Two factors that can help kids improve their reading and thinking about reading: 1) Having role models who help them see the skills they’re working to develop, 2) Having opportunities to question and answer questions about what they’ve read. Family or neighborhood book groups can help your children get these opportunities and build their skills and identities as readers.
The Whole Story
The idea here is not an unfamiliar or complex one. The steps to follow are:
- Pick a book.
- Set a time.
- Read the book.
- Discuss the book.
Some key variations to consider are:
- Rotating the selection of the book across family members.
- Make it larger than the household. If you’ve got extended family or grandparents who might want to join the group from afar, think about tools like FaceTime and Skype to help them connect. Also consider adding neighbors or family friends to the book group to show your kids they are part of a community of readers.
- Brainstorm some standing questions. If you’re worried getting conversation started might be difficult, sit with your children to think about how you might jumpstart a book conversation.
- Consult with your kids’ English or language arts teacher on key topics, book suggestions, or language you might try to incorporate to show school learning has a place in the home.
- Make it about conversation and enjoying the book. There will be plenty of time for lessons on reading.
Take time, no matter the grade level of your child to read aloud or have them read aloud to you. This can be in the car, waiting in line, before bed, or anywhere a book will travel. Read alouds help build your student’s ability to pronounce new words and models the habits of a good reader. Pausing every once in a while to ask what they thought of what they heard or asking for a summary can strengthen the experience.
The Whole Story:
This one may seem simple at the face of it. Reading aloud to children is a frequent occurrence in many homes right before bedtime. Unfortunately, the bulk of parents cease the tradition before their children have finished developing as readers. Reading aloud to your child need not be relegated to the hour immediately before bed, either.
Here are some quick, easy ideas on how and when to bring read alouds into broader family time.
- Keep a book with you at all times. Whether waiting in line, at a restaurant for a meal, or in a doctor’s waiting room, take those extra minutes to fit in some family reading time (instead of texting time).
- Use time in the car as a chance for your child to show off their reading skills. For older students who may be able to read aloud, switch the roles of a read aloud and ask them to read to you while you drive. If your child can’t read on their own yet, check your local or school library for an audio copy of whatever book your reading and have your child follow along.
- Similar to the above, use moments at home when you might be busy – preparing a meal, loading the washing machine, etc. – to ask your child to read aloud to you to pass the time and get in some practice.
- Pull in other family members. Read alouds can be about helping your students learn to read, by including other family members as readers or other listeners, you can help your child see good models of listening and engaging in conversations about reading as well.
Making the Most of Read Alouds:
- Question. This can either be to ask questions to check to see if your child is comprehending, find out what they think/feel about events in a book, or ask them what questions they have about what’s happening.
- Model. Especially for readers in elementary and middle school, you can be a great model of reading by thinking aloud as you read or are being read to. Thoughts like, “That’s a difficult word, let me try saying it one piece at a time,” or “That character is similar to another character in the last book we read,” help your child to hear how readers experience texts.
- Take turns. Whether it’s selecting the next book, reading the next paragraph or deciding when to pause to talk about what you’ve read, take turns with your child so that they can own the reading process as well. If you’re going to model as suggested above, this is a great way to help your child get practice thinking, speaking, and acting like the reader you want them to be.
- Balance your reading diet. While books of all types are important for your child to investigate, think about many different types of materials to include. If you find an interesting story in a newspaper or online, practice reading aloud with that. Let your child see the variety of reading opportunities available to them.
Ask your child what their vocabulary words are and what they mean. Then, attempt to use those words appropriately in a sentence. Ask your student to tell you whether you’ve used them correctly or incorrectly and how you might improve your usage.
The Whole Story
Similar to last week’s suggestion of Quick Writes, this week, we’re looking at how family literacy practice can put school vocabulary into practical use. This week, we’re considering how families can help students think about what it means and sounds like to use new vocabulary in spoken conversation. How can you structure these conversations?
- Ask your child to share an individual vocabulary word with you and share what it means in their own words.
- Follow up by asking questions for clarification such as, “What’s another word that has a similar meaning?” “Who might use this word?” “What kind of things would I read to see this word?”
- When your child thinks you’ve got a good grasp on the word, ask if you can try to use it in a sentence to see if you’ve got it right.
- Speak the word in a sentence and ask if you’ve used the word correctly.
- Either way, ask your child to explain why they think you used the word correctly or incorrectly.
- Try to see how many sentences you can each say using the word in new and appropriate ways.
A word of caution not to bombard your child with all of their vocabulary words in one sitting. For one, this will make otherwise fun, playful conversations feel like a learning trap. For another, the goal here is high-quality conversation and use of words, not zipping through all of them.
While Quick Writes and Word Walls can necessitate fixed locations or stable writing surfaces, these Comprehension Conversations can be had while waiting in line, riding in the car, or anywhere you can hear one another talk.
The final added benefit is the reversal of roles. When having Comprehension Conversations with your child, work to be the student and allow them to be the teacher. If they send you in a direction or offer a meaning you don’t think is exactly correct, model what you’d hope they’d do when they have a question – ask if you can look it up and see how the answers compare. The goal is conversation and learning together.
For more on the importance of children hearing vocabulary in the home, you might check out this article from Linguist William O’Grady.
Similar to Word Walls, Quick Writes are just what they sound like. They include taking a few minutes, wherever you and your family are to – stop, think, write, and share. For an added challenge, consider incorporating your child’s most recent vocabulary words into each family member’s quick write.
The Whole Story
Now that you’ve got your family Word Wall up in the kitchen, dining room, or other shared family space; the question is what to do with those words and how to help your child start using and building their vocabulary. One easy answer is putting Quick Writes into your family routine. According to the West Virginia Department of Education:
A Quick Write is a literacy strategy which can be used in any content area to develop writing fluency, to build the habit of reflection into a learning experience, and to informally assess student thinking. The strategy asks learners to respond in 2–10 minutes to an open-ended question or prompt…For example, students are asked to write about what they learned, problems they encountered, what they liked (or did not like) about [an activity], questions they may have and about how well they understood the concepts…[T]he integration of reading and writing reinforces meaning construction as both activities use similar processing skills.
While longer, edited writing is important to help your child develop literacy skills, Quick Writes, too, can bolster ability and confidence. Here are some tips and suggestions for how you can use Quick Writes to support family literacy:
- Keep them fun and the pressure off. Come up with family Quick Write challenges with goals like using only words that start with certain letters or Quick Writes that describe something in the room without naming it.
- Build it in. Find a place in your day or week as a family where a Quick Write might make sense. If you find yourself constantly asking your child what they did or learned in school each day only to receive “nothing” or “stuff” as the reply, make time as a family to write down the highlights of each of your days and then share what you wrote.
- Pull in vocabulary. Perhaps using your family word wall or most recent vocabulary from class, ask your child to explain a few key words from the list and then complete a Quick Write as a family attempting to use each of those words correctly. When done, ask your child to help you decide whether each person used the words properly.
- Go beyond writing. Part of complete literacy instruction is helping students attach pictures and images to their understandings of words. Pick a word as a family and then have everyone try to write two sentences using that word, and draw a picture that explains the word.
- Assign a Quick Write captain. If you’re having a day together, out to dinner, or running errands; assign one family member the Quick Write Captain and give them the power to announce a Quick Write up to 2-3 times over the course of the event.
For children who think writing is only a onerous task to be completed for school work, Family Quick Writes can be a way to show writing can happen anywhere. By participating as a family, you’re also modeling for your child that everyone is a writer.