Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Intentions

I wanted to take today to give you a clear picture of what I intend this blog to be...

I started it because I have a passion for getting kids hooked on reading. I think it is amazing to watch them turn from bored and reluctant to actually bugging you with all the thoughts they are having from reading books.

There are so many blogs out there that recommend books or give book reviews. That's not my primary goal. I love books, and reading and recommending them, but...that's out there.

Here's what you are going to find here that I have not found on any other blog - ways to work with your reader. I want you to feel empowered on what to do with ANY material you have. In teaching you how to do certain strategies, I may fill you in on some great books that I have used (or an author I love) to help you, but the intent will be to give you the tools you need to get your child to read.

I have had parents ask me for years what it is I do with their kids. How do I take them from resistant to passionate? There have been countless requests for me to tutor - but I have a family of my own and I don't have the time (nor energy -- i think i am getting older) to do it.

BUT YOU CAN. And this blog was the perfect venue for me to share what I do so that you can do it.

Let's get our kids reading!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Helping them Understand Confusion -- Hmm?

Today when you read with your child, stop and talk with them about parts of the book where you are confused, where you don't understand something, or where you have questions.

Kids will, for many reasons, just read through a piece, completely oblivious to how much they are not understanding.

Maybe the book is too hard, or the way they are reading it (the fluency) is interfering with the understanding, or maybe, just maybe, their minds are not completely in the book.

We need to show them how it is ok to be confused, to wonder, and to question. WE need to show them that we are just like them, readers...who have their same experiences.

So often kids think teachers (and adults) have it down, never struggle -- it's always just shown to them as voila -- done. Kids need to see process, not perfection. They need to know how to do it.

I will read, throw in my confusion, and then tell them explicitly, "See? I don't have all the answers and it's OK!"

Here are a few ways to say it:

I'm confused about...because I thought/the text said/the character did...
I wonder if?
I wonder why?
Wait a minute - I don't get it...
Hold on, can we go back? I am lost here...

Remember, you are showing them how you are thinking. Thinking happens inside, and they need to hear you say it education, this method of instruction is simply called "Think Aloud." It works!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Continuing Comprehension Talk

Yesterday we talked about making connections with your own experiences. Today we are going to stretch it out to include connections to other books, literature, and even media they have had contact with.

These days, it is very common to have kids pick up books based upon the fact that they have seen the trailer for a new movie based on that book. Now, many of you, like myself, make your kids read the book (or read it to them) before they see the movie, but sometimes you have the reverse too.

It is also very common, if they have seen the movie, for them to read the entire book and simply be playing the movie in their heads. What do I mean? Well, we know that many times, movies are different from the books - sometimes drastically. Take Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- bubble room? None existed.

Many times, young readers, in their passion to read what's the "cool" thing, will miss the fact that the book is different. I even appreciate when they say "That's not like the movie" because it means they are paying attention and noticing the changes.

But I stray from my initial point.

I have no problem with kids seeing movies based on books. It is fun for them to see how animators/directors interpret the books and put it on screen. But I talk to my kids about it too. We talk about the pictures they saw in their heads while reading, and compare them to the screen/tv images.

Ok, but as for connections. Sometimes, they have read another book where a similar event happens, a character does something similar to another from a different book, or even vocabulary words show up.

Perfect example...I was reading with A on Weds. and we were reading MUNCHA! MUNCHA! MUNCHA! by Candace Fleming. In the book, we encountered the word "gnawing" -- we talked about it and she found clues in the pictures and the sentences to help her figure out the meaning. But she still had trouble sounding it out -- gn is a toughie. So I told her the word and we moved on. Later, and TOTALLY UNPLANNED by me (I love it when things simply fall in my lap!), we were reading the newest Katie Kazoo, and in the first chapter, the squirrels were "gnawing" on the trees...She looked at me with huge eyes and said "There it is again! And I know what it means!"

That is connection. Bringing ideas, words, themes from other books and media, and using them to help build your comprehension of the new material.

So today, make connections with other books...

One more month and Nicholas will officially be in the "terrible (although treasured) twos!"

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Comprehension is Connection

Brain research has shown that we learn by making connections -- finding patterns, things we know, and then attaching new information. We may need to revise what we know depending on the new learning, but deep in the recesses of our brains there are memories, feelings, and past knowledge that gets pulled up as we go about life.

Reading is very much tied to connections. What you have experienced makes a difference in how you approach and take in any new text.

If a child has had an experience that relates to the book, it will help them easily slide it in to the slot -- for example, if a child has been to a specific setting, say a museum, then when the kids in the book they are reading take a field trip to a museum, they know what they are talking about.

BUT - not all kids have a wealth of experiences...That is something I as a teacher could never I found other ways to show them they could connect with books. That's what you are going to do.

The best, for-sure connections will come with character's feelings. We are all human -- we feel the same. Identify how you understand what they are feeling. On the flip side, if you don't react a way a character does, mention that need to know that life is grayer sometimes, not black and white.

If you have been places, explain how it connects to your experience. If you have had relationships similar to the ones in the book, tell them who, how, and why it is similar.

Careful...sometimes kids get "connection happy" and try to relate to EVERYTHING in the book. If the character has a dog, the character wears pink, etc...try to model meaningful connections that actually aid in comprehending the story better.

For example, let's use the dog example. Now, if the story involves taking care of a dog, or owning a dog, that connection would be great to have...if a child has a dog too, they know the in's and out's of caring for them and how they behave. They relate to the responsibility, and have emotions attached. BUT if the character just has a dog and it is mentioned as the character is walking in the door one day and never brought up again, it isn't as significant.

The important thing to think about when talking about connections is bringing who you are and what you know/experienced in life to the book. You are letting it affect you, and you are filtering and actively allowing the new information to mesh with what you know.

Another more advanced thinking is realizing that your connections/experiences actually bias you towards the text. Knowing that is really deep. Knowing your reactions are based on what you know previously and then saying, " does that jive with what I knew before, and how am I thinking about that now? Am I sticking to my past thinking or revising it or even completely changing it??"

These are the connections that make a difference in really understanding a story!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More Comprehension Talk

Yesterday I told you the most important thing about working with your child is to really get in and be a partner -- a mutual reader. Be real with them...they know the difference between you "imparting knowledge" and simply relating.

Trust me, the more you simply relate to your child as a reader, the more you will see them WILLING to read, and EXCITED to read.

We talked about having hunches. Today, I want you to talk about when you find something interesting or surprising.

For example, when the story or character takes an unexpected turn -- react! Say something. I would say "Hey, look there! I didn't think xyz was going to happen! All along, I thought xyz, but no, they did this! I WONDER WHY!???"

