How to Help Emerging Readers

Welcome to Day 2 of the Share a Story – Shape a Future Blog Tour for Literacy.

Today’s topic is Selecting Reading Material, and since the subtitle of this blog is “Books for Children Learning to Read” I was asked to write about How to Help Emerging Readers. (I’m a former K-1 teacher.)


Learning to read is a process

Learning to read is a process that takes years. It begins at birth, when parents first speak to their child. By age nine, most children are fluent readers.

Children learn to read in small steps, and they need adults to help them. It takes “600 hours of essential pre-literacy preparation before entering school” to help children learn to read by age nine. Children have very short attention spans, so this time is spread out over a period of years. (Reading to your child twenty minutes every day adds up!)

Don’t limit your reading to books. Our world is filled with words – and this is what many young children learn to read first. They read their names, and the words they see on packages and signs. (This is called enviromental print.)


Learning to read requires direct instruction

Children don’t learn to read just because they listen to someone else reading. Learning to read also requires what teachers call direct instruction. That includes talking about the names of the letters and the sounds they make (also known as phonics.)

Once a child understands that letters have sounds and those sounds can make words, the child begins to read short words. This is why books for beginning readers have titles like Go, Dog. Go! and Hop on Pop . Short simple words are the best place to start.


Learn to read with easy reader books

Books for children learning to read are called easy readers. While picture books are read to a child by an adult, easy readers are meant to be read by the child himself. (You’ll know you’ve found an easy reader when you see the words “read,” “reader,” or “reading” on the cover.)

Learning to read takes place on a continuum, and the books reflect that. Easy readers range from 8 page books with a single word or a simple phrase on each page to 64 page books divided into chapters.

The books are called easy readers, so use them for easy reading. Don’t ask your child to read something that is too hard for him, or ask him sound out the words on every page. When your child is reading aloud, have him read books he can read by himself. (And if sounding out a word doesn’t work, say the word for your child so he can keep reading.)


Your Child’s Four Reading Levels

As children learn to read, they have four very different reading levels.

1. Independent – A child can read on his own.

2. Instructional – A child can read with help.

3. Frustration – A child misses 5% of the words. (When you’re learning to read, knowing 95% of the words doesn’t give you an A. That missing 5% means frustration! Use the five finger test to avoid this level.)

4. Listening – A child understands what you read. (Children who cannot read yet understand the spoken word. This is why picture books have sophisticated language and easy readers do not.)


Read and Repeat

How can you help your emerging reader? Make your twenty minutes a day, a “you read to me and I’ll read to you” time. Ask your child to read to you. Have him read a book he can read by himself. (This is the independent reading level.) Your child may read the same book over and over, but that’s all part of the process. Only with repetition will the words in the book become part of your child’s long-term memory.

Then it’s your turn. Read a harder book to your child. (This is your child’s listening level.) Together you are creating a family tradition of reading. You are also making a down payment on your child’s future, twenty minutes at a time.

This week’s 5 Great Books!

This week’s 5 Great Books are all easy reader classics! (You may have read these books when you were learning to read.)

Days with Frog and Toad
by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad spend the day together. (Easy reader with chapters)

Fox at School
by Edward Marshall (Author) and James Marshall (Illustrator)
The school day doesn’t quite the way Fox has planned. (Easy reader with chapters)

Go, Dog. Go!
by P.D. Eastman
Dogs in cars are on the move! (Easy reader)

Hop on Pop
by Dr. Seuss
Simple rhyming words are Dr. Seuss’ magic! (Easy reader)

Nate the Great
by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (Author) and Marc Simont (Illustrator)
Can boy detective Nate the Great solve the case? (Easy reader)

Selecting Reading Material for Other Ages

Visit today’s other Share a Story – Shape a Future stops for

  1. The ABCs of Reading: Infants, Toddlers & Preschoolers with Valerie Baartz
  2. Helping Middle Grade Readers with Sarah Mulhern
  3. Booklists and Read Alikes with Sarah Mulhern
  4. Using Non-fiction with Mary Lee Hahn

Enjoy the week-long Share a Story – Shape a Future tour! I’ll see you here next Wednesday. 

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14 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom! I found it ALL to be VERY interesting and useful!!

    I also want to thank you for sharing a booklist…and a good one too! We’ve read Hop on Pop, Go Dog Go! and the Frog and Toad series. But, we have not yet read Fox at School or Nate the Great. I’ve heard of Nate the Great before, so now that you have recommended it, I am really interested in checking it out!

    Go Dog Go! was the first book both of my chidlren read cover to cover all by themselves! It’s now a cherished family favorite!

  2. [...] How to Help Emerging Readers – Anastasia Suen @5 Great [...]

  3. [...] How to Help Emerging Readers – Anastasia Suen @5 Great Books  [...]

  4. Posted by Terry Doherty on March 10, 2009 at 7:52 am

    Thanks for this great list, Anastasia. Your explanations really make it helpful to distinguish easy readers from picture books — and help me understand why we need both. When I was tutoring, we read lots of Frog and Toad (and Little Bear). I have heard about but not yet read Nate the Great. Sounds like I’ve got another book to find! Thanks again for participating in our literacy blog tour.

  5. Thank you, Anastasia, for this great post…I am going to refer a number of parents I know to it even today…you distll so well a lot of confusing information and certainly make it “hurried,harried” parent friendly! I always say to parents to remember they are parents, not the academic teacher and to make the experience a hugely “fun” one for them and their child. Happy reading!

  6. Anastasia,

    It’s so great that you share the different levels with parents – they may not have seen that before. And the idea of reading the world in addition to books – great stuff!

  7. [...] ABCs of Reading: Infants, Toddlers & Preschoolers – Valerie Baartz at The Almost Librarian How to Help Emerging Readers – Anastasia Suen at 5 Great Books I Don’t Know What to Read Next: Helping Middle Grade [...]

  8. I love the way you explain the four reading levels – very understandable, and a perfect way to talk about independent readers to parents at the library. Thank you!

  9. Thanks, Anastasia, for a great, clear explanation. At some point, I’d love your ideas on how dialog-rich books work for emergent readers. I’m thinking of Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggy books, for example. I’ve had great fun reading them aloud to kids, but I’m wondering what they’re like for emergent readers to read by themselves.

    thanks so much, Mary Ann

  10. Our world is a word world. When we think of reading, we focus on books, but it is so much more. Thank you!

  11. Posted by Judi on March 10, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I really enjoy your site. Thanks for your mention of the difference in picture books and easy readers; it will help me to make the difference clearer to parents who are trying to choose a book for their child to read on his/her own.

  12. Great stuff, Anastasia (as I expected). A friend was just telling me this morning how surprised he was when his just turned three-year-old asked (reading aloud) what “One Way” meant (from a sign). Kids see words everywhere! I’m going to pass along your list, too.

  13. It’s good to see environmental print and functional literacy skills getting more attention as critical elements in building early academic literacy. I wish parental awareness of this could be heightened.

  14. Posted by edward on March 10, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing your first hand knowledge! I work in a bookstore and parents are always wanting to know which books are the right level for their kids. This is useful info.
    Best to you!

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