Strategies for Reading Unknown Words

As your child grows as a reader, it will be common for them to come across words that they don’t already know. When this happens, the tendency on the part of a fluent reader (like a parent) is to simply say the word for the child and allow them to keep reading. However, always giving them the unknown word does not help your child learn how to figure out words on their own. Instead of simply telling your child the word, here are some strategies you can teach them to use to figure out the word.

Stretch the Unknown Words

Start by having your child try to stretch out the word into its individual sounds. For example, the word cat can be stretched into c – a – t. Often after a child reads each of the individual sounds in a word, he can then put the sounds together to read the word as a whole.

Chunk the Unknown Words

Chunking is the ability to break a word down into smaller parts. Compound words are especially good candidates for chunking. A word like bubblegum can look daunting to a new reader. However if they break the word into two separate words, bubble and gum, it will look less overwhelming to a child.

Look at the Pictures

When a child comes across unknown words, it can help them to look at the pictures that accompany the text. The pictures will often give a hint as to what word they are missing. Of course, this tip won’t work for older children who are reading books with less pictures, but it will be a big help for children who are just starting to read.

Skip the Unknown Words

While this might seem like bad advice at first, it is actually a useful tip. If a child cannot sound out a word by stretching it out or breaking it into chunks, encourage them to skip unknown words until they finish the sentence. They can then go back and think about the context clues around the word to help them decipher what that word might be. Often times the rest of the sentence or paragraph will give them hints as to what the unknown word is. Just make sure they don’t skip the word permanently. Make sure they go back and think about what the word is in context.

These little tricks can be a big help to your child as they practice reading. Giving them strategies to use when stuck can also keep them from getting discouraged as they read. What other tips do you give your child when they are stuck on a word they don’t know?

Photo by:  Pedro Ribeiro Simões

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