Upskill your children’s reading using our practical tips

21st October 2017

I often am asked by parents whether it is more important if their child is better at maths or English, and my answer is always the same: reading is our educational backbone, and as teachers we must ensure that all of our children leave primary school being able to access the whole curriculum, something that is not possible if you can’t read.

Welcome to the first of an eight-part series about how we can use practical, everyday strategies to ensure we are teaching reading implicitly throughout the day.

Once our children have learned to decode words using their phonics knowledge, we have to model each reading skill with the same enthusiasm and muster. Today’s blog will give you tips on how to teach information retrieval and develop vocabulary skills.

1.       Skimming is where we ask children to read quickly through a text to identify what the text is about. But ask yourself how often you require your students to do this. This skill can be practised across a number of subjects: skim through a historical diary, find the main points of the effects of global warming or use the skills to find more about your chosen artist in art. Encourage the children to use the headings and subheadings when reading non-fiction, and adverbial openings in fiction to determine how much time has passed. Less confident readers may want to use a ruler so that they are only focusing on one line of the text at a time, which is particularly helpful if you are working on a more complex text. Remind the children to work logically through the text from top to bottom rather than starting from where they ‘think’ the answer could be.

2.       Scanning is where you are looking for specific information, for example key words. This is best practised using non-fiction texts: finding meals on a take-away, the price for a family ticket at a theme park or the page to find a toaster at Argos. Pick up a range of leaflets from your local Tourist Information Centre, or even in the displays at supermarkets. It is possible to take a number of catalogues from shops, and use them as starter tasks in the morning. Ask your children to find the toy that is £9.99 on a particular page, or look up the possible reference pages from the index. Just a word of warning- parents won’t appreciate this near Christmas, but it is a sure-fire way to get the children engaged. Why not link it to maths and ask the children to add up the price of the cheapest 3 items on a page. Scanning practice never needs to be boring again.

3.       Highlighting key information will allow your students to process information after they have found it rather than requiring them to keep it in their heads. This is an important skill to get right; when you first introduce this method to your class, you may find that many just highlight whole sentences and paragraphs. You will need to model how to highlight only the key words-because if used for a question that requires the students to use their own words in the answer, the more words you have to reframe the harder it becomes.

4.       Vocabulary knowledge is key for all readers, but it can be difficult to develop this skill in the classroom especially when you have a wide range of reading abilities. Use your class text to introduce new words, and dedicate some wall space to ambitious vocabulary. Remember that we very rarely add new words to our own vocabularies unless we are able to use the word regularly after its introduction. This means that having a ‘word of the week’ has limited value unless you link its use to a series of activities over the week in which it is on your wall. Why not have the children make their own thesaurus using old scrap paper/ half-filled jotters? This way students can take ownership of the language they use. One final tip is to create synonym word maps to banish nice, good and bad from your students’ lips forever!