Effective reading is an important tool for gaining knowledge. When I was a kid, my teachers provided us most of the knowledge we got. Today, my kids get most of their new knowledge by themselves, much of it by reading. In fact, I believe that getting our kids to love reading is the single most significant thing we can do for them.
Your kids will have to read a lot during their school years and even more during their life. So developing their effective reading skills is essential to their knowledge, development and their success.
Broadly speaking, there are two reasons for anyone to read:
- For information and knowledge
- For pleasure
There’s something very unique about the two reasons. If done properly, they can contribute to each other. As parents, we can make sure that learning new things will be a pleasure and that enjoying what we read will teach us a lot.
Getting the right information in a short time is a learned skill. Unfortunately, some teachers emphasize those skills, while others expect the kids to develop with them on their own.
Either way, parents have the responsibility to make sure their kids learn how to read effectively. Personally, I wouldn’t take any risks and I would make sure my kids obtained this skill, even if I had to teach them myself.
In every parenting workshop, I say these things to the parents and many of them tell me “It isn’t fair. You’re a teacher. You know what you need to teach and you know how to teach it. It’s your job”.
It’s true, which is why I am writing today’s post and sharing with you some great tips on how to teach your kids reading for information, as well as reading for pleasure.
Effective Reading for information
Although I am referring to books below, the same tips apply to reading articles, Internet posts and assignment instructions.
Read the title
When kids read a book for information, they need to focus on the title first. To encourage kids to predetermine what the book is about, show them titles and ask them to guess what the book is about.
Read the synopsis on the back cover
The second step is to look at the back cover and see the summary of the book. Usually the back of the book gives a good indication of what the book is about. As an activity, ask kids to guess what the book is about based on the description on the back.
Read the content page
The third step is to go over the content page. Usually, this lists the titles of all the topics covered. Looking at the contact page gives an indication of the way the author has structured the book and the direction the book takes. As with titles, ask your kids to guess what they think the book is all about just by looking at the content page.
These three steps will give you an idea what the book is about. This provides the answer to an important question: Is this the right book for me? Does this book contain the information I need?
If the answer is “No”, try another book.
If the answer is “Yes”, move on to the next step.
Get the main points
Books we read to get information have a lot more information than we need. Often, a short summary of a book, with 2-3 paragraphs, is more than enough as an outcome. Authors write many examples or describe the same idea from different aspects to allow readers to relate to whatever seems relevant to them.
If you get the main points, you’re successful. No need to read the whole book.
Most authors follow the training technique when they write information, because this increases the chance of understanding:
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them
- Tell them
- Tell them what you’ve told them
Therefore, the first and the last chapter of the book should contain good summaries of the book and the first and the last paragraphs of every chapter should contain the highlights of the chapter. Teach your kids to read the first and last chapter of the book to get the gist of it and, if they need more details, to read the first and last paragraphs of every chapter. This usually gives a very good idea about what the author thought was important.
Every information reading must go through an internal process of understanding, so it’s always better to be an active reader and “translate” every idea into your own words.
Encourage your kids to take notes whenever they read. Tell them that “The opposite of forgetting is writing down”. If possible, it’s best to highlight text and write comments inside the book itself.
Using highlighters in different colors can do the trick, but writing notes of understanding in their own words will guarantee they will remember it better.
The most important thing to remember when reading for information is why you’re reading. This should be clear before even opening the book. Having a set of questions to answer before starting to read helps to find the right information. Reading purposefully attracts your attention to paragraphs that may answer those questions.
- What am I looking for?
- What is the main idea?
- How did this idea evolve?
- What are 3 examples that support this idea?
- Who are the main people who contributed to the idea?
So to help your kids get the most relevant information out of their reading, teach them to have their questions ready before they start to read. Many assignments come with very good questions, so make sure the kids read them first to guide their reading.
Reading for pleasure
Unlike effective reading for information, reading for pleasure serves the sole purpose of enjoyment. Yet enjoyment is like a door that allows a lot of information and knowledge to come into our mind. Kids who are taught difficult topics in an enjoyable way manage to memorize complex things and know them well when they are surprisingly young.
In my “Garden of Eden” program, enjoyment was an essential ingredient and all learning was done through play. Kids as young as 3-years-old could read, complete 60-piece puzzle (yes, all by themselves), cut with scissors and learn new languages, believing they were playing games all the time. Never underestimate pleasure as a powerful learning vehicle.
