Retell to check meaning

We are used to asking our students to predict what might come next in a story (based on what has happened so far).
For example:
Teacher-What do you think will happen on the next page?
StudentI think Bingo is going to eat the card too.
As the student turns the page she looks at the picture to confirm her prediction, and she easily reads words such as ‘card’ because she expects to see it.

A few students benefit from being asked to retell what already happened at the end of every 1 or 2 pages. The teacher might choose to do this to check that the student is understanding what is read. (Before waiting until the end of the book.)

Some students can read all of the words correctly but they cannot answer questions because they can’t follow the story, or they might partly understand what was read but not enough to tell someone else about it. Other students might need extra opportunities to improve how they speak, (i.e.oral language).

“Mother Chimp will be hungry”, he said. “I will take some fruit down to her.” Little Chimp got some fruit. He climbed down the tree with it.

Teacher– Tell me what just happened. (This is asking the student to recall what was just read, and to choose words / sentences to pass on the information in a way that makes sense.)
Student ALittle Chimp is eating the fruit. (Student A based this incorrect information on the picture of the chimp with the fruit in it’s mouth, not the information in the print.) Little Chimp did eat some fruit but this was earlier in the book.
Teacher– Little Chimp does have the fruit in his mouth. Go back to here (beginning of page) to read why he is going to give it to Mother Chimp. (The teacher is providing more meaning, and is directing the student to the exact location to find some specific information.)
Student AShe’s hungry.
Teacher– Why do you think Little Chimp carried the fruit in his mouth?
Student A– ‘Cos he’s climbing down and hanging on to the branches.
Teacher– Why do you think Mother Chimp didn’t get some fruit herself?
Student AShe had to look after the baby chimp.

After the meaning was re-established, the teacher invited the student to turn the page. Student A was asked to describe what was happening in the next picture before she attempted to read it.


Another example:
Teacher– Tell me what just happened.
Student BMother Chimp get none….food.
Teacher– You’re right. Mother Chimp didn’t get any fruit herself. Who gave her some? (The teacher is confirming the information, modelling sentence structure, and encouraging him to add more detail.)
Student BLittle Chimp.
Teacher– Tell me how Little Chimp got the fruit. (pointing)
Student BLittle Chimp climbed the tree.
Teacher– That’s right. Little Chimp climbed up the tree and then he….. (accompanying gestures)
Student B– …climbed down the tree.
Teacher–  And he carried the fruit in …..
Student B– …in his mouth.

The teacher has to be sensitive to how much intervention / questioning is helpful , or disruptive to maintaining meaning (and interest) for individual students. Gradually the student becomes more independent and can gather up and maintain meaning whilst reading.

Did that sound right?

Last week I wrote about students who are not using the look of the words as they are reading. The problem might be that they do not know where to look, or they might not know how to use the letters within words that they do see.

Other students spend a lot of time looking at the words. They are so busy thinking about what each individual word looks like that they forget to use the pictures and to think about what’s happening in the story. These students are likely to have poor comprehension (not understand) and will have much less chance of predicting and solving the words that will come next. The following example is one I have used in an earlier post-

Text:         The little cat is in the big tree

Student:  The like cat is it the big tree.

This student is using the general look of the words without checking that it makes sense and sounds right.


If your child reads something that does not make sense you can stop him / her at the end of the sentence and say – Did that make sense? or Did that sound right to you? You may have to read back the sentence so that he / she can hear the error.  You could then suggest- Try that again and think about…. (the story or the picture).

In an earlier post called Being Flexible I wrote about the need to challenge our students who rely on just one strategy (e.g. only using meaning, or only using the look of the words).

My students are currently learning to use the meaning of the story (look at the picture as you turn the page and think about what is happening, what has happened so far, and what is likely to come next) AND the look of the word (emphasis on using at least the 1st letter at this early stage).

We are encouraging the child to use meaning and print. We prompt to use what is not already being used.

How do we learn to read?

I was impressed with an article called How Do We Learn To Read by  (Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra)

You may like to read her views on comprehension (meaning) and decoding (recognising words by how they look).

Her article is similar to a former post I wrote- Reading Is About Meaning.

I have added a new page to this blog where I will link articles that I think are of particular interest to teachers. This article is one of them, but some parents might also find it to be interesting.

