stream.” Then, when reading, look back to match the words with what’s in the picture. “Let’s look at the picture. So this word starts with /b/. Do you see something with b in the picture?”
Get Your Mouth Ready
Let’s say your child comes to the word “apple” on the page and guesses “peach” and then “tomato.” He’s probably using the picture clues! If your child guesses a word without looking closely at it, ask him to stop and make his mouth say /ahhh/ (or any other first letter sound) for an “a” word so he’s thinking about saying each sound correctly. You might say, “Get your mouth ready for the word’s first sound” after he guesses a few wrong words. It will get him thinking about correctly saying each sound in the word.
Look for Parts You Know
“Do you see a part of the word you know?” In any tricky word, but especially a long one, looking for a known part can help solve it. Ask your child if he notices something he’s already learned about, like an ending, a syllable, or a little word. With my son, I look for something I know we’ve worked on before or that he’s already learned at school. I might ask, “What is that ending?” (-est, -er, -ing, -ed, etc.) or “Do you see a little word in there?” Help him look at the whole word to find a place to start decoding instead of giving up.
Skip It and Keep Reading
If a new word is too tricky to figure out with these other strategies, sometimes it’s best to finish the sentence and then go back and think about what it might be. I often tell my kids, “Let’s skip it and keep reading, then come back!” Reading the rest of the sentence almost always gives us a clue as to what the unknown word is (which is a great vocabulary learning skill, by the way!). Young readers – especially those learning a new language – are constantly encountering new words.
Ask 3 Questions: Does It Look Right?
“Does that look right?” When your child guesses a word incorrectly, ask her to think about her word and then look at the book’s word again. She’s probably using the first few letters to make a guess. If your child says “sunlight” instead of “sunshine” say, “Does that look right? Sunlight would have an ‘l’ and a ‘t’ in it, but this word doesn’t.” Pointing out that she needs to look very carefully at each part of the word should get her back on track.
Does It Sound Right?
When a word is mispronounced, it might sound funny. My daughter was reading the other day and said “gentful” instead of “gentle.” I’m not sure how she came up with that one! But she looked at me inquisitively afterwards as if to say, “Is that right?? I don’t quite remember that word!” So we stopped and asked, “Does that sound right?” And, of course, reread the word to make sure we had it right!
Does It Make Sense?
Good readers need to learn that the words should make sense. When the words don’t make sense to them, they probably need to stop, think, and go back and reread. So you might say, “That didn’t make sense, did it? Let’s try again.” Sometimes readers work so hard on decoding the words that they forget to think about the story they’re telling. If your child says “meaty” instead of “neatly” in a sentence, ask him to stop and think. Say, “Hmm… Does that make sense? Meaty is a word, but it doesn’t make sense in this story.”
I hope these beginning reading strategies can help you empower your young reader to tackle new and challenging words! No more rushing in to tell the word before your child tries it on her own! 😊 Learning to read is tough work, and learning to read in two languages is definitely a challenge! However, with practice, the right word-solving strategies, and your support, I hope you’ll see more and more reading success!
Please download your free printable here:
You can also find it on Teachers Pay Teachers (along with other bilingual resources from me).
Explore more reading posts on Bilingual Balance:
- Best Early Readers for Kids in Spanish
- Bilingual Books for Kids on Black History
- Spanish Pronunciation Guide for Parents (free printable)