That last part is crucial. Wondering causes you to continue. Otherwise, it is simply a reaction. Ho Hum, they did something different.

Also, say something about when something doesn't ring true -- either a character has done something atypical to the normal world, or atypical to their personalities. For example, I use a book called "That's Mine, Horace" in my classroom. It involves two characters in takes something that doesn't belong to him, and lies about it. He actually feels so guilty, he gets sick and stays home. The class sends him get well notes -- the unexpected is that when he reads the note from the child whose item he has, the child is very kind and non accusitory. ATYPICAL of kids. Perfect time to talk. I say "Hey -- look how Walter handled that situation. That's not what I normally see kids do. They usually tattle or accuse them of stealing...I wonder why he did that? What do you think?"

See??? That kind of talk makes them THINK about the story. I think we assume too much that kids are understanding books inherently to the level of complexity that we are. Nope. We need to get them to see that kind of thinking.

Another think to point out as interesting or surprising is places where you are just kind of "woken up" -- places where light bulbs kind of pop into your head. It's where "aha" things happen. For example, right after Wemberly's teacher in Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes is talking with the parents, she "decides" there is someone that Wemberly needs to meet. She immediately introduces her to Jewel. Now, I would say, "Hey! I bet Wemberly's parents might have told the teacher that Wemberly was really worried all the time, especially about school. I think that because #1, as a teacher I have had that experience and the first thing I would do is help her find a friend, #2, as a mom I would have said something to the teacher, and #3, the teacher introduces her RIGHT AFTER talking with mom and dad."

Remember, be real. React like you do as a reader.

So go ahead, be surprised and find interesting parts...and TALK!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Comprehension Through Talk

Ok, so I said I would do the other Cat the Cat book today, but I loaned it to a friend last night, so I am going to get to it later.

I want to give you some ways to talk about books with your child. I think it is easy for us to ask the obvious Who, What, Where, When? questions about a book, and even sometimes Why and How?, but there are some really important skills kids learn in having a CONVERSATION about a book.

But they need to be taught -- and remember, teaching is showing them a bunch, then supporting as they try, and then finally, having them do it independently with little to no help.

One thing I have said a number of times is that kids get it when we are trying to be "teachers." They don't want mom and dad to be teachers, they have one at school, for goodness sake. So we need to present ourselves as mutual readers...just like them.

Here we are, going to TALK about the book. Start out with talking about having hunches...about the text, the story, the author, and the characters.

It might be as simple as, "Hey, we've read Kevin Henkes before, and I know he has mice as characters...look! Here's another mouse! I have a hunch this might be Wemberly the mouse. Kevin Henkes usually has the character's name in the title." Then as you are reading, if you get a feeling something is going to happen, TALK! Stop reading, turn to your child and say "I going to happen! I see xyz and they have said xyz, so I think MAYBE, this will happen."

100% of teaching reading is being 100% a reader yourself.

It's funny how we think there is this huge scientific process we need to follow. Nope. Talk to them about what you sense. If you think a character is being mean and the other kids are going to shun them for being a bully, say it!

As our kids learn to talk, what do they do -- they mimic. We say words, they say them. Reading is the same way. If they see and hear these thoughts you have, guess what? They will start having similar thoughts. They will see how it works.

Let them jump in with hunches they have too. Remind them that there is no right or wrong answers with hunches. It may or may not happen the way you thought, but that is just the story taking a turn in a different direction than you thought. Actually finding out and paying attention to whether the story followed or didn't follow your hunches is a good thing. That means you are paying attention to the story, and going with it.

So today as you are reading, have hunches and talk about the education world they are called predictions, so you can use that word too. Hunches is just more fun to say...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Teaching Word Patterns and Character

Here's my take on CAT the CAT Who is THAT? With your young or struggling reader.

With young readers, it is a great opportunity to teach them words for common animals - cat, duck, fish - the words repeat, which makes it so fun and "easy" for them to read. They will in no time have it memorized and will be able to read it to you. When you get to the alien/creature "Blarggie" -- you can tell them the word and explain that Mo chose the funny name because it is fun to say and kind of silly (I read that from an interview with him).

Have them search for pigeon, of course, and make sure before you start reading, you read the blurb on the back to get them ready. He uses the words "spunky feline" -- take this chance to tell them feline is a special word for cats, and spunky -- well, find some sort of person or experience that you can give them an idea...later, when you have read the book, ask them if they can tell you where she's been "spunky." That will solidify their understanding of it -- if they can't tell you, show them where you think she has. The next time you read the book, I guarantee you they will tell you she's being spunky! He also mentions in the blurb that there is a surprise...wonder aloud before you start reading what that will be, and when you get to the Blarggie, point out "hey! I bet that's the surprise! It's not a normal animal, like the others! The blurb was right!"

I would, as an extention, take the cat, duck, fish, and mouse words and brainstorm a bunch of rhyming or pattern words. For young kids, you can do it aloud, but with the older, struggling ones, I would definitely write down the words and have them see them...and maybe even write them. When you have them write things, you can do it a couple of ways. One is you write, they write next to yours. Another is you write in highlighter, they trace (good handwriting practice too - older kids can do print or cursive), or they can simply watch you write and then write it on their own paper. You can stick with real words if kids are older, but young kids it's just fun to rhyme, so use nonsense too. Rhyming is an important part of understanding words, reading, spelling and letter sounds.
Fish, dish, wish, swish -- nonsense: mish, nish, quish, bish, etc...
Mouse, house, blouse, douse -- nonsense: gouse, wouse, pouse, etc.
Duck, buck, luck, suck, cluck, muck, tuck, puck, truck, pluck - notice that some words completely
change by adding one letter and making a blend -- truck, tuck -- point that out
Cat - bat, rat, gnat (silent letter!), that, pat, fat, mat, Matt (name!), attack (ooh, older readers) etc.

If they are older, have them hunt in books for words with the patterns. Patterns can come in the beginning, middle, or end of the words.

Now, I mentioned character. I love how the characters show personality through actions, expressions, and in the words they say.

For example, duck is dressed with a hat, and says "It's a pleasure" -- duck is more formal, polite, respectful, mannerly --

Fish is dressed in swim trunks and blowing bubbles - he says "hey dude!" -- he is relaxed, leisurely, trendy, up to date --

Talk about it. Cat - happy go lucky, fun loving, carefree, surprised (when Blarggie appears), friendly, etc.

Give them ways and words to describe the characters. Ask them their favorites and why.

Later, when your kids are learning "character analysis" in school, you will thank your lucky stars they did it. That is why I use these with struggling readers, even in third and fourth grade. I may have them do this type of talk with a book and then show them how I can do the exact same thing with a level appropriate book they have.

