Tips for Scaffolding Beginners Onward into Reading
For parents, teachers, & other learning-to-read partners
From a one-year-old on Mom’s lap to a Kindergartner sitting alongside his teacher to an English-language learner beside a classroom partner, there are some gentle scaffolds that can help a beginner feel confident and slide smoothly into real reading. I've taught nearly 1,000 children to read, and in the process I've noticed strategies that have worked for most who are just beginning the journey into reading. See if any of these tips (below) help you bring the joys of reading into the life of a child. Also, look for more tips inside our newly published article, "Right From the Start: A Kindergarten Program That Helps Prevent Reading Failure."
Tip 1: Read aloud daily.
The actual act of reading is puzzling to most beginners. But, just as a jigsaw puzzle’s picture enables our placement of its pieces, so too is learning to read made easier when we start with the big picture; and only later do we locate the pieces of reading's puzzle inside---moving from whole to parts.
How can we help novices acquire that big picture before moving into its pieces? Both research and common sense indicate that the most influential element in learning to read is early and frequent joyful experiences in what the act of reading looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Read daily to children!
Tip 2: Use lots of predictable texts.
The more predictable the text, the more comfortable a beginner feels (even though you will get tired of those same old books). So it is that preschoolers select the same book for us to read over and over. That predictability allows an easy return to the flow when the adult slides into reading's parts (Tips 5 & 6).
Tip 3: Chat about the book & enjoy!
Isn’t this what all lovers of books do? Reading becomes joyful when we have fun inside books, discussing them, guessing what will happen next.
Tip 4: Select a variety texts.
It’s helpful to introduce a variety of books, fiction and non-fiction. Select texts with minimal print on the page and ones with lengthier stories and more print. We begin with minimal-text books; and only picture books for the very young (until the child is able to sit and listen for greater lengths of time).
Tip 5: Use finger-slide reading in minimal-text books.
Beginners may not be aware of wordness; that is, they might not realize that it is the squiggles on the page that we are reading. Sliding a finger beneath text in minimal-word books (like P. D. Eastman’s) will inform a child that we are not pulling the story out of the sky; it is connected to those squiggles on the page.
Tip 6: Grow from finger-slide into finger-point reading.
After a novice has witnessed lots of finger-slide-pointing in minimal-word texts, move gently into finger-point reading. Point at each word, while still adhering to fluency. Slowing reading pace and focusing on expression will allow you to maintain a slower fluency for pointing. Invite "echo reading" into the fun. Try not to drop into a word-by-word dysfluency. Please, do not point to the words in every book; that can become annoying.
What does this 19-month-old child already know about reading. Is he ready for finger-point reading yet? (Click here.)
Tip 7: "Stop and Guess"
Start with very predictable books, stop near the end of the page or sentence and ask, “Hmm, wonder what’s going to happen next?” Wondering is reading's sine qua non! Whether the novice’s guess is correct or incorrect, read on and let the novice decide. This leads novices into print decoding strategies that integrate and focus on both meaning and word form (sounds). Phonics does not come first. It comes after hours of read-aloud experiences–––the big picture prior to its pieces. Here's an example of how to teach "Wondering."
Tip 8: Play "window a word."
Even with our pointing, most beginners do not notice spaces between words, which indicates they have not moved into “wordness.” We can draw attention to wordness if we “window” or frame a word. Select repeated nouns first. Then, after reading, return to the text to play Window the Word. “I see the word mother. Can you window mother?” Next, it’s the beginner's turn!
For more, see my book . . .
. . . When Reading Begins (Heinemann), which explains these processes in detail. This book was written after I'd taught almost 1,000 beginners to read. Check it out!