An example of a lesson


Here is a new youtube video of a Reading Recovery lesson. It is interesting to hear the prompts that the teacher uses to scaffold (help) her student to check and solve words as he is reading and writing.

The lesson is made up of-

Familiar reading (well known books). Usually that there is less help needed during familiar reading, and the reading should sound smooth (not word by word).

Running record. The student read independently.The teacher was recording what he was doing well and what needed attention. After the reading she made some decisions about which teaching points would be the most valuable at this time, and which errors she wanted him to work on again.

Making And Breaking. He made the word play with magnetic letters. He was asked to make a similar word– day. The word pay was harder for him to read showing that he didn’t quite understand that ay had a constant sound in the different words.

Writing. The student composed a sentence based on one of his books. The teacher and the student shared the pen. (We have a marker each. We would do the cut up sentence next. This was left out of this lesson.) The teacher and the student worked on various ways to solve words: clapping the parts, sound boxes, and stretching out the word.

New book. There was some discussion to familiarise the student with the overall story and some of the words and phrases in the book. She left out the ending for the student to discover during the 1st reading of the whole book. He read this book with the most amount of expression in his reading voice.

This teacher has been very generous in allowing this video to be posted. It kids-readingdemonstrates that a student does not always easily follow our prompts and we need to constantly adjust what will help him or her. We need to know what is not working for this student at this particular time. We need to know what to keep working on and what to leave for another day. Our students are certainly unpredictable.

Finger pointing

Here is a video of a lovely girl reading a familiar book, i.e. a book that she has read before.

She is reading so well that l want to take that pointing finger away!

Pointing has it’s place. I have written a previous post about Pointing to words or not? As previously stated, we do not encourage our students to continue to point once they are doing the one-one matching of voice and print because pointing generally slows down the reading and potentially gets in the way of maintaining meaning.

Pointing to each individual word can prevent the eyes from scanning ahead to see what is coming next. Scanning ahead adds to the meaning and context of the word currently being read / solved. It is obvious that this is not a problem for the girl in the video. She seems to know this book very well.

If your child is reluctant to stop pointing, and he / she no longer seems to need to doreading this, a compromise can be to run a finger along underneath the words. But it is best to remove the finger as soon as possible. I have my students firmly hold the book with both hands to keep the fingers occupied if pointing has just become an unnecessary habit.

Reading strategies

reading book1You might to download these excellent posters from Teacher’s Pet Displays to remind your child about some things he / she can try to solve words. Perhaps you could put them on the fridge or anywhere that they can easily be seen. You might display one or two at a time and frequently swap them.

The strategies represented on the posters are:

rs1I use the pictures to help me look for clues.
I sound out and blend the phonemes.
I look for smaller words hiding inside bigger words.
I can cut words up into syllables.
I use the punctuation to help me make sense of what l am reading.
I go back  and read a word or sentence again if l don’t understand it.


rs3I read on to see if l can make sense of a word l don’t know.
I listen to the words as l read them, to see if they make sense.
I look to see if the word looks similar to one l already know.
I imagine what is happening and create a picture in my head.
I ask questions that will help me if l don’t understand.
I know when I’ve made a mistake and l go back to try and put it right.

Click on the pictures to download the posters.

rs2A good reader has a purpose for reading.
A good reader thinks about what they already know.
A good reader makes sure they understand what they read.
A good reader looks at the pictures when possible.
A good reader predicts what will happen next.
A good reader forms pictures in their minds.
A good reader draws conclusions about what they have read.
A good reader tries to figure out new words.
A good reader keeps on practising.

Self Monitoring for Meaning

child-and-book-1366362356aIcWhen your child makes an error that does not make sense does he or she stop reading? Self monitoring is noticing that something is wrong. If the child keeps on reading without seeming to acknowledge the error (e.g. stops, looks puzzled, looks at you as if wanting help), self monitoring is not happening.

Some children rely on others to tell them if they are doing a good job or not. Some skip over an error in the hope that the listener has not noticed because it will lead to more work (e.g. go back and try something else). My aim is for all of my students to monitor their own choices and to make their own decisions as they are reading.

As l take a running record the first strategy l check that the student is using is meaning, (i.e. I check if the student seems to realize when an error does not make sense). If the student is not using meaning he or she is likely to have poor comprehension (not understand) and will have much less chance of predicting and solving new words.

