Reading comes naturally for some students, and they excel at it, but other students struggle to fully grasp how the words form sentences and thus never genuinely enjoy reading. While there may be various reasons that a student struggles with reading, there are also multiple ways that parents and teachers can help them learn and support them throughout their learning process.
In this article, we’ll break down the primary reading skills and give you some tips and tricks to help your child or student improve their reading skills.
What are the Five Reading Skills?
The national reading panel has broken down reading into five main skills. These skills are essential to reading at one’s grade level and fully grasp the material they are reading. Each skill is important on its own, but it is the combination of all five skills that makes a student a good reader. The five main reading skills are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Phonemic Awareness: Phonemic awareness is the awareness of the sounds associated with the words you are reading. This is an entirely auditory part of reading and is the base of understanding how to read letters and words written on a page and interpret them as the words you might hear a teacher or friend speak. This skill is taught through classroom instruction, but it is also something that most students pick up just from the world around them. It is essential to be a good reader.
Phonemes are the sounds that make up the words of the language. In the English language, there are 26 letters that students tend to learn fairly early on, but with those letters, the sounds we use come to a total of 44 phonemes. For example, the word “bat” contains three phonemes, but the word “chat” also contains three phonemes. They both contain the /a/ and /t/ sounds, but while bat has a /b/, chat has a /ch/.
Phonics: Phonics combines the auditory experience of phonemic awareness with the understanding that the written letters represent those sounds. Using phonics is typically what someone is referring to when they ask a student to sound out a word. They are asking the student to show that they can connect the physical representation of the sound, the letter, with the sound the letter represents.
Understanding the words’ phonics can only get you so far on their own, and this is where the other skills come in. Sounding out some words can be pretty challenging since the English language draws from so many different languages, including Greek and Latin.
Fluency: Fluency is understanding the language to be able to interpret words on a page with speed and accuracy. It’s one thing to read fast, but if you’re reading isn’t’ accurate, it really isn’t any good. This is a skill that comes with time since fluency will start out with building on a student’s ability to sound out the words, and they will slowly add words to their mental list of words they can read by sight alone. This is particularly helpful with words like “eight” or “ocean” that can be a challenge to pronounce correctly and understand if a student just sounds them out.
Vocabulary: Vocabulary is simply the number of words that a student knows. This is typically taught through spelling tests or vocabulary tests throughout a child’s education. Vocabulary can range from standard terms that a student may encounter every day, such as “desk” or “book”, to academic jargon associated with particular professions or careers. This could include words such as “affidavit” or “hypertension”.
Comprehension: Comprehension is the final of the five main reading skills and is the culmination of all the skills together. This is being able to read the material and to understand what the material is saying. A student may be able to read the words on the page and correctly say them aloud, but if they cannot glean the meaning of the statement, then reading it in the first place won’t do them any good.
Why Is It Important to Improve Reading Skills?
Reading skills are used in every aspect of life, so students need to come out of school with good reading skills. There is a general amount of vocabulary words that students of each grade level are expected to know in order to keep up with the work that will be expected of them in the next year, and so on. This goes hand in hand with improving communication skills, something that will also help the student for the rest of their life.
Finding ways to convince your students that reading is important is often easier than convincing them to work on improving their reading skills since the world is full of things that need to be read. From directions to get somewhere to instructions on how to put together your furniture, reading is at the foundation of most daily activities. In addition to supporting everyday life, reading is also necessary for all career paths, so it is essential.
What Activities Can Help Improve Reading Skills in Students?
While reading a book may seem like the best way to help a student improve their reading skills, this may not always be the most helpful for every student. Each student will learn differently, so it is essential to have a variety of activities to help them learn.
Assigning reading to your students is a great way to get them reading, but in order to help them increase their vocabulary, try having them read different materials such as recipes or the news. This will help students who find reading boring find something that motivates them to read.
If motivation is the challenge, you can give students a set of instructions that they must read and follow to help provide some of that motivation. Finding little ways to overcome each challenge and keep your students engaged and excited to learn is the best way to help students improve their reading skills.
What are the Strategies to Improve Reading Skills?
Improving a child’s reading skills won’t happen overnight, and it will take work from the child, teacher, and parent, especially if the child is struggling with reading. Making reading a fun activity and not a chore for the child is a great place to start, but this can only go so far.
One big challenge to overcome is working on reading comprehension. The best strategies to help students improve their reading comprehension is to include students in discussions and conversations using words that might be above their understanding and encouraging them to ask questions. Building a growth framework is the best way to help students improve their reading comprehension, regardless of whether they are a struggling reader or a thriving reader.
7 Effective Ways to Improve Reading Skills
There are various ways to help students improve their reading skills, but these are some of our recommendations. Remember that each student is different, so if these are not helpful for you and your student, try being creative to find some way to help them stay motivated to improve their reading skills.
1. Set reading goals
Setting goals is a great skill to help students learn any new or challenging skill. Allowing students to guide their own goal setting gives them a feeling of ownership over their own education and gives them more motivation to work towards their goal. Regardless of whether their goal is to read for 15 minutes a day or 2 hours a day, let them set their own goals.
2. Use various reading materials
Using a variety of reading materials can help to keep learning to read enjoyable. We all know that we read books, but try collection brochures next time you go somewhere to have your student read. Making reading feel exciting is a great way to keep students engaged.
3. Empower your students to help out through reading
Regardless of if they are reading a recipe while you cook or the directions while you go somewhere, let your student or child help out by using their reading skills. Having students understand real-world situations where reading is a useful skill can help them find the motivation to keep reading.
4. Incorporate reading into student’s favorite activities
Finding something that gets your students or child excited is a great way to get them reading. If they are excited about cars, have them read something about cars. This will give them some ownership over their reading materials and encourage them to continue developing more knowledge of activities or things they like.
5. Watch films with subtitles on
Having students, both see the words and hear the words is a great way to help them think about the connections between the written words and the sounds they represent. Most children will be excited to watch even a short film, so it is also an excellent way to slip in some reading lessons without the students fully realizing what you’re doing.
6. Read aloud
Hearing the words read aloud is an excellent activity with young children. This helps to build the preliminary pathways that they will use to continue to develop their reading skills. If you are working on reading longer books, try having students read a chapter on their own and then read the next chapter aloud in class.
7. Create a challenging word wall
Since reading isn’t something that can happen overnight, it will take time, and students will come across words that they don’t understand. Encourage students to collect words that they don’t know so that everyone can learn more words together. Having each student make a new words booklet or having a whole classroom make a challenging word wall is a great way to get more kinesthetic, or hands-on, learners engaged as well.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Improve Reading Skills in Students
Reading is an essential life skill, so it is vital to work on all aspects of a child’s reading ability. By focusing on the five main skills of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, parents and teachers will build a set of activities tailored to their students. We hope that these activities that we’ve discussed in this article will set you and your student on the path of improving their reading skills!