Help with reading


All parents want their children to learn to read and write well. Over the past 30 years, much research has been done on how we, as adults, read and also how young children learn to read. Much of this knowledge has now been transferred into your children’s classrooms through the literacy programs teachers develop. However, children still succeed best and most easily where parents have some knowledge of how to best assist their children.

What do adults do when they read?

As adults, we read using three basic cues or strategies:

  • The grapho-phonic cues – ie. the letters and sounds in the words
  • The semantic cues – ie. the pictures and/or meaning of the story
  • The grammatical cues – ie. how the words work with each other

What is going to happen at school?

Children come to school having most of their grammatical cues in place – they can talk well and communicate what they need and want. The other two cues can therefore be developed by both parents and teachers to work in conjunction with the grammatical cues to provide sound strategies for reading. All three cues work together – they need to be taught together and used together.

What basis can parents provide?

One of the most important aspects of becoming a successful reader is for parents to have provided role models by reading themselves – newspapers, magazines, books. Another aspect is the nightly bedtime reading or daytime story. Not only does this allow you to share some intimate time with your child/ren, it also allows you to share some valuable “literacy” time. Singing nursery rhymes, playing various word games such as finding nonsense rhyming words as you drive around. And pointing out words and letters in signs are other valuable learning experiences for your child,

The very early stages of learning to read

The first few months of year 1 are very exciting and before long the children are bringing home books to “read” to their parents. Parents are often amazed at how the child “knows the book off by heart” already or “can read with his eyes closed”! These first “Reading” experiences are really teaching the children the mechanics of reading:

  • Left to right
  • Top to bottom
  • One page at a time
  • The words tell a story
  • Pointing to each word (with the pointing finger only and lifting for the spaces
  • The story stays the same each time it is read

At this time, teachers are also very busy teaching the children the letters and their sounds and sight words (or high frequency words). Parents can follow up on this by assisting.

Really reading

As the children begin to recognise a number of sight words, they start to use them as they read. Parents will notice that their child’s reading slows down. This is because they are actually reading now, not just reciting a story. Parents can now start to prompt their children with the three cues when they come to a word they don’t know:

  • “Look at the picture.”
  • “Look at the first letter.”
  • “Can you think of a word that will make sense in the sentence?”

Wait time is really important. The children need time to look at the picture and first letter and then think about a word that would “fit”. Praise them for any success. If they can’t think of a word, you fill in for them in a quieter voice than theirs.


The children will gradually develop a more integrated use of these three cues and begin to know more sight words. Parents will observe that their child is noticing if they make a mistake when they are reading. At first they won’t really know what to do about fixing themselves up – this is a good time to prompt with all three cues.

After a while, the children learn to notice and then fix up their own mistakes This is the time to praise them in a very specific way. For example: “You fixed yourself up well that time. You looked at the picture, looked at the first letter and then you thought of a word that made sense in the sentence. Well done!”

Older readers

The three cues can be used with older readers as well:

  • Instead of “Look at the picture”, say “Think about the story”.
  • Instead of “Look at the first letter”, say “Look at the first letters and the ending” or “Look for a small word in this big word”.
  • The third cue stays the same: “Think of a word that will make sense in the sentence”.

A final note

“the, is, a, up, this, look” etc. They are used to work out words such as nouns and verbs. It is also very important that children are never told to “sound it out” as this limiting strategy only works for 46% of the English language. Looking for, and using, chunks of words are much more effective. Rhyming word games are terrific for assisting this. Hearing reading should be an enjoyable time – time for you to spend in a relaxed way with your child. Prompting effectively and praising are two important aspects to remember when you are hearing your child read. Enjoy!

Last reviewed 02 March 2020
Last updated 02 March 2020