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  • Writer's pictureAshley

Help Your Child Become a Better Reader

Are you one of the parents asking, "How do I improve my child's reading skills?"

The answer is... a combination of things.

Maybe not the answer you were looking for, but the truth is, reading is tough for the majority of kids and it takes more than just a simple trick to help your child become a better reader.

Let's take a look at what is called The Simple View of Reading.

The ability to accurately decode words multiplied by language comprehension equals reading comprehension. Notice the multiplication! Children need both skills in order to have good reading comprehension, which is the goal of all good readers.

Keep that model in mind when you are planning ways to help your child become a better reader at home.

Word Decoding

In order to help your child become a better reader, you need to first decide how well your child is able to decode words.

You can download this free phonics survey here. Once you have your scores, you will have a nice understanding of where your child should practice. Begin with the earliest skills and then move forward, getting more difficult, and building on the previously taught skills. You can also take a look at this phonics scope and sequence if you would like more information about what skills to teach and when.

Now that you know where to start, let's look at some of the ways to practice skills.

Word Mapping

Word mapping is a way of studying the words being learned. It gives our brain lots of practice with the word, its parts, and sounds and spellings, without having to simply memorize the words. (Research shows memorization is not how we learn words.)

Here are the steps necessary to orthographically map words.

  1. Say the word.

  2. Say and count all of the sounds in the word.

  3. Draw that number of lines or highlight that number of sound boxes.

  4. Record all of the corresponding letters in the correct boxes. (Some boxes may have more than one letter to spell a sound).

  5. Study the word. Discuss tricky parts. For instance, if the word was night, discuss the spelling of the sound /ī/ with igh. Another option is to count and identify the syllables.

  6. Write the word again.

  7. Give the word meaning. Discuss the meaning of the word and use it in a sentence or two.

Word Sorts / Picture Sorts

Word sorts are a great way to look at different spelling patterns. They draw a child's attention to each pattern and allow for a discussion about the how and why of words.

Sorts can be typed up and cut apart, written on notecards, or even just sticky notes. As your child is sorting the word cards, make sure to ask them to justify why they are sorting it that way. If need be, remind them of spelling rules they have been introduced to. After they have sorted the cards, have them go back and read the words, highlight the tricky parts or spelling patterns, and again, make meaning.

Picture sorts are great for strengthening your child's ability to hear patterns in their words. If they are studying ai vs. ay they would need to hear if the long a sound comes at the end of the word or before. Hearing the sounds in the words makes decoding and encoding those words possible. I usually introduce new spelling patterns with picture sorts. We then use those pictures as we learn to read and write the words. The pictures also make for good sentence starters as we make meaning.

Decodable Readers

Decodable readers are those that follow a specific scope and sequence, so each skill builds upon the previously learned ones. This allows children to be able to decode every word in the reading, based on what they already know. There is no reason to guess at any of the words in the text!

Here is a list of some great decodable readers:


Games are a fabulous way to practice the skills you are working on. They are fun and engaging and mask the fact of learning a little bit. In my experience kids love playing learning games.

The list of possible games is endless so I'll just give you a bit of a start...

Take traditional board games such as Candyland, Don't Break the Ice, or Shoots and Ladders and add a learning element by incorporating cards or stickers with words. You can go a step further and challenge your child to read the word then do something extra (name the syllables, identify the tricky part, change the vowel or beginning sound, use it in a sentence, tell the meaning, etc.)

Create active games like throwing bean bags onto words, spelling words while bouncing a ball, obstacle courses with challenges built in, hidden words that children must find, fly swatter words on the ground or wall, and so many more!

As I mentioned, the list of games you could possibly play is endless. Whatever you have, whatever your child enjoys, will make for great reading games to help your child become a better reader.


Writing is often overlooked as we discuss helping children read words. However, many of you have personal experience with writing words, meanings, and phrases as a way to learn new material (think back to high school and college).