Usually when I work with an older kid with these type of books, they have a job to prepare to read for a younger child. One of my favorite things at the beginning of the year is to get a Kindergarten buddy class. My third graders learn all about an early reader book and practice reading it over and over so that we can go read to them and "teach" them all the great things they can notice in the book. They are the teachers, so they don't freak out that they are having to work with a "baby book." They put on their best -- and guess what...they get better at what they need to work on too! Tricky Mrs. Forrest!

So there are a few things to do with CAT the CAT. I will have more ideas and extentions on the next book tomorrow.

Friday, February 19, 2010

You are Doing a Great Job

Yes, I know that parenting can be a difficult task...believe me, with four boys, there is nothing more humbling.

We want to give them the best, help them become their best...and to be happy, well adjusted people.

Last night, as I looked around the room, I was thinking, "Wow...look at these kids. These parents are awesome for getting them involved in reading and books so early on." The fact that you have, in fact, found this blog, is an indication that you too, are making it a point to include reading as one of those things that will help your children for a lifetime.

I know it was a teacher, Mrs. June Grube, in 5th grade, who introduced me to an author, Eve Bunting. It literally changed my life. Mrs. Grube was, as many of us have, THE teacher who I know shaped a major part of who I am today. And her nurture, plus an actual author in my life! There was no way I wouldn't fall in love with reading and writing.

Now, I didn't really struggle with reading, but I will tell you I was one of those who read well, but didn't remember what I read unless I had to. But Mrs. Grube and Eve Bunting changed that. They showed me the stories, the emotions, the depth of books.

You are doing that. You have the motivation and desire. Now let me help you find material and ways to work.

I just wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job...even if the going is rough right now, your child will get that reading bug...just keep it up.

I am going to go read now.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Way too much fun with a crowded room of preschoolers!

So Mo was FANTASTIC...loved every minute! The room was PACKED -- with adults and "the shorter version of adults" as Mo likes to call kids...

He was animated, he engaged the audience, he made reading F U N!!! Which is exactly the point.

He read his two newest Cat the Cat books -- which are perfect for new readers, as we predicted. I really like them. I will sit down with them tomorrow (I bought them both of course) and will come up with some things to do when reading with your child.

That room was filled with 5 and unders, but they were engaged and involved as he read. Some fans had t-shirts, had drawn their own versions of his characters, and almost all had new books ready for him to sign and personalize. That's awesome. Think of the great start as readers those kids have.

I stood patiently in line with Nicholas squirming in my arms, anxious to get my chance to speak with him. Matt, who also went (Ben and Sam had baseball -- sorry they missed) was cute...he kept trying to figure out exactly what he was going to say to him. He was shy, yet moreso, impressed. He knows the treasures books are, and he admires those who actually pen them.

Mo was gracious to each one who walked up to the table, and chatted with everyone. I stammered something about blogging about him and how I understood how he crafted these books for those young readers I teach. I thanked him for giving such wonderful material, and that there are so very many kids who have him to thank for being fluent readers who LOVE reading. Not very articulate, I can you in 20 seconds say it all?

I do hope at some point he can read here how much I do appreciate his work and use it to get kids reading.

Matt chatted the whole way home about how great it was to meet him and to have heard him read the books. "Mom, you do it well, but he REALLY got into it -- even Nicky was laughing his head off!"

Yeah well, I guess I have some big shoes to fill now when I read aloud.

Yea Mo! And thanks, for signing our books -- Forrest boys do rock!

Today I Will GO!

Well, it is going to be a fun-tastic night enjoying Mo's visit and getting a chance to have him sign some of the boys' books.

I will let you know the whole shindig...I think it will be great to hear him read the books. I am sure it will impress my sons!

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Am Invited to a Party!

This is a cute book - I like it for the storyline, but it is also great to introduce some unusual vocabulary too!

Piggie gets an invite to a party, but doesn't know what to wear...Gerald KNOWS parties, so he and she get dressed up in various outfits - the humor part is that they don't take off the former attire...they just keep piling it on. Finally, they are ready, and lo and behold, they are dressed appropriately!


There is "Fancy" lettering and italics to talk about. But with this one, it is more the subtle humor that we can examine.

When they get dressed up for the pool party, you can introduce lots of vocabulary - snorkel, fins, floaties, etc. Also, they have a joke "We will make a splash!" -- that's something to point out.

They are "fancy" and you can discuss tuxedo, dress, pearl necklace, etc. Lots of vocab again.

Finally, you can discuss irony - not in that term, necessarily, but the fact that they put on all the clothes and then in fact all the other characters have done the same thing because it is a "Fancy, pool costume party" -- they will automatically laugh, but if you explain a bit why it is funny, that will take their comprehension deeper.

Remember, these are all building blocks with accessible, fun literature that they will learn to do and apply to harder text!

Enjoy being invited to P and G's party planning!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ok, I Am Going!

I know I had said it would be pigs sneezing, but one of the twins "loaned" the book out -- so we are looking at his latest, "I Am Going!"

Again, all the punctuation, etc. that I mentioned earlier can be taught in this one...


In this one, Gerald is putting on a dramatic scene like no other before. You can talk about his sincere worry about Piggie "going" and how he doesn't want her to leave.

You can teach concepts of tomorrow, week, month, and year.

You can use lunchtime to introduce compound words.

You can talk about the fun things G and P do together as friends and what they do with their friends.

At the end, you can talk about the concept of sharing.

You can also mention how, without giving time for someone to give you all the information, you may send yourself into an unnecessary fit. (Which young children are known to do from time to time).

Ok, I am going to bonus you with another one of my faves, "I Love My New Toy!"

Saying Sorry/Forgiving Others
Friendship over Possessions

In this piece, you can preface the time together talking about how they feel when they have gotten a new toy. They will easily connect with Piggie in the joy of having something new.

Later, Gerald accidentally breaks it --you have to turn the book sideways to show how high it went...discuss why Mo Willems did that -- and then talk about the situation, the sadness, anger, blame, shame of about how they handle their feelings themselves and with each other.

It takes an outsider to show them both that the toy is actually intended to "Break and Snap" so now embarrassed Piggie has to backpedal on his anger towards Gerald. There is a dark cloud spiral above their can explain "disgust" and why.

In the end, Piggie and Gerald are seen running off in the distance -- explain how they are drawn smaller to show they are far away, and the toy is left, abandoned in the forefront. Talk about how they chose each other and why.

You may think these seem really obvious and simple. Yet when we are looking at young kids, new readers or struggling ones, this is exactly what we need to be teaching them.

Kids who are struggling can't pick these themes or a main idea, they can't examine character with grade level material. Why? There are a host of reasons why, but here's what I am thinking about these books.

