Sometimes, hopefully not too often, children may be required to read text that is above their current reading level – perhaps to find information for a project or assignment, to answer a maths questions or because it’s a novel that they would like to read that other children are currently reading.
Strategies for helping children read complex text
- Begin by acknowledging that the text is difficult. In this way, when they struggle to decode and comprehend the text they will not attribute this difficulty to being ‘stupid’.
- Quickly scan the text and discuss and define any vocabulary that may not be known. If necessarily, when these words are encountered in the text quickly provide a synonym or quick definition in the context of the sentence.
- Discuss any headings, sub-heading, diagrams and pictures before beginning to read a this will provide some prior knowledge and framework to the text.
- Read the text together. ‘Echo’ reading is a great strategy. For words you know the child can easily decode, you let the child take the lead and you echo the word a fraction of a second after. If it is a word that you believe the child doesn’t know you say the word first and the child echoes you. This has the effect of the child taking responsibility for known words but simultaneously ensuring the text flows smoothly and the meaning is not lost in spending time decoding unfamiliar words. There is a time for teaching reading and this is probably not one of them!
- Stop at the end of each paragraph or significant chunk of text to ensure comprehension. If you are expending a lot of mental energy on the decoding process, comprehension is often lost. Similarly, if a large amount of unfamiliar vocabulary is used, this may also impede understanding.
- If the text contains particularly long and complicated sentences, take the time to break the sentence into smaller units to ensure these smaller units are understood.
- Check that children understand to what or whom pronouns are referring. If the correct connections are not made, meaning will be lost.
It is really important to keep the activity ‘moving along’ to ensure the child does not become frustrated and to maintain understanding.