As you practice writing words, phrases, and sentences with your child, make sure you are paying attention to proper letter formation, too.

As you map words you will be writing them, however, it's important to go beyond just writing words and write phrases and sentences with them, too.

Here are some ideas for making writing more engaging. Write on a chalkboard or whiteboard, write on the windows with dry erase marker, use paint or glue, write the word cards or stickers for games, and create and illustrate stories.

If you are looking for more information on teaching phonics at home, check out the article How to Teach Phonics at Home.

Language Comprehension

Family Vocabulary

Having been exposed to a wide range of vocabulary is incredibly important for children as they learn to read. If we have already heard of a word before trying to read it, our brain will figure it out much faster. Science has proven this. Having a larger prior knowledge base aids students in learning to read.

So start a family vocabulary club. Pick 2 or 3 vocabulary words for the upcoming week. They can be themed words about the seasons or a holiday, words from recent readings, or whatever you want.

Have different people in the household make clues to hint at what the words may be. Once you know what the words are, do a word study. Find a definition, create examples and non-examples, use it in sentences or stories, then check on its etymology (the origin of the word). Have a contest to see how many times the words can be used in the correct context throughout the week, create a poster or slideshow to present to the family, and create word games to play with these words and the ones past.

At the very end of your word studies, make sure to keep an ongoing family dictionary that you look back at. We don't want to forget these important and engaging words!


Telling jokes is a fabulous way to practice language comprehension.

Here are a few examples:

  • How do polar bears make their beds? ... With sheets of ice and snow.

  • What do you call a slow skier? ... A Slope-poke.

  • What does Jack Frost like most about school? ... Snow and tell.

Each of these jokes allows for a great discussion about words, their multiple meanings, how they have been changed slightly, and gives background knowledge about things they may not know about.

I'm writing this during winter, so the jokes above are all winter-related. All you have to do is pick a theme and Google "jokes about..." and you will find hundreds of easy ways to practice language comprehension.

Word Games

Word games are another very easy way to give your child practice with language comprehension which will, in turn, help them become better readers.

I spy could be adapted to practice rhyming, blending sounds together, synonyms, syllables, and definitions. Simon Says can also be used to practice listening and word skills.

Other examples of word games include crossword puzzles, riddles, change that sound, Scategories, Hink Pinks, and many others.

Discussion of reading

We've all heard that kids should read every day. So let's talk about what that means. Daily reading could mean your child is being read to, reading to themself, reading with others, or listening to audiobooks. The important thing is that the reading is occurring and that children have the opportunity to discuss what they are reading/hearing.

Discussion about what is being read or has been read is a fantastic way to engage your child in language comprehension. Remember that language comprehension is necessary before reading comprehension occurs. So increasing your child's ability to discuss what they remember, what they wonder, make connections to other stories or movies, etc. will help your child become a better reader.

Talk to your child... a lot... using big words!

I'm sure you've heard that kids who have older siblings will say more words, faster. It's true because they are constantly hearing language from their older siblings. Depending on how much older, they may be hearing more sophisticated language, too. The same goes for your child, whether an only or one of several. The more words that kids are exposed to the better. But it's not only words. It's background knowledge, in general. So talk to your kids about all sorts of things!

Reading Comprehension

The goal of every reader is to understand what they are reading. This is what creates joy and magic. It allows us as readers to be transported to a new world or learn new and interesting things. It allows us to enjoy reading and perhaps, grow from it.

We live in a world where more and more jobs are requiring higher-level training and degrees. Children who struggle with reading comprehension will find college-level reading and studies to be more difficult.

These are all great reasons to help your child become a better reader.

What if you don't have the time or don't feel that you are a good enough teacher for your child? No judgments here. If this is you, I would highly recommend finding a trained and experienced tutor to support your child in becoming a better reader.

Keep It Up Tutoring offers in-person and online tutoring options. Click here to sign up for a free consultation today!

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