Let’s face it: plowing through textbooks is no easy task, especially if you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for. Finding the gist of sections of textbooks, stories in magazines, newspaper articles, and other nonfiction reading material is an important skill. Not only does it help a reader understand and synthesize what they’re reading, but it helps for studying later on, and saves time too.
Want to help your child learn to find the gist? Here’s an activity to help your child manage their nonfiction reading by focusing on the most important elements.
What You Need:
Nonfiction book or magazine article without subtitles
What You Do:
Find some good nonfiction reading books or magazine articles that don’t have any subtitles. After you gather a few samples, place them in front of your child.
Have your child look through all the books and magazine articles and pick something she would like to read. Having your child read something she is interested in will help comprehension, not to mention motivation!
Tell your child that you have noticed that there aren’t any subtitles anywhere in the nonfiction piece and that together you’re going to read one paragraph at a time and decide on a title for each paragraph. Explain that this is called finding the gist of the paragraphs as you read, and it’s a great skill for nonfiction readers to develop. They’ll be able to manage the information they’re rapiding digesting.
Model how to do this for your child. Read the first paragraph out loud and tell her what you’re thinking. Say something explicitly like: “Well, I see that this first paragraph is telling the reader that a lot of people think wolves are vicious, but they rarely attack people. It seems to me that wolves have a bad rap. Perhaps a good subtitle for this paragraph would be “Wolves: A Misunderstood Species.” Write your subtitle on a sticky note and cover the paragraph with it.
Now have your child practice. If she need a little help, try out a few with her, and then encourage her to do it on her own. Your child may want to read the paragraph aloud as you read it silently. Either way, when she’s ready to write a subtitle, have your child explain her thinking. What information did she read in the text that lead her to come up with this subtitle?
Explain to your child that every good nonfiction reader stops and thinks about what she read. Urge her to keep sticky notes around to practice finding the gist in her nonfiction reading. She can keep her notes as future study aids, or to help her organize essays and projects.
If your student is struggling, the solution may be in finding the right story to tell.
The Power of Story
Storytelling is the first and most powerful way of teaching. The ancient Greeks taught with stories. Jesus taught with stories. Marketers today teach with stories.
Stories arrest our attention when a speaker finally looks up from the script and gets personal. Stories inspire change in people and even whole cultures. Stories are memorable.
Some of the world’s greatest leaders were inspired by the biographical stories of men and women who went before them. Abraham Lincoln read George Washington’s biography. Uncle Tom’s Cabin inspired abolition of slavery. Stories have changed my life.
Years ago, a seminarian told our Bible class the story of a woman he met in South America. She lived in a tin shack near a garbage dump. The shack was filthy and crowded and was in proximity to a river of human waste. The woman had recently come to faith in Christ. But she was also dying. She had excruciating pain in the last stages of pancreatic cancer. The seminarian and his team asked what they could do for her. “Nothing,” she said, “I have Christ. What more do I need?” I was not able to retell this story without weeping for a long time. I have never forgotten it and her faith has never ceased to inspire me in my darkest moments.
I read stories from Mathematicians are People Too to inspire my children to learn math. I then successfully used Times Tales stories to teach my children their multiplication facts. Stories are much easier to remember than plain numbers. When I discovered Life of Fred curriculum, I utilized the power of story to teach my children more advanced mathematics.
I used the power of story to teach my children history. Homeschool history curriculum is often written in story format. But I extended the use of story to teach history with historical novels and biographies.
I even used the stories behind musicians and artwork to teach fine arts.
The Power of Story to Teach Language Arts
But one day a few years ago I realized something shocking. I wasn’t using the power of story to teach my children language arts. I certainly read to them. But literature terms, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and composition were divorced from story in our homeschool. We learned parts of speech by dissecting meaningless sentences. Even the rhymes and songs I used to aid memorization told no story. How had that happened? I didn’t know, but I knew the results of it.
When I pulled out our English materials, the children groaned, complained, and begged to skip the subject for the day. English was their least favorite subject. As an avid reader and writer who enjoys every aspect of language arts, this broke my heart. That’s when I had a crazy idea. What if I created my own language arts curriculum using story to teach the concepts? I share the story of not feeling qualified to write curriculum here.
I wanted a curriculum that would harness the power of emotion and not just repetition to aid retention. I noticed that the majority of the same grammar concepts are taught from first grade through twelfth grade! No wonder kids hated it. I wanted to tell funny stories that sometimes used language arts terms as characters. Kids couldn’t forget what a prefix was when Prefix was an evil programmer who introduced the re- virus into the computer system.
