We have all been there, we are listening to a child read and they get stuck on a word. The child turns to us to give them the word or confirm they sounded it out correctly. What do you do in this situation? Give them the word? Nod and say, “you said it right?” It can be tough to find a balance between giving too much help and letting a child figure it out themselves. Afterall, we won’t always be there to help them.
Today I want to share some helpful strategies to use to help when a child is stuck on a word. These strategies will ultimately help the child solve their own problem when you aren’t there reading with them.
A child is reading to you. They are doing well, but then they stop. The child has come to a word that they don’t recognize. They turn to you and ask what the word is. Do you give them the word or have them figure it out themselves?
A child is reading to you. They read a word incorrectly, but don’t stop. Do you stop them and have them fix the word? Or do you let them continue so their flow is not interrupted?
A child is reading to you and they read a word incorrectly. They stop because they realize it doesn’t sound right. They turn to you expecting you to give them the correct pronunciation. Do you give it to them?
We have all experienced one of these scenarios. It can sometimes be frustrating. You want to help, but you don’t want to give the child ALL the answers. The child may be reading slowly and when they stumble on a word all you want to do is give them the word so they can keep going (and finish!).
Before we jump to give a child the word, here are some ways to guide a child when they are stuck on a word.
Ways To Guide When A Child Is Stuck On A Word
Read the book first to beginning readers
Beginning readers are learning to read. They are working slowly to ensure they are sounding words out correctly. When reading the book to them first, you are giving them a chance to hear a fluent reader read, hear the words read correctly, and making connections to what they hear with what they see on the page.
Finger point when reading
When reading to a child, point to the words so the child can see what word you are reading and hear how it is pronounced. Likewise, have the child point to the words as they are reading. This ensures they are reading the correct word and are making connections to what they are saying with what they are pointing to.
When finger pointing, a child can see when they have skipped a word because they have finished reading a sentence, but there are still words on the page they haven’t pointed to. When they finger point and have added a word into the sentence they can see the mistake because they have no more words to point to, but have not finished reading the sentence.
Finger pointing is such an effective activity that is simple to implement!
When a child makes a mistake and stops because they know they made a mistake ask some of these questions:
If the mistake seems like a visual mistake (saying much for munch, cat for cut, etc) say, “does that look right?” “Try that again.”
This encourages the child to look at the word. They may have sped through the word without really looking at it which led to the mistake. The child may not have read through the entire word and guessed what it was based on letters they recognized.
When the mistake is due to syntax (read [red] for read, no for on, etc) say, “does that sound right?” “Try that again.”
This encourages a child to think about how they read the word. They need to think about whether or not they sounded the word out correctly.
You could also try, “did that sentence make sense?” when the child says it does “look right” or it does “sound right.” You could also use this tactic in lieu of asking about if the mistake looks/sounds right.
This prompt encourages them to think about what they are reading and if the sentence makes sense. It’s a great way to get a child to stop and make sure they understand what they are reading.
Often, when reading with an emergent reader, they will come to a sight word they may have forgotten or not seen before. Give them the word. Point to it and have the child point to the word. Then, if the word appears more in the book, do a quick word hunt. Go through the book and point and ask, “what’s this word?” Or go to another page and have the child find the word, point, and read it. This will help them recognize and remember the word when they come across it again in the book.
Compliment the error correction
Whether they corrected the mistake on their own or after you prompted them, compliment them on the correction. Make sure they know they did the right thing by fixing their mistake. Encourage them to do it again when they make another mistake.
Wait until they are done reading the page before giving the compliment! You don’t want to disrupt their train of thought. This could lead to a break in concentration and/or another mistake.
What you could say:
“I like how you…” and give a specific example of how they fixed their mistake.
“All readers make mistakes, but good readers fix their mistakes and I like how you…” so that the child understands that making a mistake is normal and that correcting it is what good readers do.
Anticipate errors and step in ASAP!
If you know a child is going to make a mistake, maybe they made it before, or they make similar mistakes, step in and give them the word BEFORE they read it. If they hear the correct pronunciation, before they make the mistake, they will be more likely to remember the correct pronunciation in the future. It takes several tries to erase a mispronunciation so avoiding it from the beginning is optimal.