Read Them The Way

This evening, I was listening to my seven year old son read aloud as part of his homework. I couldn’t help but think to myself that he is a much better reader than some of my students in the eighth grade. You would not believe how many teenagers these days barely know how to read. We could spend days debating back and forth about what the reasons are for this. The truth is that, in most cases, a love of literature begins very early in childhood and is a direct result of the literacy behaviors that children have observed being modeled by their parents or legal guardians.

As a Literacy teacher, I knew early on how important it was to expose my boys to a variety of texts regularly. This included reading to both of them aloud in the evenings as well as discussions about the book before and after reading it. Many parents make the mistake of simply reading books to their children but not discussing their content and asking questions about what the story was mostly about. While reading aloud to your kids is wonderful for modeling pronunciation and fluency, it does not take the place of discussing the elements of the story such as characters, setting, plot, movement through time, and change. Identifying these elements will demonstrate to you whether your children truly understand what is being read to them or what they are reading themselves.

The characters are the people or animals in the story. We can relate to them because they often have experiences that we have had or that others we know have had. The key to understanding characters within a book is being able to identify their traits. Ask your children questions about what the characters were like in the story and why they were like that. Younger children will usually identify simple or physical traits while older children should be able to identify permanent character traits such as bravery or hostility. It is important that you model using character traits to describe characters when you are discussing the book with your children. Eventually, your kids will begin to use the vocabulary around traits that you have been modeling.

Setting is usually an easier concept for children to identify because it is where the story is taking place. Younger kids rarely have a problem with this due to the colorful illustrations that are contained in picture books in the lower grades which depict the setting. Unfortunately, older children struggle with this due to the lack of illustrations in chapter books. One way to help older kids to visualize setting is by teaching them to use their five senses to hear, see, touch, taste, and smell what is being described in the book. If they can make these connections between their senses and the description that the author is providing, it will help them to use their minds to picture what is happening in the text.

The plot is the storyline or what the story is mostly about. Kids should be able to describe what the main idea of the book is in a couple of sentences. If you notice that your children are giving you a lot of specific details about the story without seeming like they have a general sense of the overall theme, it might mean that they did not understand what the central topic or message of the book was. Some strategies for figuring out what the story is mostly about include reading the first and last sentence, the title, or the first paragraph. It can usually be found in one or all of these places.

Now these are just some tools that I have given you to help you initiate and conduct book talks around the books that you are reading with your children. The most important thing is that you set time aside every single day for your children to read independently or for you to read to them. The reality is that being able to read and comprehend what you are reading is as the center of many important subject areas in school. In essence, you need to be a good reader to get good grades in content areas such as Science and Social Studies. This will not be possible if your kids don’t improve their reading stamina by reading every single day.

I know that many are you are probably saying to yourselves, “sure that is easy with the little kids but how can we get the older kids to read?” Actually, I think I might have the answer to that question although it might prove to be a controversial response. The answer is that you should let your older children read whatever they want as long as it engages them. The reason why this is controversial is that some Literacy experts argue that kids should only be reading chapter books on their level. Obviously, I don’t prescribe to that theory. My experience as an educator has taught me that it is difficult enough to get kids to read in the first place without adding the difficulty of limiting what they can read into the mix. If your kids want to read a comic book or a newspaper, let them read it. After all, the important thing is that they read as often as possible.

Remember, good readers have a love of literature. Once you show children the amazing adventures that they can have through books, you will hook them for life. Expose them to all kinds of literature and make time to talk about the books that you are reading. You will definitely see the fruits of this academically as their vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and writing will improve as a result of reading regularly. If your children see that you love reading and do it all the time, they will be more inclined to give reading a chance. Once that connection is made, the opportunities are endless…

© 2010, Tough Cookie Mommy. All rights reserved.


  1. You’re so right. Reading is at the center of so many important subjects, concepts, etc. And I totally agree that allowing children to read whatever they can get their hands on, even if it’s a comic book, is a great idea. If they’re reading something they can’t connect with or enjoy they won’t stick with it. Sage advice!

    Kristi, Live and Love…Out Loud

    • Kristi, I just think that we get too caught up in dictating to children what they SHOULD be reading and we forget to instill a love of reading where children actually look forward to picking up books instead of dreading it.

  2. Here I am reading your blog and sitting in Barnes and Nobles with my girls … its one of their fav places to be and they are in Heaven surrounded by books!
    My youngest also loves to listen to them while she paints or draws and my oldest makes jewelry and bookmarks – covering reading, language and art in one foul swoop 🙂
    Come over and say HI, there’s always something going on from irreverent to profound!
    And promise not to torture you too much with this staying in the Top Ten Babble thing – but its all so exciting!
    I would troll all over the blogosphere asking for votes, but that would make me feel rather ‘dirty’ 🙂


  1. Maria says:

    New Post. What are you doing to promote literacy in your home? RT @toughcookiemom: Read Them The Way

  2. Maria says:

    NEW POST RT @toughcookiemom: Read Them The Way

  3. RT @ToughCookieMom: NEW POST RT @toughcookiemom: Read Them The Way

  4. Maria says:

    New Post How can you help your kids become better readers and love reading? RT @toughcookiemom: Read Them The Way

  5. This is a very important subject. Literacy has to end in this century. Please spread the word.

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