The following example is one I have used in an earlier post-

Text:         The little cat is in the big tree

Student:  The like cat is it the big tree.

This student is using the general look of the words without checking that it makes sense and sounds right.

To prompt for using meaning, allow you child to finish reading the sentence and then say something like, Did that make sense?, Did that sound right to you? Try that again and think about…. (the story) (the picture).


wordsWhen I  refer to vocabulary I mean knowing the names of things, including objects, feelings, concepts and ideas.

Learning the meaning of  words begins when a child is born and continues throughout the child’s life. The number of words that the child already knows before beginning school varies greatly between students.

Much of a book introduction is spent checking that the student understands the vocabulary of the book.

Some ways you can help to build up your child’s vocabulary are:

  • Talk about an unfamiliar word. Give examples of how it could be used, e.g. gigantic means very, very big. A giant is very big and gigantic can mean big like a giant. The tent we saw at the circus was gigantic wasn’t it? Can you think of anything else that could be gigantic?
  • Talk about the different meanings that a word can have, e.g. saw (with eyes, a tool), sore.
  • Pick out a word. Explain the word if it is unfamiliar. Or pick out a well known word, e.g. big and give an unfamiliar alternative, e.g. enormous.
  • Add more descriptions or information than is in the book, e.g. describe the pictures in an interesting way, e.g. that sun looks dazzling, Emma’s dress is stunning, those animals are grouped together to stay safe.
  • Have your child repeat the unfamiliar word a number of times to help her / him to remember it by sight and sound.
  • Encourage your child to talk about the pictures and add ideas.
  • Talk about the feelings of the characters.

Every time you have a conversation with your child there is an opportunity to talkingintroduce new vocabulary. You probably already do it without thinking about it. You can:

  • Talk about what is going on around you. Talk about how things work, feelings and ideas.
  • When your child talks about something, add more detail to what is said.
  • Choose books from the library that are about things that you don’t often see during your daily activities.
  • Learn together by looking at information  programs on TV , the Internet, and in non-fiction books.

These are just a few suggestions. You can probably think of many other ways of helping to improve the number of words that your child understands and uses.

Print Awareness

girl on books (2)Our new students need to be ready to read. This includes having  print awareness. 

Print Awareness  includes knowing that print has meaning (we read to get a story / information from the writing), knowing how to handle a book (holding it the right way up and  turning the pages from the front to the back), and noticing print all around (writing is not only in a book).

Many of our students focus nearly all of their attention on the pictures. We want them to have a look at the picture to guess what the page will be about, but then they have to know to focus on the words. Some children need an adult to direct them to the purpose of the print, i.e. that the written word has meaning.

Some ways that you can help at home:
Reading a book to / with your child

  • Use the words “front” and “back” of the book. If your child hands you a book upside down or backwards, explain that you are turning it to start at the beginning.
  • Point to words of the title as you say them. (Matching one spoken word with one written word.)
  • Let your child turn the pages of the book.
  • Many beginner books have some repeated words on each page, e.g. Look up the road. Look down the road. Here comes a …. Point to these words as you say them. This helps your child see that we read from left to right and from top to bottom of the page. (This may be different to another known language.)
  • Point to a word that interests your child, e.g. dinosaur. Show your child that written words have a space on each side. Point out the 1st letter and the last letter to familiarize your child with these terms. (letter, word, first, last)

How can l help my child at home?

sharing brochureIt’s important that children understand what they are reading. That’s why we talk about the pictures before we ask our students to read a book.

This excellent brochure – Sharing Books With Children from has some very useful tips.

“The way you talk with your children as you read books together makes a difference in their being ready to learn to read.” For example:

  • Use conversations around the pictures to improve children’s vocabulary (known words) and comprehension (understanding).
  • Ask ‘what’ questions: What’s this? Leave some time for your child to think and answer.
  • Add a little more information. That’s right. It’s a cow. A baby cow is called a calf.
  • Follow answers with another question. What else can you see? / I wonder why…?
  • Relate something in the book to your child’s experience. Remember when ….. Tell me about it.

Click on the picture to read more tips in the brochure. Scroll down to Reading and then click on Sharing Books with Young Children in order to download your own copy.