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Kick starting your child's reading comprehension skills

Improve Literacy Newsletter

20 March 2008 -- Issue 3

In this issue:

1. Hints and tips - activities to help your child's comprehension
2. More useful resources
3. Readers' tips

Hi everyone!

There are a huge number of strategies out to teach children to read, and it's hard to find two experts who agree on the 'best' method. The truth is that different approached suit different readers, so it's a good idea to try as many different ones as possible with your child.

1. Here are a handful of useful hints and tips for helping to kick start your child's reading comprehension skills:

a. Use contextual clues

It's no accident that all books for young children contain a lot of pictures. Children can start to get a sense of context from these pictures and, even though they might not yet recognise all the words you are reading out to them, they can begin to associate certain words and sounds with those pictures.

It's a good idea to talk to your child about the pictures, and to ask questions about what she thinks is happening, or what is going to happen next. If she doesn't know the meaning of a word, point to a picture that might give her a clue. You can also remind her what the book is about, as this will often prompt a correct answer. It's a great way to sow the seeds of critical reading comprehension.

b. Use the alphabet

See if your child recognises the letters that make up a word, and get him to 'say' the sound that the letter makes. Then repeat the sound yourself, as this will help to reinforce the learning experience and grow his confidence. See how many other words he knows that start with that same letter.

If your child recognises certain letters and words, he might be able to work out that certain combinations of letters appear in other words too.

c. Test word recognition

Test your child's 'sight vocabulary' - this can be defined as the words that they can recognise immediately, and which they don't have to pause to work out the pronunciation and the meaning of. This may work better for slightly older readers, but try asking your child if there are any words in a passage or on a page that she recognises. You could then ask her to read them out, and even spell them out if you wanted to give her more of a challenge.

d. Label objects in your home

Stick some sticky labels (address labels are a good size) on various objects around the home, and keep them there until your child has got used to seeing them there. Then swap them around, and get your child to put them back on the correct items.

2. Some useful resources for reading and comprehension

Here are a few useful resources for help with reading and comprehension. We've written a brief critique of each one:

Yahoo! Kids reference Website ( - this great website with a simple search function which gives dictionary definitions and encyclopedia results for the words entered. The 'Ask Earl' function is fun for kids too.

The Oxford University Press Children's Dictionary (see - The OUP has a huge range of great children's dictionaries, and this site has a good 'parents' section, with advice on which of their children's dictionaries to choose. You can order a dictionary on the website, and also get a 'word of the week' on the site.

Dr Seuss website ( - an all-time favourite for kids and adults alike. This website has most of the well-known Dr Seuss characters, and features toys and online games, literacy-related events, and an online store where you can buy all the Seuss classics. You can guarantee that your child will love this resource even if he or she hasn't been introduced to Dr Seuss before.

Kid Sites ( - a useful repository of activity websites for kids. Many of these are information-based, allowing children to find out about scientific, natural, arts and music-related topics. A great way to broaden their general knowledge and their reading skills in the process.

3. Readers' Tips

Tracey from Winnipeg, Canada, says "My daughter Grace (7) and I sit down and watch one of her favorite TV shows together. We then go to the table and together we write about what happened in the show, and what Grace thought about it. Later she reads back what we wrote. She really enjoys this as she treats it as funtime rather than work".

Yvette from Wanaka, New Zealand, says "My little boy loves watching cartoons, so I thought I would buy him some comics to see how he would react. He is now just starting to follow the words - he loves it because there isn't too much writing, so he doesn't feel overwhelmed.

Nella from London, UK, says "My son Joshua is 8, and he has just started writing to a penpal who he met when we were on holiday. He loved reading the letter he got from his penpal a few weeks ago and finding out what he had been up to. He is now writing a letter in return!

Keep sending in any tips that work for you, and we will try to show them in future editions.

4. The Improve Literacy website

Our website provides information and advice to parents about child literacy and ways to motivate children to read. Feel free to spread the word to other parents or people you think might be interested in our articles and newsletter!

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