Supported decision making

thinkingWe want our children to check their reading and make their own decisions.
Here is an example of supported decision making quite early in the series of lessons (2nd intake).


The sentence in the book was:bowl
Billy looked at the bowls.
The child read:
Billy looked at the bowls …. spoons.

Teacher: Is it bowls or spoons? What do you think?
Child: Mm
Teacher: (Covered the word.) What would you expect to see if it was spoons?
Child: s
Teacher: (Uncovered the 1st letter-b.) What is it?
Child: bowls
Teacher: You’re right. Billy looked at the bowls.

The sentence in the book was:
The fish are not coming
The child read:
The fish are not here … coming …today. (The student stopped reading and looked uncertain.)

Teacher: Which one is it? What do you think?
Child: coming
Teacher: Why?
Child: There’s a c.
Teacher: Read it again and check it sounds right.
Child: The fish are not coming today. It’s right!

It would be a lot quicker to just tell the child the correct word but we would not be giving her the opportunity to discover she could work it out herself.

See also an earlier post- Decision Making.

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.

Accumulating the parts of a word

Your child may come to an unknown word and just stop reading,
e.g. The racing car went in the muddy puddle and made a big car

You could prompt him / her to take some action (if you think that it is a word he / she is likely to be able to solve).
“Go back to the beginning of the sentence and get ready to start that word”.
The racing car went in the muddy puddle and made a big s_____.
(Say the 1st letter with him/her if necessary.)
“Can you say more?”
“Try it all again.”
The racing car went in the muddy puddle and made a big sp____.

This may be enough information for your child to work out that the word is splash. If not, you could do some more prompting.
“Say it slowly like you do when you write”.
sp-l-ash, spl-ash (or any other variation trialled by the reader).
“Check it”.
The racing car went in the muddy puddle and made a big splash.
“Does that sound right?”
“Does it look right?”

In this example the child is asked to reread to regather the meaning and structure of the sentence and to accumulate the parts of the word by starting with the 1st part and adding more. Encourage your child to say chunks (spl-ash) rather than letter by letter (s-p-l-a-s-h) as this is what efficient readers do. The aim is to have the child take some action rather than waiting to be told the unknown word.

Questions to help readers

questions to helpThere are many prompts you can use to help your children when they are reading to you on the Prompts page.

Here are some prompts / questions that you can download and keep in a place where you can see them as you are listening to your child read. Click the sign on the left to take you to the site. Scroll down until you see the same sign. Click on it to download your own copy. (from The Reading Corner blog by Renee)

If you would like to print more prompts, go to the Prompts page. Scroll to the end of the page and you will see a Print Friendly icon. By clicking on this you can easily print the prompts, with or without pictures.

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.

Being flexible

Flexibility-Cartoon-When Marie Clay was researching ways to help struggling students to read she began by investigating what good readers do as they read. She found that competent readers quickly change between reading strategies by selecting what works best for each situation.

We want our students to be flexible. If one strategy is not working the student needs to quickly try something else.

If the student is stuck l might ask- What else can you try? This question is inviting the student to recall other known strategies. 

The student might:

  • search the picture for clues,
  • reread to regather the meaning / structure / momentum,
  • think about what has happened so far to predict what may come next,
  • reread and get ready to say the beginning of the next word,
  • look for a part of the word he knows,
  • think of another word that looks a bit like that,
  • take the word apart,
  • try saying the word, or part of the word, a different way,
  • look back to where she saw the word before,
  • keep on reading to see if that helps.

If your child is only using 1 strategy every time he / she is stuck, try to encourage the use of something else reading childrenthat may work better for that word. A caution- asking a child to take a word like ‘because‘ apart is not very helpful. Or asking a child to think about the story when he does not know much about the topic, e.g. car engines, is not helpful. Asking the child to look for a small word inside the word is not always helpful, e.g. me within come is no help at all. Some words will have to be ‘told’ and that is OK.

The main message for the child is don’t give up after one attempt.  Don’t keep using what is not working for that word. Try something else.