They love them. It's easier to grasp the ideas. They get practice at it. They get good at it. They build confidence. They begin to see how it goes with tougher material...voila!

I think we beat our heads (and theirs) unnecessarily trying to do this kind of work with too difficult level of text.

If you are doing this will your young readers - they will be FABULOUS at it as they grow. Yea!

Ok, now I have to hunt down my "Sneeze" book -- or just buy another on Thursday.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Watch Me Throw the Ball!

I am going to start with one of my favorite Gerald and Piggie books, although it is REALLY hard to have a favorite.

For those of you who think that you are going to have a step by step "lesson plan" for using this book with your reader, hold on. I don't want to give you a prescripted method, and I have very strong beliefs as to why I shouldn't.

Teaching is a craft. Yes, there are "lesson plans" - formats that work if you follow them from beginning to end. BUT - reading is very recursive, which means it goes around and builds upon prior learning and grows, and goes back around with different content...
so instead of a step by step, I am going to give you some general guidelines, and then you just need to be alert to your reader.

I know so many parents who say they feel "unqualified" and don't know what to say to their kids when they are reading with them. I want to take that burden OFF your shoulders...let your child be your guide, and enjoy. You are not there to be the "instructor." You are "coach and guide." Tell your kids that too. You know how they love to work with parents? (Note the sarcasm) Mine didn't like to work with me either, until I told them I wasn't their teacher, and I wasn't being Teacher when I read with them. I just told them I wanted to share what I knew about good readers and enjoy books with them. Try telling them this -- it will be news to them. Most often if you are getting resistance from your child when doing reading, your child is thinking they are doing a "homework task" for YOU or for the teacher, not for themselves. They see it as something they are being forced to do for someone else. Break down that wall.

Always sit down and give them a brief summary of what you remember doing with them last time you read together. If it was the same book, start out with "I remember so and so doing such and such last time we read. Have you read more since then? What's going on so I know where we are?" If it is a new book, remind them of it. "oh, remember yesterday in the book xyz, we read about xyz?"

Then praise them specifically for something they did the time before. "I love how you read longer" "I like how you went back to find that fact" "I like how you sounded out that tricky word" "I like how you used the context clues to figure out the word X" Be totally specific. You can be sure they will do it again today, if not even better.

Next, offer something by way of something you tried as a reader. You probably want to talk about something you know they need to learn. For example, if I wanted Ben to read smoother, I might say "Hey, the other day when I was reading my book, I was trying to read the talking parts smoother, more like the way people talk. Do you want me to show you in your book?"

Then MODEL what you mean. Show them in their books what you are talking about. So with the smoothness example with Ben, I would go to the first set of dialogue, remind him that I see quotation marks - which tell me that people are speaking. I would next identify the speakers, so I would know how to make my voice sound (and tell him such) and then actually read a few lines of the dialogue smoothly.

I would then say, very directly, "Hey, how about you try that today? I know you can do it!"

If they stumble with what you are trying to get them to try, support them. Model more. Don't jump in over them, just tell them, "Hey, you did great. Let me do the next one so I can practice." Give them enough modelling, yet enough time to try it on their own.

REMEMBER - NONE OF THIS IS GOING TO WORK IF THE BOOK ISN'T "JUST RIGHT" FOR THEM - go back to my earlier blogs on just right books if you don't know what I am talking about.

Here's some things (besides all the things from yesterday -- you can teach all those things too) that are specific to "Watch Me Throw the Ball."

The ball makes movement - watch the dashes for direction
The characters feel proud, impressed, confused, elated
Piggie does some current day "cheering" and happy dancing
Elephant is in a spot where he doesn't quite know how to handle telling best friend something
Telling truth
Doing something "just because it's fun" not just to win or be the best
Reader and Gerald know something and Piggie is clueless to it

Here's an example of how I would do a reading with say, Sam. He's read Gerald and Piggie before, so here's how I would approach him:

"Sam, remember G and P? How they are best friends? I think they are sooo funny." Today we are going to read this one. Here, let's read the blurb on the back."

He will read, and then I will ask him what the blurb said that got his mind ready:"What do you already know is going to happen?" If he gets it, we move on. If he doesn't, I will coach. "I know that G and P are going to throw the ball, and there will be someone who knows something that the other doesn't. Hm...I wonder"

"Hey Sam, last time we read G and Piggie, remember how they surprised each other by that rock? I also remember that you did an awesome job of watching the punctuation and making your voice stop when you came to either a period, exclamation mark, or a question mark. Today I wanted to tell you about womething I noticed in one of my books the other day. There was this character Joe (I made that up -- fake facts never hurt) who was in this situation where he had to tell someone the truth, but he knew it was going to hurt their feelings. Have you ever been in a situation like that? What did/would you do? Let's watch today in the book. I know that Gerald and Piggie are great friends, but can you pay attention to how they react to each other? I want to see what they do."

Then as he reads, I will stop him periodically to talk to him about their interactions. I will model first..."oh, see what Gerald did when Piggie asked if he could throw too?" and we'll talk about it. Eventually in the book I will throw it to him first "Hey, how did he react?" until finally, Sam will be pointing out what the characters are doing.

That's an example -- do the praise, the coaching, etc.

Here's another thing. Pick one area to work on. If your child is struggling with decoding, focus on that for a few days, even weeks, and don't worry about these other things. BUT - if your child asks a question like, "Mom, what does that squiggly line above his head mean?" By all means take that opportunity for the teachable moment.

Tomorrow, I hope Pigs don't make you Sneeze!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Four More Days 'Till Mo Comes to Town!

Ok, I know I am a Mo Willems fanatic, but he is a favorite for kids of all ages...and I get to meet him on Thursday night (along with a bunch of 3-5 year old Austinites in pjs)!!!

I want to spend the next few days giving you some ideas on how to use his books. I will give a general overview of things you can teach using all his books, but then some specific things in some of the books that you can look for.

Let me begin by saying that in each of his books, you will find HUMOR. Your child will be laughing from the beginning to end.

Some other themes:
Friends (Gerald and Piggie Series, Leonardo, Edwina, Knuffle Bunny)
Being Yourself (Gerald and Piggie, Edwina, Leonardo, Big Frog, Naked Mole Rat)
Childhood (Knuffle Bunny, KB Too)

You can talk about character traits and personalities in each one. I like to show throughout the Gerald and Piggie series that they do things and react to situations consistent with their personalities...
Some ideas : Gerald - cautious, worrisome, helpful, gloomy, humorous, careful, silly
Piggie - carefree, happy, encouraging, adventuresome, young, funny, loud
Edwina - unselfish, good listener, caring, forgiving
Leonardo - resourceful, discouraged, different, unique, sensitive
Trixie - young, frustrated, proud, worried, excited, loud
Pointing these traits out may not seem like a big deal, but introducing kids to these types of traits and vocabulary will help them immensely. As your child grows in their understanding of books, they will realize (and be taught) that characters act/react consistent with who they are (their traits and their personality) and that many times, character change is at the crux of many plots of books. So knowing their character is important.