I wanted a curriculum that gave kids a powerful why. Textbooks merely defined terms and rules. I wanted to use story to show the results of not having books labeled fiction, of not having pronouns, and of not having adequate handwriting speed.
I wanted a curriculum that used story to make kids feel like participants in something bigger than themselves. I wanted them to see that the kids in the story struggled with reading and writing, too. I wanted them to see that by reading and completing short missions, they could defeat the Gremlin and save the English language.
This is what I wanted to accomplish, but I didn’t know the end of the story when I started writing Grammar Galaxy. I had no idea how it would be received.
Then I heard the story of a boy who was very unhappy learning language arts prior to receiving Grammar Galaxy. “He’s never hugged curriculum before,” his mom said.
Another mom wrote, “I really can’t say enough or put into adequate words just how much Grammar Galaxy has changed our entire homeschool experience. Other subjects like History, Science, Health, etc. have become so much easier to teach now that their reading ability and comprehension have improved. They actually ask to dress in their vests [that I made them] the minute they see the mission manuals come out and wish they could work in them every day.”
A mom wrote to tell me she had misplaced the storybook and had to buy another because her eldest was begging to do more missions. She said, “Thank you for your help and your program. You’ve made a subject that I hated as a kid into a weekly lesson through which we ALL giggle.”
Finally, a mother told me they started Mission 8 of Volume 1. “Let me tell you, it’s been fun, but my son lost his mind on this lesson! I have NEVER seen him laugh so hard during any lesson, for any subject since we started homeschooling. When the queen told Ellen, “I hate you” with tears in her eyes, he fell off his chair. He actually begged me to read the story to him again! I laughed equally hard at your instructions to try mixing up synonyms and antonyms at dinner (but to let your parents know what you are doing). Our 5-year-old was so offended when he told me dinner was just terrible! LOL You really did it. You truly made grammar fun. I didn’t think it was possible but you obviously deserve some kind of medal! THANK YOU!”
The second volume of Grammar Galaxy, Protostar, is now available and on sale. It is specifically written for third graders or students who have completed Nebula level or its equivalent. I would love to hear your child’s story of success in using it.
If your child can read, but not fluently, you know what I’m talking about. The halting pace with voice pitch changes that don’t match the text are very noticeable. But just to be clear:
“Reading fluency is the power to read quickly and accurately. The more fluent a reader, the more he or she automatically groups and recognizes words. Fluent readers excel at oral reading, which is highlighted by smooth and natural expression.” – ReadingRx
Slow reading and failing to voice pronunciation correctly are normal for beginning readers. But if it continues, poor reading fluency will affect your child’s reading motivation and comprehension. Improving your child’s reading fluency is a top priority.
How to Improve Your Child’s Reading Fluency
Practice, practice, practice. Have your child read aloud a lot. If she resists because she doesn’t feel confident, remind her that reading is like every other skill: it requires practice. No one is born reading well. Once a child is reading in our home, they earn the privilege of getting to read Scripture out loud during our Bible time.
Build your child’s confidence. Have him read a beloved book in his skill level to a younger sibling or for a grandparent. Let him read the same book over and over and praise him when he does.
You read first. Let a child who struggles with reading fluency hear you read new material first. This is no different than having a young musician listen to a piece before trying to play it.
Have her read with you. After you read to your child, have her read out loud along with you. Read at a slightly faster rate than your child has been.
Assess your child’s reading speed. Choose a passage that isn’t familiar but can be read by your child with at least 100 words in it. Ask your child to read it out loud for speed for one minute (use a timer). Record how many words were read and share the number with your child without judgement.
Challenge your child to improve. Have your child read the same passage again to see if he can improve speed, accuracy, and a natural voice. Repeat this process, taking note of your child’s interest. If she is weary, try it again another day. Depending on your child’s personality, you may want to have him try to earn a reward for improving speed. You could also have him compete for improvement in speed with a sibling (not in total words read). Continue choosing new material to read for the challenge, encouraging your child to keep practicing.
Fluent readers are more likely to be consistent readers. This Pinterest board has games you can use to improve your child’s reading fluency.
