The next step to improving your child's reading


Comprehension is a complex and dynamic activity involving the reader, text and the context in which the reading occurs. Skilled readers demonstrate a facility with word identification, oral reading fluency and knowledge of vocabulary, and apply a variety of strategies to construct meaning from a range of text genres. During the past 20 years, research has demonstrated that explicit comprehension instruction can enable children to become thoughtful, strategic and independent learners.


Reading is critical for success in school and in life and permeates much of what we do every day. It nourishes the imagination, enhances creativity and builds thinking skills and a child’s general knowledge.

Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading. It is why we read, whether it’s for pleasure or for information. When we read with comprehension we forget about the individual words. Instead the words wash over us; we get lost in a story; we laugh; we cry; we see the story unfolding like a movie in our minds. If it’s a factual text we might get really excited by some new information that we have discovered.

All children should have the experience of finding books that they simply can’t put down and that help them discover the thrill of reading. So it is important that children develop a personal taste in reading from an early age and that they are encouraged to read widely. It is also important that reading is seen as a thinking process whereby text is open to interpretation. Children should have opportunities to question what they read, to wonder, agree, disagree, critique and evaluate ideas, and they should be encouraged to justify their thoughts with evidence from the text. EITHNE KENNEDY

If your child has a problem with comprehension, the first thing you as a parent will probably pick up on is your child’s inability to summarise a passage after reading it.

In most cases, children with comprehension problems will have significant difficulty linking one idea to another within the text, and linking those ideas to events in their real lives.

Often they will struggle to explain a character’s thoughts or feelings, or empathise with a particular character. Distinguishing the important parts of the story from the minor details will also be a struggle. At a very basic level they may have difficulty understanding some of the vocabulary in a text. If you have noticed that your child has difficulty understanding the meaning of a text, in most cases they will have noticed that too. Unfortunately, there are no simple, quick-fix solutions, but you can certainly help. BARRY MORRISEY

Boost comprehension in 10 minutes a day

When it comes to comprehension, the best strategy is often one that is focused around 10 minutes of relaxed time, reading together, every day.

Make sure your child has chosen a book that they can read with 90 per cent accuracy and one that they find interesting. Use the five-finger rule: if there are more than five words on a page that your child struggles with, the book may be too difficult at this point in time. It would be best to choose an easier one.

Before reading

The aim is to get your child thinking about what they’re going to read before they read it. Use some of these strategies every evening.

Get your child to choose the reading material. What are they in the mood for? Look at the cover and the title of the book. What do you think the book is about? What do you think will happen in the book? Or what do you think you’ll find out?

What does your child know? If the book is about tigers, what can your child tell you about them? You want them to link what they already know to what they are about to read. During this time, your child will, with luck, be unconsciously using some of the vocabulary they’ll be reading in the book.

During reading

The aim is the gradual release of responsibility for reading to your child, but first your child has to see what good reading is all about. Read aloud together. Choral reading provides encouragement and support for weaker readers. Allow your child to relax. Adjust your reading to their pace.

Pause occasionally. Stop at a crucial point and ask your child what they think will happen next.

Question every now and again: is your child understanding what is being read? If your child loses concentration, it could provide a natural break to introduce a chat or a question about what’s happening or about what a character is feeling. The idea is to link back to your child’s experience if you can.

Don’t question too much. Wait for a natural break in the text. Don’t ruin it by interrupting. As things progress, paired reading can be very useful. Enjoy it.

After reading

Have a chat about what happened. Was your child right in their predictions? Was there ever a time when they experienced what the character experienced? Did they find out anything they didn’t know already? Encourage your child to elaborate on their ideas.

Remember:if your child has had enough, don’t push it.

Solutions to problems


Difficulties with word identification and vocabulary prevent children accessing the text.


Encourage your child to sound out the words. All schools carry a range of products to help with this, so take guidance from your child’s teacher about the stage of development with which to begin. This can be augmented for younger children by websites such as starfall.comand progressing systematically through the stages of this engaging phonic scheme.