Another thing his books have is a blurb to get their minds ready. I have talked about the importance of that earlier.

He uses speech bubbles in many of his books -- I think it does a number of things for readers.
  • They point to/identify who is speaking -- kids will understand there is talking going on
  • they are color coded in some books to match characters' colors - another way to identify speaker
  • the bubble isolates a sentence or two, making the fluency manageable
  • the bubbles contain the words and make them less intimidating to readers

I LOVE to use his books for what I call a "punctuation study." He uses all sorts of punctuation, and you can easily have kids find them and talk about why they are used and what they mean.

  • Periods - stop your voice, take a breath, speaker is done with that sentence.
  • Commas - pause voice, create drama, character is listing
  • ... Ellipses - to create drama, pause for surprise effect, leave you hanging - voice draws out and slightly up
  • Question Marks - someone asked a question or is wondering something - voice goes up
  • Exclamation Marks - Voice gets louder - yelling, shouting
  • COMBINED MARKS - for example, Where is Piggie??!! - loud, exclaiming, and a question

You can point out the different size and style of fonts - how each change should influence how you say something - for example "VERY FANCY" in Gerald and Piggie is done to show fanciness and is read with a little more emphasis. He uses bold, italics -- all these can be taught, and should be talked about.

In each of his books, you can do some great comprehension work:

Kids can PREDICT - and learn to give reasons why they think that might happen. They can VERIFY - they can see whether their prediction occurred and give evidence if they were correct or not. They can SYNTHESIZE - pull the facts together and explain as a whole what happened an reasons why. They can ANALYZE - take pieces from the book in isolation and explain why they happened and things about the character. They can APPLY - see how the book relates to them, see how they can learn from this in their lives.

I will give suggestions on how to do this with each book in the upcoming days.

As I have said previously, these books are great for fluency. They can learn to use expression and smooth reading with these books.

I am interested too, in the new series CAT IS CAT that is coming out. It seems that, from the titles, these books might be great for that pattern/decoding work I talked about in a previous blog. I think Piggie and Gerald are great for it too - You can pull out patterns of words (ing) or blends (th) and have them hunt for them in the books and then create a list together of new words with those patterns. You know I am going to be buying them Thursday night, so I will let you know about them.

The books also repeat words throughout the book so kids get more than one exposure to words at a sitting. It helps for those struggling/new readers to have a familiarity with those words and to see them a few times.

And the illustrations...let me give that some attention. He is, at best, an amazing artist. His pictures capture emotions and characters soooo well. They are a readers number one support, and make them fall in love with the characters, and subsequently, the books.

Ok, and you can teach sarcasm too - one of my faves...

Pick up one of his books and run through this list of "things to teach" and see if I am will be floored at what incredibly powerful and important teachings come out of these shorter, well written books.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Brand New Readers

I wanted to tell you about a series I have been using for about 4 years with new/young/struggling readers.

They are called Brand New Readers, and there are many reasons I love them. They come in sets of four - they are small and manageable for little hands, yet not board books.

Each set has a character or group of characters that have different "adventures," so once they are familiar with one book, they will recognize them in the following three.

They are set up with a little "how to" page for parents at the beginning of the book. They offer suggestions on how to introduce and read the book. At the back of the book, they give parents another page that suggests ideas on how to talk about the book.

The books themselves are crafted well, and with early readers in mind. The writers knew what they were doing. Here's why:

  • The back of the book has a "blurb" to get their minds ready
  • They have short, one sentence per page -kids will learn about sentence structure and how to read it fluently rather than phrase by phrase
  • The vocabulary comes up more than once, yet in different contexts so the kids are seeing/decoding the same words throughout but not in a boring, repetitive way
  • There is a STORY! it isn't simply pattern words stuck together like some early readers that make little to no sense.
  • They are humorous - kids enjoy them.
  • The font is good size, type for kids to recognize letters/word easily
  • The adventures are things kids can relate to
  • The pictures support for decoding and comprehension
  • The punctuation is more complex...some include quotations, etc. to introduce to new readers

I would highly recommend this series over many of the products out there for new readers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Suggestions...what have you tried?

I am at a point where I need to hear from some of you. What have you tried? What's working? What would you like more of?

I have so many more things to share with you...I am not at a loss for material by any stretch of the imagination, but I want to respond to need.

That's why I am here.

Think about questions you have, perplexing kids, frustrations...leave some comments and I will do my best to help.

By the way, when I did the Fancy Nancy vocab this week, it went perfectly...she learned some great new words!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Power of Positive Talk

Today I want to touch on how instrumental you are in your child's reading life.

In each interaction we have with them, we have an opportunity: we can build, encourage, instill confidence and make them feel capable, or...well, you know the alternatives.

I want to give you some suggestions on how to talk with your reader.

I always start out with "I love how you do what good readers do!" and then give a very specific praise.

Pump them up. But always remind them that they are ALREADY a good reader. They may be struggling, but we don't want to focus our talk on that. Coach them.

"You did a great job, can I tell you something that I have to do when I get to a tricky part?" That opens them up. You relate as a reader. It isn't just THEIR problem. Every reader has these struggles.

"You are awesome...I love how you sounded that out. When I heard you read that, it reminded me of what I know good readers like you do when they..."

"I love how you did what good readers do -- when you reread that part."

"You are a great reader! You made it to the end of that sentence and then took a breath! Good readers pay attention to the punctuation just like you!"

"I love how I can hear the characters! You make your voice sound like theirs!"

Even if they do it only once. PRAISE PRAISE PRAISE!

Always say it. Don't think you have told them enough. When reading isn't easy for kids, they label themselves and it is hard to break. "I'm not a good reader." is what I hear far too often from kids.

My first response is always, "Huh? How can that be? Let me see your book -- oh, I love how you have a book to read! Can you tell me how you came to select it?" Minor? Yes, but no. If I tell them they are a good reader, they will start to believe it.

Don't jump in too quickly to "fix" things for them, and then tell them how you loved how they were good readers in trying to make sense of their reading.

Change their mindsets with positive words!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A good read for boys who love baseball

Last night I started reading a book that I had bought for Ben and Sam around Christmastime, but we are just getting around to it.

It is perfect timing, actually, because we are starting baseball, and the book is about a group of kids, baseball, and being a "know it all" -- it's part of a series of sports books called "Backyard Sports" by Michael Teitelbaum...and it is a young reader. It also apparently has video games available with the characters.

