Reading For Meaning – The Master Key
23 August, 2016
We love seeing children gain confidence in their reading ability and develop a love for books. But we also know all too well that children won’t read for pleasure if they can’t understand what they read.
The ability to comprehend text, also known as “reading for meaning”, is the master key in the literacy kingdom. While decoding text helps children identify letters and words, reading for meaning gives letters and words purpose, unlocking a world of learning. Reading for meaning is also the foundation upon which future learning at school is built.
That means there is a lot hinging on a child’s ability to draw meaning from what they read. Sadly, it’s a major pain point for many children in South Africa. Almost 60% of South Africa’s Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning, and without intervention, the ripple effects are devastating.
So, how can you help an early reader master reading comprehension? Let’s look at some of the reasons why children struggle to read for meaning, and how you can encourage them to engage with the text.
Back to Basics
For early readers, the struggle to understand the meaning of text is often rooted in a lack of basic literacy skills and not in reading comprehension itself. If this is the case, it is beneficial to revisit the literacy basics, including phonics, word recognition and fluency.
Phonics & the A, B, Cs
A great place to start is to look at the relationship between sounds and letters, also known as phonics. Children must be able to recognise letters and familiarise each letter’s various sounds. They will then be able to recognise letter patterns, blend the individual sounds of letters into words and begin to decode what they read.
Here are a few ways you can help your child practice phonics:
- Practice identifying letters of the alphabet and sounding out each letter and their combinations.
- We are surrounded by things in different shapes and sizes. Make a child familiar with letters by asking them to identify, for example, all the “o’s” in a room. A round bin is shaped like an “o”, screws in cupboards are also shaped like a circle as are some door handles.
- Play I Spy with a twist. Instead of saying “I spy something that starts with an “a”, you could rather say “I spy something that starts with a mmmm sound” or “I spy something that has an ‘eu’ sound in the middle.”
- Identify ALL the items in a room/garden/kitchen/store that start with a ‘sssss’ sound
Another important foundational skill to practice is word recognition. Early readers need to be able to identify and read words effortlessly so that they can focus on understanding their meaning.
Help develop your child’s vocabulary and spelling with these activities:
- Make your own dictionary! Children love making their own books, and this one they can use over and over again. When they struggle with a word, get them to write in their dictionary and draw a picture if it’s possible (or find the picture in a magazine.)
- Teach children to use dictionaries – not always referring to Google. Google often translates words incorrectly. Having your child work with a dictionary will assist because:
- They had to look it up, in the meantime they are being exposed to other words, they see the spelling and the pronunciation and they can see synonyms.
- Because they’ve had to make effort to find the meaning they are more likely to remember because they will probably not want to make the effort again.
- Play sight word games focusing on the Dolch list – this is a list of words children need to repeat as many as 300 times before they remember it.
- Use name cards and put it on items and furniture in and around the house – this continuous exposure ensures that your early reader remembers a word even if they are not actively looking at it.
- When shopping talk about groceries – “What items can be stored in a plastic container?” or “What do we need to put in the freezer?” Ask your child to point to the different items or organise them in a trolley.
Early readers often stumble through words at such a slow rate that they struggle to grasp the meaning of the words that they read. But with regular practice and support, your child will grow in confidence and read with increased speed and accuracy.
Help your child master fluency with these activities:
- Read books that are stage-appropriate to your child’s reading level.
- Encourage your child to regularly practice reading out loud.
- TALK to your children, even if you have a baby, talk to them about the weather, the news, current events etc – this exposes a child to vocabulary that they are not used to. Even though they don’t understand what is said, they still hear the words, the correct pronunciation and the context in which it is used. This is why it’s important for children and parents to talk to one another after a long day rather than watching TV, plus it provides you with a great way to bond with your child.
- Read books over and over.
For readers who have a decent grasp on basic literacy concepts, asking questions about what they read will help fast-track their reading comprehension skills. You can help them to dig deeper by asking a variety of literal and inferential (or assumption-based) questions.
Examples of literal questions include:
- Who are the main characters?
- What are their names?
- Where are the characters?
- When does the story take place?
Assumption-based questions include:
- Why did the character….?
- What lesson did you learn from the story?
- How did the character feel when…?
- How would you feel if…
- If you could write the end, how would you change the story…?
Children may struggle to answer these questions at first, but with consistent practice, they will soon be able to draw more and more meaning out of what they read.
We would love to hear from you. How do you encourage your child to read for meaning? Have any fun activities that help with phonics, word recognition or fluency? Leave us a comment below.