Understanding the Teaching of Reading: A Guide for Parents

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By Jill Carroll-Hughes

In a rapidly changing world, where we do not know what our children will become, we know one thing for certain: that reading will stay fundamental to future success.

parent reading with children

Reading is the key which unlocks all learning. It opens the door to magical faraway lands and can teach us anything we need to know. It can provide escapism, power, advice, knowledge, motivation and inspiration. So, how do we get to grips with reading at home?

Simply decoding words on a page does not constitute a good reader. Schools are now looking to pupils to demonstrate their understanding and are doing this by using certain domains. These domains simply refer to the skill being tested/learnt and are part of the National Curriculum for reading in England. The skills are: Explaining, Retrieving, Summarising, Sequencing, Inferring, Making Comparisons and Predicting. Vocabulary also plays a vital role within all of these. The following table explains each domain and provides related activity ideas, but please note that they may not be suitable for all books and every age category. Only choose one or two things from the table every time you read. The reading of the book should not become a secondary activity! Encourage your child to read a selection of fiction and non-fiction books.

Content Domain Hints and Tips Possible Questions & Starting Points Example Activities
Predict (Key Stage 1 & 2) Create an air of excitement around the book. Don’t be afraid of saying what you think – it provides a good model. For example, “I wonder if that map means they have an adventure?” Look at the front cover and make predictions about what you think will happen, or what it is about, based on cover/title.

Do you think things will still go to plan, now that… has happened?
Stop after each chapter or page and ask your child what might happen next.

With pictures, ask: “Do you think there are any clues to tell us what might take place?”

Read the blurb and then say: “What do you think will happen in this story? What sort of things will this book tell us about?”

Write down some things you each think will happen. Keep them a secret. When you have finished the book, open them, and see if you were right!

Ask AFTER reading: “Was that what you expected to occur?”
Sequence (Key Stage 1) This is a life-skill! It can also help develop the ability to infer and reason. What happened after…?

What happened before…?
Recall the story so far, by taking turns to re-tell a sentence.

Draw pictures of each main event.
Summarise (Key Stage 2) This is such a useful skill for the future (report writing, study notes, etc.).

Remember less is usually more when summarising!
What happened after…?

Tell me what has happened so far.
Take it in turns to summarise the events so far, by talking about them in alternate sentences.

Sum up the chapter you have read in one sentence.

Summarise the events so far in 30 seconds. Ready, steady, GO!

Skim the text (a great skill to have) and summarise each paragraph in a short sentence or a sub-heading.
Infer (Key stage 1 & 2) This means: what we know from the clues we are given.

This normally carries a heavier weighting in tests.

This involves higher order thinking skills, which demonstrates a deep understanding of the text.

Talk about the definition of the words ‘infer’ and ‘imply’.
What do you think this word… tells us about his mood?

Can you describe what the weather might be like from this word…?

What gives you the impression that it is set in deserted building/a forest etc.?

What does the word… imply about her attitude?
Copy the sentences and phrases that seem to tell us… what time of year it is/that she is poor/that he is friendless etc.

Make a list of things which could mean that a character is aggressive/kind/lonely etc.
Vocabulary (Key Stage 1 and 2) Tests normally focus quite heavily on this domain.

This is an area where your child will start to bank ideas for writing.

Ensure your child knows that the same word can have different meanings, depending on the context.

Try to use any new words learnt in everyday conversation.
What do you think this word means?

Can you find a word on page… which means the same as…?

Can you think of a better word for…?

Which words has the author used to make us feel anxious/happy/excited etc.?
Think of another sentence where you can use that word. If your child is younger, you model it for them in a new sentence.

Look in a thesaurus for words that mean the same or nearly the same as the new word.

Make a list of all the words you think make the story sound exciting/eerie/sad etc.
Explain (Key Stage 1 & 2) Keep on asking ‘why?’

Explaining lends itself to lots of work on information texts.
Who is your favourite character and why?

Why do you think there are sub-headings in this book?

Explain why the author wrote that in bold print.

Would you recommend this story? Why? Why not?
Write a book review together.

Start a sentence for your child to finish, using this format: “I thought the part in the forest was spooky because…”

Find a phrase which means that the character is excited/angry etc.
Retrieve (Key Stage 1 & 2) This involves finding information.

This domain always features on tests, but does not always carry a great amount of marks.
What day was it that…?

What happened when…?

How many times did she?

Copy what… said to…
Have a true or false quiz.

Name as many… as you can in 30 seconds.

Make a list of everything he did in Chapter 1.
Make Comparisons (Key Stage 2) Check your child’s understanding of the words ‘compare’ and ‘comparison’.

This is an important skill in all curriculum subjects in the National Curriculum.
Compare this book with the last one you read.

Compare the characters within the books: their personalities, their reactions to events, their appearance etc.

Is this story similar to any other by the same author?
Choose people from your family and compare them to the characters.

Compare settings by remembering places you have been to and saying why the book reminds you of those places.

Contrast a character with someone you know. For example, the Grandpa in the story isn’t nothing like your Grandpa because…?
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