What I liked about this book was actually the good writing used. It has a lot of baseball vocabulary and content, so kids who don't really know about the game might have trouble understanding it. But those kids who know and love the game, will really enjoy it.

Here's an example of what I liked.
"Andy dashed down the line from third, a blur of arms and legs." Great description - not simplistic...

"Ernie paced around behind the mound, trying to calm down. He took a deep breath, picked up his mitt, then got ready to pitch to Ramon." Love how he shows us how he's feeling rather than simply saying he was nervous.

"He looked around the field. The grass was bight green and cut low. The dirt in the base paths were smooth and brown, an neatly separated the infield and outfield grass. No weeds. No bare spots. And no tree stumps." Good clear description and sentence variety.

This is the type of reading we want kids to pay attention to, especially when they are starting to write more descriptively. The more they have read this good writing, the more apt they are to mimic, and then absorb as their own.

In Texas, we have a standardized test called the TAKS. It is a HUGE deal here, and we are always wanting the kids to be prepared for the fourth grade writing. I am definitely going to have Ben and Sam read this now, and encourage them to try this type of writing now, in first grade...

Anyhow, I got off on a tangent. I really enjoyed the chapters I read last night, and I recommend them to you. The team isn't just boys either...there are girls, and different ethnicities too.

Check them out and tell me what you think -- oh, and the video games too. I don't think I will be getting those, but if your child is motivated by that first and then they read the book, it's a means to a good end!

Monday, February 8, 2010


Whenever you are going to work with your child, and especially if you are unsure of what you are doing (You are doing great, by the way, don't worry), it is always good to preread what they are reading.

Not to screen it, but to get yourself prepared. When you are going to teach them something, you want to read ahead and kind of think through how they might get tripped up, and locate specific parts where you can stop and talk about what you want to teach.

Think like they do.

Also, think about maybe one or two times you can actually model what you are trying to get them to do, then maybe two or three times where you both can practice together, and then maybe one or two times where they can do it on their own.

Go from total support to having them do it on their own.

For example, if you are working on decoding, show them the first couple times how you sound out a word. Then the next few times, sound it out together, and the last few times, have them try it on their own.

Always support until you feel they are ready to do it on their own. Don't worry, sometimes we think we are "giving" them answers. That's not what I am saying. I am saying they need to see and hear what good readers do so they can begin doing it on their own.

You are a great teacher, don't ever doubt the power of your reading with your child!!!!!!!!!

Context Clues

One of the most important skills you can teach your child in reading is how to use clues in the text to help them figure out unknown words.

This will come up their entire's tied to problem solving skills, so if they are good at getting context clues, they will be bolstering their problem solving abilities too.

Take my reading with Ben today. We had just purchased Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems, and he was DYING to read it -- it has the word naked in it -- you know 7 year old boys.

So he was reading along and came to a portion where the mole rat goes to look at a "portrait" of the Grand-pah mole rat. He said the word perfectly and just kept going. I let him go, and on the very next page, one sentence after the word "portrait" was the word "picture" in reference to what the moles were looking at. I stopped him and asked what a portrait was. He said he didn't exactly know, but because it said picture and the illustration was showing a big painting of the Grand-pah that he thought it was a picture of someone.

HOORAY. He used his context clues.

1. He looked at the illustrations/information on the page in pictures or graphics.
2. He read on a sentence or two to see if there were more clues.

Usually, authors will give clue words around sentences where there is a higher vocabulary word included. There is support. Kids just need to recognize when they don't know a word, stop their minds for a moment, and then read on a couple sentences to see if there is a clue "replacement" word or a description of something that would help them understand the word they didn't know.

Now hold on. Sounds simple. Have kids look for clues.


This is a skill you have to model over and over again.

I love the Mark Teague books Dear Mrs. La Rue for context clue work, especially for third - sixth grade. The vocabulary in there will get them -- they aren't simplistic.

Look through the books your child is reading. Think like them. Read before they do, and earmark in your mind words they may stumble on, and find those clues. Then, as you are reading with them, you will feel prepared to help them with this type of work.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

More on Vocabulary and Reading Aloud

I know I have been talking about the decoding aspect of reading and have kind of gone on a side trip with vocabulary, but all of reading is so intricately intertwined, that strategies overlap and kids will get the benefits in all areas.

Today I want to suggest something that I don't typically hear teachers suggest. In second/third grade, as kids are getting into chapter books and have that 20-30 minute daily reading HW requirement, parents will tend to "take turns" reading with their children in the chapter book they are reading. This is fabulous, don't get me wrong. I think that is a very good thing to do for a number of reasons - it will aid comprehension because they are not working on the decoding aspect, they will hear fluent reading modelled, and they will enjoy spending time with their reader.

But here's my thought. Instead of reading aloud portions of your child's chapter book to them, get a picture book and read that with them. Count it as part of their reading time, but let them read the chapter book on their own with you listening, or silently.

Here's why. Picture books are FABULOUS for vocabulary. They are chock full of great descriptive words and words that are content related...WITH picture support. You will hear many teachers say that kids can't relate to certain concepts and learning because they haven't had the experience. But I beg to differ. There are many kids who, if their minds are actively getting those pictures from books, will understand things.

Let me be more specific. I know that there are many inner city kids I taught in LAUSD who had never been to the beach. So if I was trying to teach them about the ocean, or about different geography, their experience would be limited. There are several things teachers try to do. They bring in actual sand, they play music sounds of the ocean, they show videos...but I also suggest that they get great books with the beach as the setting, or nonfiction books with some great pictures of the beach.

Think about Nicholas, my one year old. He doesn't know what all the taxi, trucks, diggers, etc. are in his books yet, but that doesn't limit him. He learns to name them. To put a label with the pictures he sees in his word books.

Picture books are incredibly difficult to read too. I cringe when I see struggling first graders loaded with picture books rather than early readers, because I know the difficulty the vocabulary will pose.

So here's your opportunity to introduce that vocabulary. I am going to do it with the Valentine Fancy Nancy with my little reader, "A" on Weds. I know a few things here.

"A" is reading chapter books, but reading aloud the whole time is challenging, and tiring.
She loves girly things.
Fancy Nancy is a great fun read (with lots of pink).
We are a few days away from Valentine's Day, so it is on her mind.
Fancy Nancy contains lots of great vocabulary that I can introduce to her and we can get picture support from.

On one page, Nancy is putting together an "ensemble" - Ya think a Kindergartener is going to know how to say the word, much less know what it means? This is going to be the perfect opportunity for me to teach her a new word.

In the next few days, I am going to talk about context clues...getting at the meaning of the word by looking at what's around it in the text.