Reading is a vitally important skill for our children to develop. Because it is, we have to do what we can to make reading appealing. Research suggests that teaching approach has a powerful impact on children’s attitudes toward reading and the amount of time spent reading independently. Are you doing any of these things in your homeschool that could discourage your child from reading?
Limiting the Range of Books That Can Be Read
Studies of kids whose academic progress is stunted in summers off from school suggest they are kids with the least number of books in the home. While I’ve never met a homeschooler who didn’t have a lot of books, I have known some who have very strict standards for literature. Of course we don’t want our children to read books that conflict with our values or that aren’t high quality. But limiting our children’s reading selection to the 1800s classics that you love may have the unwanted side effect of inciting rebellion in other areas.
Our children have different personalities and preferences than we do. Refusing to allow them to choose books that appeal to their God-given passions may not only kill their desire to read, but may wound their spirits. Reading what you consider to be a silly book may bring a lot of joy to your child and may encourage him to read more serious works later.
When my son was little, he was obsessed with dinosaurs. I found two dinosaur books at the time written from a Christian perspective. If I had limited his reading to those two books, he would have been extremely frustrated. Instead, we checked out every book we could find on dinosaurs from the library. We used the evolutionary statements in the books as opportunities to review what we know to be true–a teaching approach with proven effectiveness.
One of the things I did this year in our literature co-op was allow each child to choose one classic book and one book of their choice for the group to read. Which books do you think the kids were most excited about? I want children to be exposed to classics, but when they beg me to let them read another excellent book in a contemporary series, why would I ever say no?
Freedom of reading choice (within reasonable limits) encourages children to read.
Requiring Extra Work With Reading
Reading is intrinsically rewarding when a child is able to read with adequate speed and comprehension (I have upcoming posts on these topics). But we can make reading a chore when we always tack on assignments.
Book reports, chapter summaries, and writing definitions for vocabulary words are excellent means of developing particular skills. Unfortunately, they are terrible ways of encouraging children to read. Few children find these assignments fun. Would you want to read if you had to do these tasks for every book?
In math the expression “drill and kill” refers to the practice of requiring students to complete pages and pages of problems, with the end result of killing joy for math. We can drill and kill in language arts as well. Elementary students should primarily be focused on discovering the joy of reading, rather than on developing technical skills. Assignments that are given should be short and purposeful.
Once the kids in our literature co-op had practiced completing a literature map for books several times, I stopped requiring it. They understood literary terms and enjoyed using them in our discussions without the busy work.
Reading without having to produce extra work encourages children to read.
Not Allowing Time for Reading
A new program in some public schools called Stop, Drop and Read is having a great deal of success in promoting independent reading. Freedom of reading choice and not requiring additional assignments have likely made it effective. But I would argue that the most powerful part of the program is the dedicated time for reading.
Today’s schedules that are packed with extra-curricular activities and online access have made reading a luxury few think they can afford. Many of my adult friends tell me they simply don’t have time to read. How will we prepare our children to be readers in the future if we don’t create a space in our lives for books?
Reading for enjoyment (the most powerful predictor of academic and life success) can easily be neglected in lieu of more “serious” schoolwork. Even reading aloud as families (which is my favorite part of homeschooling) should not be undertaken at the expense of time for your child to read on her own.
Our family encourages reading before bed, but sometimes we stop, drop, and read too. What’s critically important is that parents participate. The modeling speaks volumes, to use a reading metaphor. If we are too busy to read for pleasure, how can we expect our children to take the time? Put a free reading time on your calendar or add it to your child’s lesson plan. I have found that adding reading time to the other, less desirable assignments encourages reading. It’s the first subject my kids complete for the quarter.
Making dedicated time for reading encourages children to read.
Not Providing Reading Support
Just as children are unique in their reading interests, they are unique in their preferred format. Failing to provide support will keep our kids from reading.
As a busy homeschooling mom, I can relate to wanting a child, who knows how to read, to read independently. But some children need you or another mature reader with them while they read out loud for emotional or decoding support. If your child hates to mispronounce or misread a word, he will be reluctant to pick up a book on his own until he is more confident. This child will need lots of encouragement and reminders that any mistakes he makes will be corrected as he reads more. It’s worth it to spend the time building this type of reader up.
Reading and discussing in a group can also provide the support your child needs to read more. I’ve already mentioned that my kids read for a literature class in our co-op. It works so well to get kids reading. The kids ask each other how far they are in the book. But consider another option that I am considering for this year: start a book club. The book 100 Books for Girls to Grow On describes the benefits of reading books for tween girls in a mother-daughter book club. You could start a mother-son or a father-son or a grandparent-grandchild book club with any age child and build readers while you’re building relationships.