Decision Making

thinkingAs we are reading there are many decisions that we need to make, e.g. do these words make sense, look right and sound right? Sometimes our students do not know if they making good choices between words.
A student who cannot decide if a word is right or not may:

  • Stop reading (probably thinking: Is that right?)
  • Ask: Am l right? Is it ___?
  • Look at the teacher for help.worried
  • Change a word that was right.
  • Have multiple tries without deciding which word is right, e.g. looked, look, like.
  • Use a questioning voice.
  • Not respond, shrug or say ‘I don’t know’.

The child may be used to always being given help.

If the child gives a correct response and looks questioningly at us and every time we respond with statements such as ‘You’re right!’, ‘Mmm-hmm’, or nodding / smiling, then the child is not being taught to think for himself. We are doing the thinking for him.

Also, if the child makes a mistake and we jump in every time saying statements such as ‘Oops!’ or ‘Not quite” or “That’s not..”, we are not teaching her to check her own reading and we are doing the thinking for her.

Whilst it is natural for us to want to praise and encourage or help the child, we should get into the thinkinghabit of waiting until after the child has had time to confirm or reject his own attempt at a word.

We should ask ‘What do you think?

Then we can give extra prompts to help the child, if required, e.g. ‘What can you do to help you?‘ ‘What letter would you expect to see at beginning / end?’ ‘Think about ____ (the picture / story so far)’.

Am l helping or hindering the student from learning to make her own decisions? Am l jumping in too quickly to assist? Does the student know l expect her to independently try something and check it? Am l trying to move the book along quickly by telling the child too much? These are questions that l am asking myself.

From Teaching Students to Confirm Using Sound and Letter Knowledge. By Lorianne Fittzgerald

What is self monitoring?

pointing and reading boySelf-monitoring is being able to check that what you are reading makes sense, looks right, and can be said that way. When you are self monitoring you are connecting with what you are reading. You know when you have made an error and you stop, reread, and try to fix the problem.


As students are learning to read, they often guess some, or all, of the words. Some students ‘sound like good readers’ but they are not self monitoring the look of the words.


Text:         Sam ran and ran.sams race

Student: Sam’s in a race with all the kids.

Student 1 was not self monitoring. He looked at the picture and invented the story without paying attention to the number, or look of the actual words. He needs to learn he has to match spoken and written words.


Text:         Mother Bear’s red scarf went flying away in the wind. red scarf

Student:  Mama Bear’s scarf went flying away in the wind.

Student 2 was not self monitoring. The sentence made sense and sounded right, but she was not carefully checking the look of  ALL the words.

Some students concentrate on the beginning (or other) letters to guess a word, and do not check that what they read makes sense or could be said that way.


Text:         The little cat is in the big tree

Student:  The like cat is it the big tree.

Student 3 needs to understand that the purpose of reading is to get a message from the author. A mistake has been made if the reading does not make sense or sound right.

When students are self monitoring they are able to identify that an error has been made. They may look puzzled. They may ask for help. They may reread to have another go.

If we always do the self monitoring for the child by telling him /her when an error has been made, we are not allowing the child to develop ways of self monitoring.

You can encourage your child to self monitor by not always showing where the error is, or telling the correct word. Instead you could use prompts such as:

  • It could be __________, but look at ________. (1st letter etc.)
  • Check it. Does it look right and sound right to you?
  • You almost got that. See if you can find what is wrong.
  • Try that again.
  • Something wasn’t quite right.
  • What’s wrong with this? (Repeat what child said)
  • You said _________. Does that make sense?

Slow check and sound boxes

slow check

The aim is for the Reading Recovery student  to learn a variety of strategic actions (ways of working out words and meaning).

One of our new Reading Recovery goal strips is  ‘Slow check the word as if it is in boxes’.

During the writing component of the lesson, the student has been shown how to match sounds to (probable) letters through the use of sound boxes. The student pushes counters into boxes  as  he / she slowly says the word. This is repeated until all the sounds are heard and represented.

During reading, this knowledge of sound boxes can be used to match  letters to  (probable) sounds to solve a word. The student runs his / her finger underneath the unknown word to slowly look through the word as if it was in sound boxes, and chooses sounds that could match those letters, e.g. l-i-tt-le.

elkoninClick on the picture if you would like to learn more about (Elkonin) sound boxes.