1. Overview

Parents: Has your young reader been sent home from school with a book and instructions for her to read it with you multiple times during the week? These are sometimes called baggie books or reader books, and their purpose is to give your child lots of practice with reading, using short books that are closely matched to your child’s current reading level.

There are three stages your child will progress through as she practices reading these books:

  1. Decoding the Text
  2. Expression
  3. Comprehension

These skills, combined with lots and lots of practice, lead to fluency in reading. That is the ultimate goal of these baggie books.

How can you help your child make the most of hear reading practice? Below are tips on how to guide your child through the three stages and improve her reading skills. Start by focusing exclusively on Decoding the Text. Only when she knows what all the words are (even if she’s still making some mistakes) should you move on to Expression. And only when your child can read with basic expression should you shift focus to Comprehension.

Teachers: We at SightWords.com want to help you involve parents in their children’s education. Please print and distribute this helpful Reading Guide to your parents!

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2. Before Reading

Follow these tips to create a positive and fun environment for learning to read!

  • Have a designated time for reading that is part of the child’s routine.
  • Be enthusiastic! Get excited about reading to your child, reading with your child, and listening to your child read to you. Let them know that reading is fun! Even when it’s a homework assignment, do not teach your child that reading is a boring chore to be endured.
  • Sit next to your child in a comfortable spot while he reads. This not only strengthens the parent-child bond but also contributes to the child’s seeing reading as an enjoyable activity. Do not make him stand in front of you as if he’s on a stage about to be judged on his performance.
  • Every time he reads, encourage him to underline the words with his index finger as he reads them. You should also model this habit every time you read to your child.
  • With a new book, have the child read you the title of the book. Ask him, “What do you think it will be about?” When he answers, respond with, “What makes you think that?”
  • Have him look through the illustrations inside the book (without reading the text) and encourage him to make personal connections. For example: “This picture of kids swimming reminds me of when we went to the lake.”

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3. Decoding the Text

Word accuracy, or decoding the text, is the first and most important step in reading a book. This is the ability to correctly identify and pronounce the words on the page. This will be a combination of recognizing sight words and using phonics to decipher phonetically regular words.

On your child’s first reading of a book, the primary (perhaps only) focus will be on decoding the text. Do not be concerned if her first read-through is slow, halting, and in a monotone, expressionless voice. After all, reading is still a new skill for her, and deciphering the words will require all her attention. Once she has done that, she will be able to focus on the other aspects of reading.

How can I help my child?

First of all, do not be concerned if her first read-throughs are slow, halting, and in a monotone, expressionless voice. You can help her with expression and comprehension on later read-throughs, after she has figured out the words!

In this stage, your child will make a number of mistakes while reading and will need your help in correcting them. Refer to our Handling Mistakes page for tips on how to correct your child and then scale back those corrections as she gradually learns to correct her own mistakes.

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4. Expression

Expression is the ability to change one’s voice to show feeling while reading, such as reading in a “happy” voice when something good happens in the story or in an “angry” voice when the text says a character is upset. It also includes modulating your voice with the different characters who are speaking.

A great opportunity for expression is the line in The Three Little Pigs when the Wolf shouts, “I’ll huff! And I’ll puff! And I’ll bloooooow your house down!”

Expression is the first step toward comprehension of printed text. Reading with expression is a sign that your child understands not only the individual words but also the larger meaning of a sentence or paragraph.

How can I help my child?

The single best thing you can do to encourage expression in your child’s reading is to model it for him. Whenever you read him a book, read with exaggerated expression, even special voices for the different characters. Children learn this skill by the example you set for them!

Encourage and prompt your child to read with more expression, based on what’s happening in the story. Don’t interrupt him constantly, but point out moments of big emotion or opportunities for doing special voices.

Adult: How would you feel if that happened to you?
Child: I’d be sad.
Adult: I’d be sad too. Try reading that page in a sad voice.

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5. Comprehension

Comprehension is the ability to understand and retain the overall meaning and details of the text. A child who reads with expression understands what is happening in the moment (e.g., the main character is happy or sad). A child who reads with true comprehension can tell you afterwards what happened in the story, what the moral of the story was, and several important details.

How can I help my child?

After your child has read the book enough times to establish word accuracy and basic expression, have the child read the book again. Ask several questions throughout to see if he understands what he is reading. Here are sample questions to test for the three types of comprehension.

Literal comprehension: Test for basic details of the story, place, and characters.

  • “What is Little Red Riding Hood wearing?”
  • “Who is Little Red Riding Hood going to visit?”
  • “Where is Little Red Riding Hood walking when she meets the Wolf?”

Prediction: Ask the child how he thinks the characters feel about what’s happening in the story. Before turning the page, ask the child what he thinks will happen next.

  • “‘Granny, what big eyes you have!’ ‘All the better to see you with.’ ‘Granny, what big ears you have!’ What do you think ‘Granny’ says to Little Red Riding Hood next?”
  • “Oh no, the Wolf ate Granny!? What do you think he’ll do next?”
  • “How do you think Little Red Riding Hood felt when she realized the Wolf ate her Granny? How would you feel if a Wolf ate your Granny? Would you be angry? Or scared?”
  • “Do you remember a time when someone tricked you like the Wolf tricked Little Red? How did that make you feel?”

Summarization: After finishing the book, ask the child to retell the story — names of characters, main plot points, the moral of the story, etc. Prompt her to include as many details as she can. (Tip: “Um, the wolf ate the girl’s granny and then died” is not a good summarization of Little Red Riding Hood.)

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6. Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Shouldn’t my child be reading books with lots of new words, so he can build his vocabulary?
Actually, no. The primary purpose in this kind of reading is to build fluency and confidence. A book with more than a few unfamiliar or difficult words will frustrate your child, which defeats the purpose. The best way to build a child’s vocabulary is through dialogic reading.

Q: My child seems to have mastered Decoding, Expression, and Comprehension, but she still hesitates and pauses while she’s reading. What’s wrong?
That’s okay! Most children do not achieve true fluency in reading until they are in third grade. If she understands the words, reads with expression, and comprehends what’s she reading, she’s doing great. Full fluency (reading at a normal pace with no pauses or hesitations) will come with time and practice-practice-practice!

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