When thinking about the English language, three great works come to mind: The Bible, the works of Shakespeare and the Oxford English Dictionary. These works had an enormous influence on refining and defining the use of English. Not only did they shape the language we use to read, write, communicate and think with, they also spread English across the world.
Modern speakers of English may feel that it is an inconsistent and difficult language, but back when people were translating The Bible, the spoken and written word were even less consistent, even across England. Much of our spelling and word meanings were refined much later with the compiling of the Oxford English Dictionary. Interestingly, I learnt that it was preferred that words submitted for inclusion into the Oxford English Dictionary were from a written text, such was the value and authority of the printed word.
As much as we appreciate technology today, print on paper still has the same power to inspire curious and creative minds, and encourage learning. It also inspires deeper thinking and is better for our memories. Since reading has such a strong influence on our ability to understand and use our language effectively, it stands to reason that we need to do everything we can to help those struggling with reading.
Here are some ideas that might make a difference:
Listen to audiobooks
Without even realising it, a child is totally immersed in a story being read aloud, and is learning how our language works, including clues for
decoding and grammar. Regularly listening to audiobooks also increases comprehension by as much as 76%, even for children who are brilliant at decoding.
Short chapters, pictures and a larger font size
Seeking out books with shorter chapters and a larger font size will make the transition to larger, more complex novels feel more doable. Pictures also help by breaking up large blocks of text. Some examples are books written by James Patterson such as Word of Mouse, and the Treasure Hunters series by Chris Grabenstein, as well as Horse Crazy! by Alison Lester, The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan and Bureau of Mysteries by H. J. Harper. Children often find books by Enid Blyton and David Walliams also very readable.
To read or not to read, that is the question.
Use your local library or bookshop to get recommendations and build your own ‘home library’.
The benefits to building a library at home are twofold: it’s hard to ignore a wall of beautiful inspiring books (especially if they are based on your child’s interests), and secondly the convenience. Sometimes we are given a window of opportunity by our reluctant readers and we need to strike while the iron is hot, before their enthusiasm to read evaporates.
Separate the work of ‘decoding’ from that of ‘comprehension’.
Often, while a child is focusing on each individual letter sound or word (decoding), the comprehension of what is being said is lost, along with their enjoyment of reading. Reading factual books or exciting stories aloud will continue to build a child’s comprehension, as well as their reasons to love reading while smaller, but possibly less interesting, books help them to hone their decoding skills.
Sharing makes reading less daunting, whether you read a page each or a paragraph each. For the early stages of reading, try using the Usborne Very First Reading books; they are laid out specifically for shared reading.
Graphic novels and comics
A book that tells as much of its story through pictures as it does words can make a huge difference to a struggling reader. Examples include Asterix the Gaul by Goscinny & Uderzo, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure by Hergé, Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts and The Adventures of Jack Scratch both by Craig Phillips, Smile by Raina Telgemeier. And, for older children, The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi, White Bird by R. J. Palacio, and Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. Also books that are part-novel and part–graphic novel, such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai.
Barrington Stoke books
Originally designed to make reading more accessible to those with dyslexia, they have ultimately made reading more accessible to everyone. Barrington Stoke books concentrate on making books that are highly readable — with cream paper, easy to read text, pictures throughout and so much more — but never at the expense of the story. I’ve seen children and young adults become readers thanks to these remarkable little books.
Sharing makes reading less daunting.
Children who have reached a certain level of decoding competency still need a lot of practice and can benefit from stories that are engaging but not too challenging or long. Here are some suggestions: The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith, The Secret of the Swords by Frances Watts, The Mesmer Menace by Kersten Hamilton, Gone Fishing by Tamera Will Wissinger, The Bushranger's Boys: 1841 by Alison Lloyd, Meet Letty by Alison Lloyd, Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky and Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman.
Do they prefer fiction or nonfiction?
Many children who don’t seem to be interested in books, even when they can read quite well, are just more interested in nonfiction than they are fiction. This might include how-to books or reference books, such as atlases, encyclopedias and timelines. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box to find books that excite a child. Here are some examples of what I mean: The Complete Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids by Rob Elliott, The Ultimate Survival Guide for Kids by Rob Colson, The Usborne Official Spy's Handbook by Colin King and Real-Life Mysteries by Susan Martineau.
If you are interested in learning more about the journey of English as a language, but you don’t want to read a textbook, try these: The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg, The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams and The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester.
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