Some children with dyslexia find the process of reading printed materials exhausting and need a different kind of support. These readers can benefit from listening to audio books for fun. Another option is to have your struggling reader listen to books while they read the text. Disney Story Central, Epic Books, and Amazon’s Immersion Reading titles have this reading support built in. Our digital-native children may feel more comfortable reading on a Kindle than printed books. Borrow a friend’s Kindle for your child to try and see what she thinks.
Less confident readers may also be very sensitive to the format of the words on a page. Graphic novels that look like comic books are very successful in pulling these types of readers in. Capstone Publishers produce fiction and nonfiction titles on high-interest topics that are for lower-level readers. There are captivating pictures and lots of white space to encourage aspiring readers. You can find their books at your public library.
Providing books in your child’s preferred format encourages children to read.
Not Getting Outside Help
A child who hates to read is usually a child who feels he isn’t good at it. If you haven’t had your child’s vision, hearing, or reading skills evaluated, I recommend it.
Homeschoolers are understandably concerned about admitting to those outside the homeschooling community that our child isn’t reading well. But there are professionals–even those associated with public schools–who can be of great help. Every situation is unique, however, so my advice is to contact someone in a local or state homeschool support group for advice. You may have a reading specialist who now homeschools in your group! You won’t know until you ask. I also recommend the blog Homeschooling With Dyslexia.
When my child was struggling to read, I discussed it with my neighbor–a teacher and reading specialist. Her advice made all the difference! I’ll be sharing about our experience later this week.
Getting outside help for struggling readers encourages them to read.
Not Expecting Your Child to Be a Reader
If you aren’t a reader or your spouse isn’t, it can be easy to communicate that you don’t expect your child to be an avid reader. Homeschooling can reverse the no-reading habit for you and your child.
Remember that being a reader isn’t limited to reading War and Peace for fun. Reading is important and enjoyable for all kinds of kids, whether they want to enter a profession or a trade. Reading isn’t for “smart kids.” Reading is what makes kids smart. We shouldn’t automatically assume that dyslexic kids won’t be readers, either. Kids with learning disabilities can be the most passionate readers of all, because they have had to work for their skills.
I know people who aren’t readers, but who love God’s Word. If for no other reason than you want your child to enjoy a close, wonderful relationship with the Lord, expect that your child will be a reader. Children always want to meet the expectations of a loving parent. Pray that God would give you wisdom and direction as you seek to raise a reader.
Expect your child to be a reader to encourage her to read.
What to Do If You’ve Made These Mistakes
If you have already made some of these mistakes with your child, and it’s appropriate, apologize. One of the most valuable lessons we can teach our children is how to admit when we are wrong. Taking the blame has the added benefit of encouraging your child to believe that he CAN be an avid reader and that it isn’t his fault. Explain that it’s something you will work on together and with God’s help, you will succeed.
I was provided with a free subscription and was compensated for my time in completing this review. All opinions are my own.
A whopping 45% of 17-year-olds read for fun just once or twice a year. While there are some homeschooled teens who also don’t enjoy reading, there are many more who are avid readers–sometimes to the exclusion of other activities that seem more noteworthy on college applications. Yet reading is by far and away the most valuable skill when it comes to college coursework.
Homeschoolers sometimes have to provide a more detailed syllabus for coursework completed on college applications than students in traditional schools. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to prove that your student has not only read but understood many great works of literature? It could not only support your child’s admission to college, but could be used to support applications for scholarships.
Reading Portfolio Could Help Your Child Get Into College
Reading Portfolio is a new online program that not only keeps track of books your high schooler has read, but verifies that the books have been read. Videos of your student taking quizzes on books read are used to confirm that your student isn’t cheating and are then deleted.
Points are accumulated for passing scores and can even be used to demonstrate exemplary reading using these designations:
This great video explains how the program works:
Benefits Beyond College
Do you have a sneaking suspicion that there is more screen time than reading going on? You could also use Reading Portfolio to verify that your students are reading.
Some readers will be motivated to accumulate points just as though reading WERE a game. You could challenge your child to a reading competition with a prize going to the most prolific reader. If your child isn’t an avid reader, check my post of ideas for getting your kids to read more.