Kids who watch their parents read for pleasure will copy them and do the same. If you want your kids to enjoy their reading make sure to be a role model and talk about books as a source of enjoyment.
When reading for pleasure, it’s very important for the kid to take ownership over the reading. If you want to promote reading for pleasure, you need to allow your kids to choose their books. In special education, we have a rule that kids always choose the books at the level they can read. Use this rule to assess the level your kids think they are at.
How to choose a fun book
Books intended for reading pleasure follow the same editing rules. The title and the back cover usually give a good indication of the main idea and the style, so kids should be able to tell if a book will be interesting and fun for them to read by looking at it from the outside.
Here are some tips for teaching your kids how to pick a book:
- Play with titles. Give your kids title of books and ask them to tell you what the book is about. Remember, there is no right or wrong, only a boost to their imagination. It can be a dinner game in which every family member gives their own interpretation of the title.
- Teach your kids to read the cover and see if the topic is something that interest them.
- Not surprisingly, many kids pick books based on the cover picture. Yes, there are many wonderful books that don’t have a nice cover picture. Over time, the picture will become less important and your kids will put more weight on other factors.
- Show your kids the format inside the books: the size of the text, the density of the pages and the type of pictures (color or black and white, all over the page or just a block). Books start from full page color pictures with few large words and gradually move to chapter books with pages full of text and few pictures.
- When you bring your kids books from the library, make sure to bring books they would choose themselves. If you take the risk of bringing something different, accept it if your kids don’t read it.
Some kids like to talk about the books they read. If your kids are like this, make sure to ask. Whatever they prefer, never test your kids on their reading. I have personal proof this is bad practice.
Enjoyment is the ONLY motivating for kids to read
My son Tsoof was 6 years old when we moved to a different state and had to debate which grade to put him in. His Grade 2 report card, a letter from his previous teachers and a psychological assessment of him stated he had exceeded age 9 in his math and reading and would do well in Grade 3.
Tsoof’s new homeroom teacher didn’t like the report at all, so every day, when we went to pick him up, she said he didn’t understand what he was reading and gave him worksheets with beginning sounds, while at home he was attempting to read Harry Potter.
In a meeting she had with us, the teacher said she had asked Tsoof about his reading and he had been unable to tell her what he had read. She asked us to read every book with him and ask him various comprehension questions.
Since we trusted her, we did exactly as she asked. Every book Tsoof read, one of us would read too and would ask him lots of questions. Reading each book took 10 minutes. The “inquisition” took 20…
After a month, our son, who had been reading books for an hour or two a day, started to avoid reading and went hiding in the toilet to read books for enjoyment to avoid the subsequent interrogation.
To us, it seemed as if he understood his reading very well, especially since he loved jokes and funny books. We would hear him bursting into laughter in his hiding and he would come back and tell us his new joked with full understanding of the humor (humor requires a high level of understanding).
We realized our investigations to please the teacher were killing Tsoof’s joy of reading. So I bought a booklet of comprehension tests for Grade 3 and told Tsoof, “You need to do one test a day. If you answer 80% of the questions correctly, you understand what you’re reading and your teacher can say whatever she wants.
If not, your teacher is right and we need to take some steps to improve your understanding”. He was very happy and wanted to do all the tests at once. Within two weeks, he finished the book with an average score of 86% and we stopped the investigations immediately.
It has been almost 8 years since then. Tsoof still reads an hour or two a day. His Grade 9 national test scores were well above the national average, especially in spelling and reading comprehension, although he is 18 months younger than his peers.
Have a set time to go to the library and borrow as many books as you can. I give my kids a bag and tell them to take as many books as they like. At our library, we can borrow 20 books per family member and we use all our 5 cards to take about 100 books nearly every week (and we actually read them).
When your kids are young, have a set time to read with them – bed time stories are a good time to pass the message that reading is important and fun. Show them the words as you read and gradually let them read what they can. As they grow older, alternate – you read one page and your child reads the next.
Added bonuses of reading for fun:
- Time with a parent – attention
- Satisfy curiosity
- Enhance imagination
- Improve problem solving skills
- Improve spelling
- Enhance vocabulary and expression
- Improve awareness of a wide variety of issues, relationships and ideas
- Gain knowledge on specific topics easily
- Develop reading comprehension
As I’ve said before, enjoyment allows more information to come in. As my psychology mentor said, “If your kids love reading, you’ve given them the best tool to succeed in life”.
Readers are leaders and leaders are readers
John Di Lemme