Again, today - try letting them fly with the chapter books. Get a good picture book, let them sit back and just put those pictures to motion in their minds. Point out those new vocabulary words that they can't say and don't know. Make them look at the word. Make them look at the pictures.

You'll be pleasantly surprised at how often those vocabulary words will start cropping up in their chapter books later...and now they will have had exposure to them!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Making Experiences a Springboard for Reading

Today was one of those Saturdays where it is filled with kid activity. We had baseball tryouts this morning and Cub Scout badge field trip all afternoon.

The cool thing is (besides them reading all the way to Elgin and back) was that they were asking questions. We went to a tree farm and they learned how to plant trees. While they were using the dibble (the thingy that makes the holes) and planting the seedling (making sure the roots were down deep), treating with polemer (forgive my spelling - it aids with the watering/growth), and then measuring 6 feet for the next seedling, they were thinking.

It got them interested. They wanted to know more, now that they experienced it.

So of course, I suggested we go to the library or bookstore to get some nonfiction books on tree planting, recycling, and taking care of the Earth. Austin is a really "green" oriented place, so I am sure there are plenty of reading resources.

Now, your kids may not be doing this kind of thing, but are there animals, places, things they are interested in? Do they want a pet? Make them read up on those things.

Motivation can come through interest. Try it out!

(I will let you know when I have discovered them in the backyard with my husband's shovel putting apple cores in the ground!)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Wondering if this Works?

I'm not. I am sure it is working, and here's how.

The past few days I have been doing my reading with kids -- one is a neighbor's daughter, and the other is volunteering with 1st and 3rd graders at our neighborhood school.

I know we're on the right track when my neighbor tells me that her daughter woke up at 5 am, ready and excited about reading with me -- AFTER SCHOOL. She had her sachel packed with the books we were reading and told her mom, "I can't wait to tell Miss Jewellyn the part where she actually turns into Speedy the hamster and..."

She's hooked. It's not me, although relationship is the's the approach.

It's not, "Let me teach you - here's what you aren't getting."
It is "You are a great reader! Let's keep doing what good readers do - here's another strategy now that you know so many others!"

At school, all the kids clamored when I walked in the 1st grade room "Are you taking me first? Do we have a Gerald and Piggie book?" and then when I left, they all had REQUESTS FOR NEXT TIME.

Do they care? YES. Are they hooked? YES!!!

The third grade teacher greeted me with a big smile, stating that the kids I had worked with had already asked first thing that morning if I was coming.

When I finished working with J, one of the kids, he asked where he could actually go buy the book we were reading.

"Buy it? Borrow it from me!" I smiled. He smiled back - he's good to go.

So are you thinking, "hmm...will this stuff really work with MY kid?"

I guarantee it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Decoding Strategy - Get at the Vocab Crisis

Now, I want to make note here that if your child is struggling with High Frequency Words, having them "sound out" is not going to work (i.e. the, she, he, my). They need to know those automatically. Lots of times they just need to see those words many, many times. I use flashcards, play matching games, time trials, and over and over exposure. Those are sight words.

When we are talking decoding strategies, we are talking about words that can be sounded out, chunked, and split. Many of these words tend to be multi syllable words. Funny how I remember doing a ton of "clapping" words and syllables when I was young, yet it seems to be less and less done - or kids forget to do it. Splitting the word into syllables will help them find those chunks. It is especially helpful in spelling too.

I have noticed too, that decoding words tends to be a toughie as kids start out reading, then it wanes for a while. All of a sudden, it will resurface, usually around end of 2nd, beginning of 3rd. This is why.


In first and second grade, it is fine to read simpler, more general words. But as books get harder, the vocabulary gets way more complex.

Here's what I am suggesting. First step is to make sure those phonics, phonemic awareness are intact. If they know those patterns and sounds in smaller words, they will find them (you may need to model finding them for a while) in the bigger words.

Long words sometimes intimidate kids. Again, make it managable. Have them break up the words. Look for hidden words they know inside the words.

They may need to do some rereading to see what would fit.

Here's where I want to take a tangent, however. Even if they manage to decode these bigger words, they will not know what those words mean. Many words become much more precise, and kids need to know that authors are 1) introducing them to new, better words and 2) creating a more vivid experience and picture in their minds.

For example, I was reading with a child and the girl had a magenta glittery heart on her shirt. It was a black and white illustration, so when my reader got to magenta, she sounded it out, reread, and kept going. I stopped her, praised her for using her skills to sound it out correctly, but asked her what it meant. She shrugged her shoulders.

My tangent is this: don't think the work is done if the word is sounded out correctly. That's only half the battle.

I know that kids' vocabularies are not vast. They need to be, however. They need to know there are other words for "great, nice, cool, happy."

Here's a great way to expand your kids' vocabulary. Play free association with them. I will do this with the boys all together. I find that sometimes one will think of something another doesn't, and the others will learn.

Sit with paper in front of you and give them a word. ANY word. Have them free associate ANY words that come to their minds and you write them down so they can see them. ANY words. You can ask why and how it came to mind, but that isn't necessary. You add in your own -- stick in words you know they may not be familiar with, and then tell them what it means and why you thought it should go with the word you wrote down.

Brain research shows that our mind will learn things easiest by association. It will web things together and sort them out. The strongest learning happens when we connect things to something else we know. Sort of like a peg your mind hangs that jacket on. It will stay put.

The game is fun, yet don't let them give you two words and stop. Set the timer. See how many connections you can make in 5 minutes.

Here's the great thing...not only are you teaching them word meanings/associations, but the more they see those words, the easier it will be for them to say and decode them!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Poetry Rocks!

Yesterday I talked about how many kids struggle with decoding. One way I have found that works well with kids is poetry and rhymes. There are so many great books written in don't have to check out a huge anthology of poems.

Let me tell you what I do with one book, and you can change/adapt it to fit books your child would enjoy.

I LOVE the book Waking Beauty, by Leah Wilcox. It is a humorous rendition of the traditional Sleeping Beauty, which most kids are familiar with. In this version, however, a dense prince doesn't understand that he must KISS her, and goes through some alternative methods to wake her, much to her three fairies' dismay. It is written in rhyme, so the rhythm will also help your kids with fluency.

Why use it with decoding? Because there is rhyme. There are patterns in the words that rhyme. That will give additional support with sounding out and noticing chunks in words.

Another thing you can do is use Dr. Seuss books. They tend to focus on a specific pattern in the book (i.e. Hop on Pop) - either type up portions of the text and have them underline all the "op" patterns, or there is also some cool neon removable book covers I have used, where I cut small squares and the kids simply go stick the neon where they find the pattern.