Reading Portfolio is an Affordable Way to Improve Your Child’s College Application
Subscriptions are just $15.95 for a year and $24.95 for ten years. You can try a sample quiz to see how it works. You can start building a reading portfolio when your child turns 13. I wish I had a list of all the books I’ve read. Don’t you?
I keep hearing from moms whose kids don’t like to read or don’t read as much as their mothers hope. Why the concern?
The Problem With Kids Who Don’t Read
The main cause for concern with kids who would rather do anything else but read is that they won’t become proficient readers without enough time with their noses in books. Kids who can’t read well tend to do very poorly in life, no matter how you measure. That’s why literacy is a high priority for schools and it’s a high priority for homeschooling moms, too.
While there are audio and even visual Bibles, the most accessible way to take in God’s Word is to read it. As a Christian homeschooler, I hope that my children will have the reading skills they need to read the Bible and the will to read it, too, especially when they leave home. A lesser concern where reading is concerned is our desire to have adult children who read for pleasure. Reading is a great hobby that we want to pass on!
What if Your Child Would Rather Do Anything But Read?
Assess His Abilities
Most of the time, children who are reluctant to read find it challenging. Does your child have a visual impairment, attention deficits, or a learning disability that makes reading more work? Does she need to learn to read in a different way? My reluctant reader could not learn to read phonetically, though his three older siblings did. Once I let him learn to read using sight words (or a whole language approach), his reading took off. You may need an evaluation of your child, but read the rest of my suggestions first.
Ease Your Expectations
Because so much is riding on reading, we homeschoolers can overreact to any child who isn’t reading at grade level or just doesn’t like to read. I have heard numerous testimonies of children who were late readers but caught up with or exceeded their same age peers. I can tell you numerous similar stories of people who didn’t like to read as children, but are avid readers as adults. My husband, pictured above, is a great example. He seriously read Gone With the Wind just because he wanted to! When we are fearful, we can easily become impatient and even angry about reading. Our children pick up on our attitudes easily and soon you’re in a battle of wills or you’re dealing with a child who gives up because she feels she’s not a good reader.
Keep Reading to Your Child
I didn’t understand for a long time the incredible value of reading to children in terms of building a child’s reading skills. When you read books out loud that are above your child’s reading level, he is building a vocabulary that will enable his reading to take off when he’s developmentally ready. For example, if you read a word like appreciate out loud, even if your child doesn’t see the word, when she comes to it in a book one day, she’ll sound out uh-pr–appreciate. She will recognize the word easily from a few phonics and the context. Don’t have the time to read out loud as much as you’d like? Consider a Disney Interactive Books or Audible subscription so your child can be read to any time.
Make Reading Easy
Capstone Publishers has succeeded in large part because of its focus on creating high-interest, easy-to-read books–especially for boys. No longer are readers who are “behind grade level” saddled with baby books. There are easy-to-read books on nearly every subject. Graphic novels (like comic books in novel form) are particularly appealing to boys. Calvin and Hobbes (not a Capstone title) has gotten many a boy, including mine, to love reading. You can find this book and Capstone titles at a library near you. I recommend giving your child a book at or below his reading level and telling him, “I’m not sure if this is too difficult for you or not. Let me know, okay, and I’ll find one that’s easier.” What this does is help your child save face if it is in fact too hard, but more likely your child will be thrilled to tell you that it’s soooo easy to read! When your child’s confidence is up, motivating her is easy, too.
Make Reading Rewarding
There are lots of great ways to make reading fun. Here are a few of my favorites:
Keep a steady supply of new books coming into your home. I’m married to a book salesman and new boxes of books are a source of Christmas-like excitement. You can create that kind of environment by regularly getting books from the library, Goodwill, or Paperbackswap. Ask any school librarian and she will tell you that she has to keep a steady supply of new books on the shelves to appeal to reluctant readers.
Offer a reward. My husband has often offered a shake for a certain number of books read. Lots of reading goes on at those times. While you wouldn’t want your child to expect a treat every time he reads, an occasional reward will help him see reading as the real reward.
Connect books to movies or games. Whether you offer to let your child see the movie version or play the related video game of a book before or after reading the book, this multimedia approach has been proven to promote reading.
Let your child express his creativity around a book. My kids love to dramatize books for the family. Your child may enjoy doing show and tell about her favorite book, drawing pictures to go with it, or competing in a quiz bowl with a sibling who has read the same book.
Have you been able to motivate a reluctant reader? What worked?