Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Helping Your Child Become a Skilled Reader

For your child to become a skilled reader, there is more to it than just being able to read the words.  Being able to read does not necessarily indicate that your child is comprehending the text.  To explain, lets take a look at a model entitled, "The Many Strands that are Woven into Skilled Reading" (Scarborough, 2001).

This model compares skilled reading to a rope, which consists of many different threads that are essential for the rope (skilled reading) to come together.  Let's look at each "thread":
Language Comprehension:
  • Background Knowledge-This refers to the knowledge your child already has about the information being read or that can be applied to the information being read.  A good way to work on this with your child would be to take new opportunities while in the community to discuss new concepts and ideas with your children (See those bees by the flowers, do you know what they're doing?).  Watching educational programming with your children also helps to increase their background knowledge and familiarity with different concepts.
  • Vocabulary-This includes the child's vocabulary breadth (see the label Vocabulary for more info and advice).
  • Language Structures-This includes syntax and semantics, or your childs knowledge of how to construct a sentence with proper grammar and meaning (see the label Syntax for more info and advice).
  • Verbal Reasoning-This involves your child's ability to make inferences and construct meanings from the text that is being read.  Understanding metaphor meanings and references is also an indicator of verbal reasoning skills.
  • Literacy Knowledge-This includes your child understanding print concepts such as reading from left to right and top to bottom, how to hold a book, and that periods complete one sentence before moving to the next.  By giving your child access to books from the time they are infants, you can help them to understand print concepts.  It is helpful when reading to your child to use your finger to guide along to demonstrate to your child that your are reading from left to right and top to bottom.
Word Recognition:
  • Phonological Awareness-This refers to the amount of awareness your child has of the sound form of language.  This includes their knowledge of syllables, as well as sentence intonation (a rise in voice when asking a question, for example). See the label Phonology for more info and advice.
  • Decoding- This includes your childs understanding of the alphabetic principle, that is that each letter of the alphabet represents a sound, and those letters are put together to form words.  A good knowledge base about the sounds that letters make can help children to sound out or decode the meaning of unfamilar words.  Children can use their knowledge of sound patterns and letter combinations when trying to decode.
  • Sight Recognition-Some words may be considered "sight words" for your child, which they easily recognize when reading without having to attempt to decode for meaning or pronunciation.  These words may include "the", "who", and "what".  Sight words typically result from seeing the words frequently in text.  Over time, with more exposure to reading materials and practice, many or most words become sight words for skilled readers.
These "threads" all work together to create a skilled reader.  The concepts under "Language Comprehension" become more strategic over time, as your child learns and practices using different aspects of background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge. The concepts under "Word Recognition" become more automatic with practice.  These threads combine to create a knowledge and strategy base which skilled readers use to read fluently.

This sight provides helpful suggestions on how to work with your child in some of the above mentioned areas:



Griffin, P. (2011). Printed Word Identification &[Power Point Slides].  Retrieved from online lecture notes.

 Scarborough, H. 2001. Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. Pp. 97-110 in S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.) Handbook of Early Literacy. NY: Guilford Press.


  1. Skilled reading is the combining and increased knowledge of word recognition; phonological awareness, ability to decode, and sight recognition combined with language comprehension; background, vocabulary, literacy knowledge, verbal reasoning, and language structures aquired over years of instruction and practice.

  2. Thank you for posting your citations! I was trying to find an orginal place to cite Scarborough’s rope for a paper. Thank you, thank you, thank you!