Reading is a pretty big part of our everyday lives.
Whether we’re reading novels, study texts, directions, doctor’s prescriptions, or a new work contract, it is an important ability that we will need throughout our lives.
So how do we go about teaching reading to kids?
After all, not every child enjoys reading.
Some would much rather be playing in the sandbox or drawing pictures or watching cartoons instead.
But teaching a child to read is helping them set the foundations upon which much of their academic career and many parts of their everyday lives going forward will build on.
Be it in school, college, or in their careers, this is a skill that they will have to rely on more and more.
And so it is necessary to teach reading to kids, to raise avid readers from a young age.
Here are my best 10 tips to help you along!
Top Ten Tips on How to Teach Reading
1. Read Aloud
No child is ever too old to be read to and reading to a child is the most powerful tool to teach our children the beauty of language, the lilt of grammar, and the meaning of the text.
Beyond all this, when we read to children, we are modeling the love of story and language, compelling us to learn how to read.
For young kids, this can be an essential and enjoyable time of engagement.
Don’t read in a monotone.
Do different voices for different characters, narrate parts of the story to sound funny or suspenseful or exciting to help kids grasp these different themes.
This makes it much more interactive and fun for kids.
Auditory and kinaesthetic learners, who process information better when they are listening to it and interacting with it, respectively, can benefit from these interactive narrations.
Visual learners, meanwhile, are better at translating information into mental pictures.
By reading to them engagingly, you can help exercise their imaginations and inspire a love for reading.
2. Select Reading Materials that Match the Kids’ Interests
Too often, we are forcing reading into children’s hands that do not interest them at all.
By asking them what intrigues them, what they are wondering about, and what excites them, we can match books to them that truly suit their learning journeys.
If the child loves dinosaurs, read about dinosaurs.
If the child loves sports, learn about famous sportspersons.
If the child loves superheroes, read comics and novels featuring them.
Children are inherently curious.
If they begin to associate reading as a way to feed that curiosity and answer their questions, they will be more eager to read themselves!
3. Match Books and Reading Material to the Child’s Reading Level
You don’t have to be a teacher to learn how to do this.
In the classroom, great teachers have systems and assessments to measure children’s reading levels.
But even in the home, you can pay close attention to how easy it is for a child to read through a page.
If a child stumbles over literally more than one word per sentence, the reading material is too hard.
If at the end of a page you ask the child what they just read and they cannot recount it to you, it is most likely this material is too hard.
Most children gravitate very naturally towards books at their levels when given the opportunity, and when conversation about this is honest and real.
For teachers, assessments such as the DRA and Fountas and Pinnel’s systems are beneficial and can help teachers match books to children.
Difficulty reading could also be indicative of challenges your child might be experiencing with things like vision, the ability to interpret letters or symbols, telling apart colors, etc.
If you see them struggling with the text, despite adjusting difficulty levels, do seek a diagnosis for any specific reading challenges.
You can then take this into account in your reading strategies.
4. Focus on Comprehension
Celebrate the child’s capacity to retell the story or to share insights he has as he is reading.
What about this reading makes you wonder?
What kinds of questions come up for you?
What in this book relates to your experience?
These are all valuable questions to ask the child and prompt a more in-depth reading of the text than merely sounding out words.
This also lets the child know that you are eager to listen to their thoughts.
It gives them more confidence in voicing out their opinions and actively taking part in discussions.
The earlier they begin to develop this trait, the more it will help them later in life to think critically and speak their minds clearly and confidently.
5. Help the Child Build Stamina
The way I describe stamina is that it’s all about reading “long and strong.”
The excellent reader can sustain reading stamina for longer and longer periods.
Help your children build stamina by setting realistic goals of small increments of time and then building them up.
Again, do this by feeding the child’s interests and their enthusiasm for reading and the material – not by imposing compulsory reading on them that they may or may not enjoy.
6. Create Time for Reading
This seems simple, but indeed, the lives of children have gotten busier than ever before.
Encircle reading time with value by making it sacrosanct: nothing interrupts it.
This can be a special quality-time for you and your child, as you read and enjoy books together.
Your child will associate reading with spending fun times with you, and this will feed their enthusiasm for reading further.
If you enjoy the same things they do, they will be able to talk to you about it, express themselves more effectively, and develop their curiosity and love of reading with you.
7. Make Reading and Writing Connections
I always say reading is like breathing in, and writing is like breathing out.
Offer fun and exciting ways your children can respond to text through writing, whether on paper or online.
Children have strong feelings about what they read and love to share them.
For example, you could have them write a letter to a character or person in a book they like.
It could help them learn how to express appreciation and gratitude.
You could even have them write a letter to a person they don’t like.
Writing can be a great outlet to express the developing emotional spectrum of your children, as well as a means of teaching them how to organize and present their thoughts.
8. Let Reading Become Lively
Reading does not have to happen in isolation or silence.
Children love to respond to a text with dramatic interpretation, group art projects, and collaborative group-talk about a book or a poem.
Make sure your reading community feels joyous and community-spirited.
9. Build a Vibrant Reading Environment
Make sure you have a wide range of texts available, both fiction AND nonfiction, comics, manuals, blog sites, cereal boxes, you name it, the world is alive with words.
Children need to see that reading is far more than just the chapter book (although we love those too!)
10. Be a Passionate Reader Yourself
Find out what you love as a reader and let your children know about it.
You are a great mentor and role model for them.
It is of the utmost importance that they see what is terrific about reading and why you love it.
Let your spirit be contagious.
Children are curious little things, and by appealing to that curiosity, how quickly kids can pick up reading, only through their interest and determination, will surprise you.
Hopefully, these top ten tips on how to teach reading give you an excellent place to start.
Now I’m curious to hear from you!
Which tip are you thinking of trying first?
Pam Allyn is the Executive Director and Founder, LitWorld
Pam is widely known as a motivational speaker advocating for reading and writing as human rights that belong to all people. Her personal quest to bring literacy to every child stems from a deeper desire to bring dignity to every child, and to empower children to read and write powerfully, effectively and with passion in ways that will change their worlds and the worlds of others. Her work has been featured on Good Morning America, The Today Show, Oprah Radio, The Huffington Post and in The New York Times.
Pam is the Executive Director and founder of LitWorld, and is also the Executive Director and founder of LitLife, a national organization dedicated to school improvement. She is the author of the acclaimed and award-winning “What To Read When: The Books and Stories To Read With Your Child-And All The Best Times To Read Them” (Penguin Avery). Her most recent book is “Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys: How To Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives” (Scholastic). Her forthcoming book “Your Child’s Writing Life” (Penguin Avery) will debut in August 2011.
Pam is on the Leadership Council of Global Action for Children, the English Language Arts Scope and Sequence Advisory Group for the New York City Department of Education, and the Advisory Boards of the Dream Charter School in Harlem, the Amherst College Center for Community Engagement, James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead, Penguin Publishing’s We Give Books and the Millennium Cities Initiative Social Sector.
[ Updated – October 30, 2020 ]