Point is, the more they see the pattern, the more they will start to notice it. When they get to other words, for example "operation" -- you can point out that it begins with that pattern they were working on.

An additonal stretch after you have focused on a specific pattern (let's stick with op), have them brainstorm any words they know with that pattern and write them down. Or better yet, have them pick up another book and do a search for any words that have that pattern in them.

This may seem tedious, but trust me, if you fill in these gaps, the decoding will start to fly. They will start to blend those letters together.
They are called onsets and rimes - and they are more common than you think!

Here are a few good ones to start with:
There are many more.

Also, you can do the same sort of thing with the blends -

Try using poetry. It is fun to read at all ages, and they will get a good chance to work on those words!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What if we are stuck?

If comprehension and understanding are breaking down, it may be the words themselves that are problematic.

Remember, they should be reading Just Right books, so they should encounter no more than 5 words on a page that they are struggling with. If there are more than that, you need to find a better fit in terms of books.

Decoding issues are the easiest to notice. They won't know the word, so they try to "sound it out."

Educators have had issues regarding phonics, phonemic awareness, and word attack for to present, when, what's better, etc. The fighting wages on - publishing companies are constantly "revamping" their material to fit what educators are clamoring for at the moment.

Suffice it to say your child needs a blend of all those things, and yet each child is so different and may need work in different areas. They will need phonics, knowing the letters - and that they have sounds and what those sounds are. Phonemic awareness is that aspect where they manipulate the smallest units of sound - a phoneme, to help them for example, when sounding out the word "hat" they blend the sounds H A T together to form the word, the letters aren't simply sounds in isolation. And they also need to have a bank of sight words (usually High Frequency Words - is, the, my, etc.).

You may or may not know which of these things they need work on, but entertwining activities in all areas is a good idea.

There are a plethora of websites and resources from stores to help you work in these areas. I am not here touting any new ways of doing it. I do know that there is less and less time in the classroom these days, and it seems that what I call "Word Work" -- spelling, phonics and phonemic awareness seem to get strong attention in grades K and 1, but as 2nd and 3rd graders, they are expected to have it down. Here's what worries me about that, and why I suggest you may want to get some resources of your own.

In 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th, there are gaps in some of their word work knowledge for some kids. When those gaps are ignored and not filled in, it will get harder for them to progress with more complex reading.

In those grades, they are stretching their knowledge base of words...the vocabulary is much more precise and complex -- multi syllable words are the mainstay. If they are still stuck with smaller words, they will frustrate eventually.

When kids come to words they can't say immediately, give them a few seconds. Don't jump in immediately. This will give them the feeling of success if they can do it, and they won't feel they must have you there. Teach them to do it themselves.

If they are truly stuck, ask them to get their mouth ready. What letter(s) does it start with? What sounds does it make? What would fit there and make sense? How long/short is the word?

Sounding out is a progression too. Kids go from one letter at a time and blending to "chunking" -- looking for what I call hidden words inside a bigger word or sounds (i.e. ch, sh, ock, et, etc.) together to help them sound out the word.

Some kids get stuck in the one letter at a time stage - you will find them sounding out every letter, and not having an idea of how to pull it together. Those kids need help finding those patterns (at, ack, et) so they can begin the chunking.

Tomorrow...we will talk about poetry and using that to aid both fluency and decoding.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Step One

When kids are aware they don't understand something, and yet you have determined that it is a just right book for them, what do they do?

Yesterday we talked about getting them to become aware when they are confused or stuck, today I will give you one or two things they can do. Our goal is, as I just said, get THEM to do these strategies. But you will have to teach, model, and help them along until they become independent at doing them.

I want to preface this too: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF MODELLING IT FOR THEM (i.e. Show them). It is far, far better for them to visually see you do it as you tell them.

Ok. So let's just say your child is reading along and comes to a word they can't say. First thing you want them to do is STOP READING.

If your child has been understanding the story until this part, you want to ask them some questions...

"What makes sense here?"
"What clues in the story do we have so far that would help us?"
"What letter(s) does it begin with? What sounds do those make? What word would you put there that starts like that?"
"Does it start with a capital letter? Could it be the name of a person or place?"
"Look at the illustrations. Do we have any clues?"

The answers and the type of question you ask will take you into other strategies.

Today we will start with the last question, "Look at the illustrations."

I know that many books for older kids don't have many pictures. However, if you have an older child who is struggling through that chapter book that has no pictures at all, you may need to back up the level and use a book that is a tad easier and may have supportive pictures.

Point out to your child that every author/illustrator does EVERYTHING ON PURPOSE. They want kids to love and understand their books, so they give clues in the words and structure to help.

It's funny how as toddlers, they love the pictures -- they will point out minute details in them, study them, and rely naturally on them to give them story. But as they grow older, they begin to notice the pictures in a hazy way - they don't really examine them as help in understanding the words they are reading.

I am a firm believer that illustrators and authors work together very hard to create just the right images to help those readers. So kids shouldn't ignore them, especially if they are stuck.

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel is a young reader that does just that. They have lots of support in the pictures to help kids decode the words. As I was reading with the first graders last week, I found myself asking them to first look at the title of the chapter they were supposed to read, and then we did a "walk through" of the chapter...we simply looked at the pictures, page by page, and talked about what we saw and how we could predict the story in a general sense.

Later, as they were reading, when they got stuck on a work, I noticed that often times, there was a clue in the picture that would support them. I would simply say, "Oh, remember what we talked about on the walk through? What clues can we find to help us with the word?" That was a huge help. As the chapter went on, I noticed I didn't have to cue them to look anymore...they did it automatically.

Sometimes the pictures don't really help. I tell them that too. That's when you know you need to reach into your toolbox of strategies and get another one.

As kids get better, we do want them to depend less on pictures for the story, but as I said, with struggling readers -- the authors have them there - why not use them??? It would be as if you were reading an article about some wonderful vacation spot, and they had pictures of the hotel, beach, etc...but you wouldn't let yourself look at them. WHY NOT???

Ok, now with older readers. Less pictures. That's good, because we want them to be making images in their minds, but sometimes there are very complex descriptions of events, characters, and places that the author finds important to understand.

My Doom Machine book by Mark Teague is the perfect example. He has these very complex aliens that he describes, and I do sometimes find myself breezing through the description until...there is a small black and white illustration. Not on every page, nor every chapter. But when they are there, I look at them. That really helps. It gives support. Now, I can understand how the alien does something because I know it has these really weird legs...

In nonfiction it is even more crucial...maps, pictures, charts - they are all there to help kids understand. You wouldn't believe how many kids don't even look at the pictures in their Social Studies and Science books.

OK - Strategy one: USE THE PICTURES