A Reading Rockets special video series

Reading SOS: Expert Answers to Family Questions About Reading

In this special Reading Rockets video series, experts answer real questions from families about reading and how to support their children at home. COVID-19 has disrupted regular reading instruction for our K-3 kids. Families want to step in and help fill some of the gaps, but that can be challenging.

That's where Reading SOS comes in — the help you need, right now!

We're asking families to submit questions about how to help their striving readers. If you'd like to ask a question, please write to us at: info@readingrockets.org

Learn about our Reading SOS experts here >

Click these links to jump ahead to each question and answer:

Question: Should I tell my child to look up words in the dictionary?

It's still okay to encourage your child to look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary (remember to do it with them!) — but that's just the first step. Sandra says that vocabulary development is a process that requires lots of exposure to a word in order to really learn it. Find out about the other simple things parents can do to reinforce word learning.

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Question: How do I help my child learn new words while we read aloud?

Reading aloud is a great way for children to learn new words. Sandra suggests that parents pause during the read aloud to elaborate on a new word by giving a simple definition, connecting the word to something your child knows, and using it in a sentence. Reinforce the learning by using that new word at home in the weeks ahead.

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Question: How can I help my four-year-old learn more words?

Sandra shares three key ways to build your young child's vocabulary: lots of family talk, narrating your every day activities such as cooking or shopping, and reading to your child — while pointing out new words and then using them in your conversations.

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Question: Should I be concerned if my child reads slowly?

A parent is concerned that her child reads accurately but very slowly. Kegi explains that what's most important is if your child understands what she's reading. Kegi offers simple ways to check for understanding and how to model expressive reading.

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Question: How can I encourage reading when it’s hard for my child?

A parent asks about the best way to encourage reading when a child finds it difficult. Kegi explains different strategies to help children to become stronger and more engaged readers.

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Question: How can I help my first grader remember the alphabet in our home language of Spanish?

Elsa says that it's important to find out early if your child is having difficulty with letters and sounds. Ask your child's teacher if she has been screened or tested in your home language, and learn the early warning signs for dyslexia. Elsa also shares easy ways to help your child practice letters and sounds at home — one way is to build on the connections between English and Spanish. Observe your child's progress and don't hesitate to talk with your child's teacher about any concerns.

Question: Does my child, who is learning English, need special education?

A parent asks about her child, who reads fluently in her home language, Spanish, but is being referred for special education. Elsa recommends that she ask the school if the testing is being done in English or in the home language. That's important to know, because the areas of concern may be related to learning English rather than any underlying issue. Don't be afraid to ask questions and advocate for your child!

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Question: How do I explain “ea”?

A parent asks about the best way to the "ea" vowel combination (also called a vowel team). Linda explains that you begin with the most common pronunciation, and then teach the exceptions.

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Question: Which letter sounds do I teach first?

Linda recommends that you begin with teaching the letter names, and then focus on the letter sounds that are closest to their letter names (such as /v/). And here's a great tip for teaching the trickier letter name–letter sound combinations — use arm motions. In this video, Linda demonstrates motions for /x/ and /y/.

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Question: Why can’t my child re-read a word in a sentence that he just sounded out?

Linda sees this often with striving readers, and she shares a simple tip: encourage your child to silently "think" the sounds as he reads the word. Linda also emphasizes how important it is for kids to keep their eyes on the words as they read.

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Question: How do I help my child who is getting stuck on sight words?

Many striving readers struggle with sight words. Linda suggests this teaching sequence: first, be sure your child knows all the letter names, then all the letter sounds — and then you can introduce a few short high-frequency words such as was. Choose words that don't have regular phonetic spelling. Words that do have phonetic spelling, such as in, did, and on can be folded into phonics lessons.

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Question: Can you recommend a good reading program for my child with learning disabilities?

Linda provides guidance in understanding the three features that all good reading programs should have: (1) phonological awareness and phonemic awareness, (2) a strong phonics scope and sequence, and (3) lots of opportunities for kids to practice what they've learned in their phonics lessons.

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Question: Do Bob Books help young readers?

A parent asks if the Bob Books — a step-by-step early reader series — help her young son with reading. He likes to read them over and over again! Linda shares her thoughts on these early readers as well as the importance of reading aloud to build vocabulary and background knowledge.

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Meet our experts

Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan, Ed.D., CCC/SLP, CDT, CALT, QI

Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan is a bilingual speech and language pathologist, certified dyslexia therapist, certified academic language therapist and qualified instructor. She is the President of the Valley Speech Language and Learning Center in Brownsville, Texas and works with the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics at the University of Houston. Elsa has spent 20 years working with teams of researchers designing assessments and interventions for English learners who struggle with reading. Dr. Cárdenas-Hagan has written many scholarly articles, curricular programs, and book chapters related to the oracy and literacy development among English learners. She recently released a book entitled: Literacy Foundations for English Learners: A Comprehensive Guide to Evidence-Based Instruction. It is her hope that teachers will have the opportunity to learn evidence-based practices for teaching literacy to a diverse population of students.

Linda Farrell

Linda Farrell is a founding partner at Readsters, an Alexandria, VA-based firm that helps schools implement research-based reading instruction. She is committed to effective early reading instruction to help struggling readers become strong readers, and to ensure that strong readers achieve their full potential. Linda works in schools throughout the U.S., training and coaching teachers and modeling effective reading instruction. Linda is a former English teacher and she was a National LETRS trainer for seven years. She has co-authored assessments and curricula for teaching reading, as well as several other published works. Watch Linda in action in our video series, Looking at Reading Interventions.

Kegi Wells

Kegi Wells is the Coordinator of Professional Development for the Jackson area and the southern part of Mississippi at the Barksdale Reading Institute. Kegi has most recently served as Director of Curriculum and Instructional Management in the Quitman County School District. She began her career as a teacher at Crystal Springs Elementary School and later became the assistant principal at Crystal Springs Middle School. She then served as an instructional coach and later the principal at Madison S. Palmer High School in Marks, MS. Kegi received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA. She received her Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Mississippi College in Clinton, MS.

Sandra Lloyd Wilborn

Sandra Wilborn is the coordinator for school readiness at the Barksdale Reading Institute, where she leads their Parent Academy and works on several early literacy initiatives. She is a retired Assistant Principal and has 31 years of educational experience in grades K-6. Sandra has been a National Board-Certified Teacher for 15 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Delta State University, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Mississippi, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Columbia University.

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