How to Help Your Beginning Reader

BOB Books

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You have a beginning reader – congrats!

Perhaps you have dutifully ordered a variety of beginning reader books to help launch your little one’s reading skills. The books have arrived in all their simplistic, sight-word-rich, repetitive glory and you are eager to show them to your budding little bookworm. But… Now what?

How do you help your child actually learn to read these books?

Beginning Reader Books
Beginning Reader Books

It can be tricky trying to figure out what strategies to use, what scripts to follow and how much to help young readers as they work their way through a book for the very first time.

Now that my oldest is about to start kindergarten and is showing interest in learning to read, I’ve had to dust off my old teaching skills to help guide him through this process.

First off, bring out all the BOB Books!

I love to start with BOB Books for many reasons. Are they the most riveting books? No. Will my little ones stay up late into the night to devour the next BOB Book in the series because they just HAVE to know who Mat sat on next? And if Sam is still sad? Probably not. But I love the simplicity of these stories and have found that they are perfect for the strategies I like to employ when working with beginning readers.

The illustrations are minimal and therefore don’t distract from the text.  The pictures also clearly support the text, which can assist a young reader in figuring out an unknown word. The sentences are also simple and full of sight words.  And portions of the text repeat which makes the text predictable and thus easier to read.

There are many other wonderful beginning reader books out there now that have more engaging story lines, but I tend to find that those books are still too complex for emergent to truly beginning readers (please comment if you know of other books/series that you would recommend here!). Also, I always spend a good chunk of time reading a variety of stories to my kids so they are exposed to more engaging literature in addition to these more basic beginning reader stories.

And now, onto the reading part…

When reading with my beginning reader, I use a variety of techniques that I have learned through teaching. There are many ways to engage with beginning readers, but this is the mix of strategies I have personally had the most success with and feel the most comfortable utilizing.  I think it’s important to mix and match strategies and techniques that fit you and your child.

Before reading

If the book is new for my beginning reader, I usually read the book to him first. I read slowly and point to each word.

I know what you’re thinking… But wait, isn’t that cheating? In my opinion, it’s hard to cheat when it comes to helping beginning readers. I want to do all that I can to help my child learn to read and comprehend text independently. He is just figuring out how this whole process works, therefore I want to give him all possible supports. Reading the book first helps him learn the story and become familiar with the text, which helps with his overall reading fluency, so I’ll all for it.

As he grows as a reader, I’ll pull back from reading the stories first. I’ll probably start doing what they call a “picture walk,” which is where you look through the pictures of the story first, and think and talk about what the story might be about, but you don’t actually read the words.

During reading

I like to start by having my beginner reader read the tile. Then, supported by the pictures and our pre-reading, he is usually able to start to tackle reading each page. He obviously stumbles here and there as he makes his way through the text. Below are some common stumbling blocks for him (and many beginning readers) and how I handle them.

BOB Books

Common beginning reader mistakes and how I respond

Unknown words

After sitting quietly for a few seconds, my beginning reader will sometimes turn his head towards me with that common furrowed-brow expression that indicates he has no clue how to read the next word. Here are my favorite ways to handle this:

“Let’s reread this sentence and see if we can figure out what word would make sense here.”

Or, if he can figure out the word from the picture, I’ll say, “Let’s look at the picture and see if we can figure out what this word might be.”

If he’s still struggling, I’ll prompt him further to look at the beginning letter/sound of the word to see if that helps him figure it out. I might also ask him to look at the length of the word. If there are lots of letters, it’s going to be a long word or if there are only a few letters, it will be a short word.

Putting these strategies together, I might say, “We know the sentence is ‘I like the [unknown word].’ We know the next word starts with a C and it only has three letters so it’s a short word. Let’s look at the picture. Do you see anything that starts with a C sound?”

If he still can’t figure out, I’ll help him decode it phonetically. I’ll go through each letter in the word and help him think about the sound each one makes. Then I’ll help him put all those sounds together.

If we’ve used all these strategies and he’s still struggling with the word, then I tell him the word. I’m not sure if this is what current teacher guidelines would recommend you do at this point, but I want to avoid turning this reading time into an exercise in frustration. I always let him struggle with the word a bit, and walk him through all the above strategies, before I give him a word.

No matter what strategy we use to figure out an unknown word, I always have him reread the entire sentence with the correct word. This helps reinforce and solidify his knowledge of the new word, and helps with his reading comprehension.

Adding/Omitting words

My beginning reader is known to spice up a story by adding a few extra words into the text while reading. This is where pointing to each word as he reads comes in handy. If I notice he added a word, I’ll say to him “Match what you’re reading to what you’re pointing to – are you running out of words (or, do you have too many words)? If yes, then let’s try that again.”

Learning to match each written word to a spoken word helps him refine his sense of one-to-one correspondence, which is an important skill for learning to read (and for growing as a mathematician, so bonus points).

Misreading a word

Sometimes my beginning reader will read a word incorrectly. He’ll often self-correct the mistake but sometimes he’ll just keep on reading. I usually wait for him to finish the next sentence and then I say, “Wait, let’s read that other sentence again. Did that make sense to you?”

Sometimes he’ll reread it and correct the mistake, but sometimes he’ll reread it and not know that it is wrong. Or he’ll know it’s wrong but doesn’t know how to read the word. If he doesn’t know it’s wrong, I’ll reread the sentence and talk about why that word doesn’t seem to fit in that sentence. For instance, I’ll say, “You read this sentence as ‘carrots in the pig.’ Hmmm, it doesn’t look like the carrots are in a pig in the picture? Also, I know ‘pig’ ends with a G sound and this word ends with a T sound.”

If he knows he read the word wrong but doesn’t know the word, then I employ the above unknown word strategies for helping him figure it out.

Once we get through an entire book, we always celebrate – usually with several high-fives and a few “great jobs!”  It truly is a great accomplishment for beginning readers to get through a book.  I think we lose sight of just how difficult of a task this is for someone that has never done it before…

I hope some of these strategies will come in handy when you’re working with your beginning readers. Please share any other tips, techniques or strategies that you use with your beginning readers – I’d love to hear!

Curious about whether your child is ready to start to read? Check out my post on reading readiness and pre-reading skills.

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  1. Great advice. I love BOB books. They’re TRUE early readers. I always wait for my kids to stop reading the page before I correct anything. Disrupting them is so discouraging!

  2. I love this advice! I was actually thinking about starting to learn reading with my four year old so these tips are coming at the most perfect timing!

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