The reading jigsaw

School has begun and you are back into the routine of listening to your child read at night. While this can get tiring over time, it eventually all comes together when your child is finally fluent - we call this process the reading jigsaw.

The purpose of it is to repeat what they have learnt during the day, enabling them to become more fluent with the extra practice, and thereby increasing their pleasure in reading. Reading homework is a very important piece of the reading jigsaw and gaining fluency (smoothness and rhythm in reading) is one of the final pieces.

When your child has gained enough word recognition to be able to read more fluently, take some time to practise ‘expression’. It’s not just about getting all the words right. It’s about conveying the meaning of the story, and to have some fun with it.

Here are a few ideas to add to your reading jigsaw, once your child has read through the story.

  • If there are characters, take your turn as one of them.
  • Ask them to read it in different voices; for example, booming as the giant speaks or small and high if it is a little bird speaking. This really lets you know how well they understand what they are reading.
  • By changing the focus of how the story is read, you are providing opportunities for repetition – and this is particularly helpful for the struggling reader.
  • Demonstrate how to run words together to create phrases. For example, see how many ways you and your child can say “How are you today?” Each time emphasise a different word, and let them see how that changes the meaning. Children who are scared of making a mistake can be very reluctant to let go of the stilted ‘word-by-word’ approach to reading. When you play with the sentences and phrases like this, it helps take away the anxiety.

I often use the analogy of being at an ice-skating rink and watching people who are just learning to ice-skate. They hold onto the rail, and carefully place each foot on the ice instead of gliding. However if an experienced skater intervenes and takes their hands to pull them along, while skating in reverse, the newbie feels the rhythm and the movement – aahh, so this is what I’m aiming for. I think the same applies to reading.

Take one sentence where your child knows the words. Get them to copy the cadences of your language, so that one sentence trips off their tongue with ease and lightness. By getting them to raise and lower their voice, they let go a lot of the tension associated with learning a new skill.

level of difficulty

How difficult should your child’s book be? For early readers, count out 50 words and listen to them read. For older readers, select a passage in the story and count out 100 words. If they make more than 4-5 errors, it’s too hard.

And remember, it doesn’t have to be ‘hard‘ for a child to make progress. A child can’t be fluent in reading if the book is too difficult and they are pausing over words. Practising at the level where your child is comfortably fluent is an extremely important aspect.

One of the paradoxes of learning to read is when children are achieving, they seem to need an element of challenge, otherwise they feel less than satisfied with their progress. When children are struggling, it seems the reverse is true - they need the content to be easier, because they are easily overwhelmed by challenges.

reading to your child is also an essential piece in the reading jigsaw

Do keep reading to your child. This is the other half of the reading process, where you can go beyond the level they are reading. Choose books that entertain them, as well as develop their knowledge and vocabulary. It’s a huge advantage for your child to listen to high quality language, spoken well. It establishes a background source of knowledge that, long-term, makes a huge difference.

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