Remember that sounding out is not the only strategy, and it is important that children are taught a range of strategies to use when they encounter an unfamiliar word.

When it comes to vocabulary, children who read more texts build greater reading stamina. They read many more minutes per day and read more varied texts. As a result they are exposed to richer, more complex and sophisticated language.

Introducing sophisticated words found in literature that the children may not hear spoken daily is important. Words such as “silly”, “absurd”, “stubborn” and “obstinate” are good examples. To ensure that new words stick, consciously revise the new vocabulary learned each week and encourage your children to use their new words.


An inability to read fluently means too much time is devoted to word recognition, with little left to focus on meaning.


Paired reading is a useful technique. Start by reading together and continue until your child feels confident to read on their own. Using some prearranged signal, the child reads unaided until they encounter difficulties. Wait and allow your child four seconds to read the word. Then tell them the word and restart reading.


If your child knows nothing about volcanoes or geology, for example, then they will have a harder time understanding a text about a volcanic eruption.


Talk about what your child knows before reading a text. Maybe look it up online beforehand. Identify key points of information in a story or text.


Some children find it difficult to figure out what parts of a text are important.


Talk to your child about the characters and the setting of the story. What happened? What problem occurred? How was the problem resolved? Or, in the case of a factual text, talk about the information provided. What is it about? What details can you remember? Teach your child how to identify key points using graphic organisers.

Long-term strategies

Nurture a love of reading. Just make reading a part of your home. This is about a small amount of time every day.

Make trips to the library and bookshops regular events and give your child control over what they choose. Don’t discount the importance of computers if you are trying to get your child to read in spite of themselves.

If you have an older child who has difficulty reading, explore the idea of buying some Hi-Lo reading books online. These deal with topics and subject matter appropriate for older children but using language a lower reading level. As your child becomes more proficient, gently encourage them to try something a little more challenging.

Books you can try: Reading Resources

Hi-Lo reading books are an invaluable resource if your child is older but their reading is weak. They are available online.

High-quality picture books are also a valuable resource for the reluctant reader.

Useful favourites:

Billy the Kid by Michael Morpurgo

When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne

Star of Fear, Star of Hope by Jo Hoestlandt

Other books for older readers:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik (watch the movie Hugo afterwards and compare versions)

Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

Five point plan: Supporting reluctant learners

* It can be hard to know what to do when your son or daughter seems reluctant to learn. Check if there are underlying reasons. Talk to the school. If it just seems that your child is not interested or motivated, try a few of the following ideas.

* Get into good habits. Have planned homework time and a consistent, distraction-free space. Make sure that they are actually doing their homework. A parent’s job is as coach and supporter. If your child gets badly stuck, a quick note into school is better than slogging over it all night.

* Use information technology to support the motivation of the reluctant learner. The interactivity and multisensory nature of technology can help.

* Take an interest. Make time to show an interest in your child’s learning. You can be a good role model as an enthusiastic learner, prepared to learn stuff that is new to you, such as speaking Irish with your son over breakfast or watching the film-of-the-book with your daughter.

* Catch them being good. Name the behaviour that you are praising them for. “I love that you are taking such an interest in this”; “You are taking such care with this.”

* Keep it in perspective. Learning and education are crucial, but so is other stuff. Your child is more than their academic side. DONALD EWING

Dr Martin Gleesonis a teacher educator at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, who specialises in literacy education. He helped to develop the Building Bridges of Understanding approach to children’s comprehension development.

Dr Eithne Kennedyis a teacher educator at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin. Her book Raising Literacy Achievement in High-Poverty Schools: An Evidence-Based Approach will be published by Routledge in 2013.

Barry Morrisseyis literacy co-ordinator and learning-support teacher at Scoil na Naomh Uilig, Newbridge, Co Kildare.

Donald Ewingis the head of psychological and educational services with the Dyslexia Association of Ireland. He has also advised the Scottish government.

This series is compiled by LOUISE HOLDENand GRÁINNE FALLER

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