Something to Read

It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since we last posted some news. Between family events and vacation, and TONS of reading new books, summer has come and is just about gone. We’re starting to get promo material and books Christmas already.

If you’ve tried to visit the site lately you know that there are still some kinks we’re working out in the Upgrade. Technology is what it is, so we just wait. Because we embed links to books and Website pages, the snafu has delayed our ability to get the Summer Edition of the Wash Rag and the July/August Book Bags published. Rest assured, we’ll get them out as soon as possible. The interviews look terrific … and I can’t wait for you to meet our authors Sabrina Hofkin and Clare Ham Grosgebauer.

In the meantime, with school underway or about to be underway everywhere, I am posting Part I of a two-part series we’ve commissioned on Guided Reading. The articles, by Cathy Puett Miller, are designed to give parents some ways to help their kids learn and practice their reading skills. The articles will be posted (.pdf) when we get the site stabilized & running.

Guided Reading at Home, a Two-Part Series
by Cathy Puett Miller, The Literacy Ambassador

Reading is one of the things that every child must possess to be successful in life. Like walking, it is a skill that is learned, with lots of practice. It isn’t a natural ability that we are born with. This two-part series by literacy expert Cathy Puett Miller is designed to give parents simple tools they can use at home to complement their child’s school work, and offer additional one-on-one practice that is rewarding for everyone.

Part I: Figuring Out Words

Today’s parents often say, “They just don’t teach reading the way I learned it.” Yet, research overwhelmingly reports that parent involvement in children’s learning is critical. So, what’s a parent to do? How can you help your child get off to a strong start and succeed as a reader?

Today, many classroom teachers use an instruction method called guided reading. The ideas used in guided reading help children make sense of what they read, at first with help, and later on their own. Teachers often pick books that are just the right reading level for your child so he can have a lot of success in these activities. Although teachers are the experts, you can use a few of the same techniques at home with great results.

Guide Point #1: Don’t give your child the answer.

Guided reading is about equipping your child. Think about teaching him to tie his shoes; you want him to eventually do it on his own. When she is reading to you, it may seem positive to just tell him the word she’s struggling with. Instead, try asking questions to help your child do it on her own:

Do you know any part of this word? If a child knows the word at, he can read cat, hat, sat, flat, splat. He just adds or changes the beginning sound. Sometimes he can split the word into two words he knows like pan and cake make pancake. He knows sock, he can figure out stock by adding the “t” sound.

Does it follow a rule you learned from class? Here is a common sense rule in beginning phonics: When you see a word with the pattern consonant-vowel-consonant (see box for definitions), the vowel sound is usually short. This is true for words like bit, sack, test, dog, Fred.

When you see a word with the pattern of two consonants and two vowels, the first vowel usually says its name (is long); the second vowel is quiet. Some children learn the rule this way: “the first one does the talking; the second one does the walking.” Examples include cake, greet, tire, spoke, tune.

EXTRA TIP: There are a few exceptions, so if your child tries the pattern and it doesn’t sound like a word she knows, switch the sound from long to short or short to long. The word give, for example, has a short “i” sound when the pattern says words like this usually have a long “i” sound. Try saying g-i-v-e with the long sound and you get a word that isn’t a word. Switch the sound and you’ve got it!

Does it look kind of like a word you already know? This builds on the first tip. If you know cake, you can read rake, snake, bake, quake, flake, and many more. I always tell children “big words are just little words you already know put together.”

What are the beginning, middle, ending sounds? If your child is just beginning to read, he is learning to sound out words from the letters or blends within the word. Sometimes looking at a whole unknown word scares children and they are afraid to try. If they break it down into familiar parts, they can get it right. If you have questions about how the individual letters or blends should be pronounced, ask your child’s teacher. One of the most common confusions is between the short “e” and short “i” sounds.

Guide Point #2: Enjoy the reading experience by being conversational and supportive. Praise their efforts and celebrate their successes.

Just because you are helping with homework or reading doesn’t mean you have to turn your house into a classroom. Relax and make your questions conversational, a natural part of the reading process. Be positive and encouraging to your youngster and reward him whenever he tries hard.

Guide Point #3: Be consistent; practice makes perfect.

Choosing to spend time reading with your child every night (both letting them read to you and you reading to them) takes a commitment. When you weigh the benefits, however, you’ll soon see that carving out this time is well worth it. Also remember that frustration for young children can kick in within 5-10 seconds so never allow your child to struggle for longer than that without using one or more of these suggested prompts. Taking a break and coming back to the task may also help children with limited attention spans.

Whatever your approach, be confident that you can make a difference in your child’s reading abilities and his attitude toward reading in general. Your influence and interest will have a tremendous impact.

Coming up in Part II: What Does This Mean? In the second part of our series, we will offer practical ideas to help your child understand and draw meaning from their reading.

Known as the “Literacy Ambassador,” Cathy Puett Miller is a practicing children’s and family literacy consultant. Her writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and The Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at,, and She works nationally to promote the value and pleasures of reading with schools, PTA/PTO groups, and non-profit family friendly agency. Be sure to visit Cathy’s Web site at