Laura Lodge is a literary specialist at One Education, they provide training, support and development of the English national curriculum to schools. In the warm up to Love Literacy, Laura talks to us about how important a teacher’s role is in encouraging children’s reading, helping them understand and interpret different texts, and the effects this has on reading for pleasure.
As teachers, one of the most fundamental skills we can teach is how to read, and encourage children to enjoy reading. At the beginning of their reading journey, much of our focus is on teaching how to decode letters and words. Alongside this, quite rightly, reading for pleasure sits at the heart of many schools’ approaches to reading. However, providing children with opportunities to learn to make meaning is also key. Enjoyment, decoding and understanding are intertwined. Imagine being given a thesis on theoretical physics to read – you could decode it and make some meaning, but would you enjoy it? Or would the effort required to understand the text, even at a cursory level, frustrate you? As adults and good readers, we have the necessary skills to be able to make some meaning, even from a text far outside our comfort zone. For children who have not yet been taught how to make meaning, even a simple text can merely be words on a page.
We, as teachers, must prioritise teaching the skills needed in order to make meaning, understand and comprehend texts. But what are these skills? There are many reading skills, and different people call them different things, but what’s important is that they are explicitly taught in context using high quality texts. No matter whether you advocate whole class, small group or a mixed approach, children need to know which skill they are using and be able to choose the right skill to help them from their reading chest. Here are my top tips for teaching four of the most important:
– Teach vocabulary that has mileage for your pupils and can be used in many different contexts. For example, the word ‘invade’ is more useful than the word ‘chariot’. ‘Invade’ needs to be taught and explored, however ‘chariot’ can be defined more quickly. For more information on Tier 1,2 and 3 words, see ‘Bringing Words to Life‘ by Isabel Beck, 2013.
– Give enough time to the teaching of words. Research shows children need at least 12 meaningful exposures to a word to truly understand it.
– Focus on morphology and etymology – this way, multiple words can be understood, just by teaching one word in-depth. For example, if teaching the meaning of the word ‘expelled’, you might explain that ‘ex’ means ‘out’ and ‘pel’ comes from ‘pellere’ meaning ‘to drive’. From this, we can not only find out the rough meaning of ‘expelled’, but also estimate the meaning of any word with the prefix ‘ex-‘, e.g. expedition, or using ‘pel’, e.g. rappel. This way, you make links and give meaning to many words, not just one. You can use a word tree to demonstrate this:
– Children need to understand that retrieving information needs to come from the text itself. Playing games such as ‘fastest finger first’ where the right answer needs to be physically touched within the text, support this.
– Teach children how to identify the key word or concept they are looking for, and how to scan the text for the word. Using ‘search and find’ texts, such as ‘Where’s Wally‘ can support practising this skill, as can games such as ‘spot the difference’.
– Children often find making inferences challenging – they need to understand that it’s about making links between what you know and what that information makes you think. Model close reading of the text to show this relationship, e.g. “I know that the dragon went off in a huff after being made to capture the princess. Because of this I think he’s feeling annoyed about having to be the villain.”
– Try investigating objects together, e.g. which character from ‘There’s No Dragon in This Story‘ owns these and how do you know?
– Investigating riddles is a great way to practise inference-making. Try asking children to choose an object or animal and create their own riddle, then swap and make inferences about someone else’s choice.
Finding links and making comparisons
– Encourage children to think about other texts that have similar characters or themes, e.g. ‘There’s No Dragon in This Story‘ includes references to lots of different fairy tales. Can children spot them all and retell their stories?
– Model making comparisons between different texts, e.g. the main character in ‘Little Red Riding Hood‘ versus ‘Little Red‘.
– Work with children to create a ‘reading web’ together that shows the links between a text you’re reading and other texts they have read before – look at books by the same author; different versions; similar characters; similar settings.
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