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From my experiences as an elementary teacher, reading tutor, and parent, I've found that there are three general reading categories into which kids fit; and different types of readers need different kinds of learning opportunities. As a parent, how do you find out what kind of reader your child is? Can they improve? How can you best assist your child while reading at home? What can you do to compliment or enhance the formal reading instruction your child is receiving at school? We will explore these questions and discuss specific ways you can help your child become a stronger, more motivated reader today.

Identifying Your Child's Reading Type

  • The Fledgling or Challenged Reader. Although fledgling and challenged readers have different perspectives on reading, they need the same types of learning opportunities, so they are grouped together here for simplicity's sake. The fledgling reader is one who is making the transition from primarily being read to by an adult to a more independent reader. A challenged reader is one who has gone through instruction to become an independent reader, but is struggling with the process. Both of these reading types are trying to synthesize their knowledge of sight words, vocabulary, reading strategies, language and comprehension in order to fluently read out loud or to themselves. It's a critical time for a reader and it's easy for them to become frustrated. Challenged readers, in particular, become emotional and angry when this transition takes too long.
  • The Uninspired Reader. This type of reader typically remains just under the radar. Children who are uninspired can read well enough, but think of it as a chore. If given a choice, this type would never choose to read without it being a requirement. They might do the bare minimum on homework assignments, yet they understand the concepts. Test grades range from A through C, although they frequently do not study or prepare. I use the term "uninspired" to describe these children because they have lost their enthusiasm for learning. They need reading experiences with excitement and motivation built right in.
  • The Classic Reader. A classic reader is one to whom the reading process (as well as all other learning) comes easily, and who also finds reading to be a pleasurable activity. The classic reader's appetite for books can be insatiable and they will ask to go to the library, bookstore, or electronic reader website very often! Common characteristics of this type of reader are:

     Confidence in self as a learner

     Loves to read

     Ability to use strategies interchangeably

     Sees literacy models in his or her environment

     Strong alphabetic and phonetic foundation

      Involved in his or her learning

     Comprehends from asking questions and seeking knowledge

A potential problem for classic readers is that they can become uninspired or bored if not significantly challenged. They crave learning experiences that encourage them to create and think outside of the box. It's our responsibility to provide those experiences so that they grow and achieve their full potential.


Do you recognize your child in any of these descriptions? He or she might possibly fit into more than one category, but once you make the identification, you can then start choosing activities best suited to their readiness level so that they can become strong, independent, motivated, lifelong readers.

Activities by Reading Type

FLEDGLING and CHALLENGED READERS must focus on: loving literature, word play, and reading strategies.

Fledgling and challenged readers are at a unique stage where they are learning a multitude of skills and trying to put them all together so that they can comprehend what they're reading. Sight and vocabulary word memorization, learning the reading strategies, and navigating complex language "rules" can be an overwhelming and difficult process. It's important to emphasize to your learners that it takes time to practice all of the reading skills and that they will soon be reading independently.

Reading challenges or frustrations can occur for several reasons, such as lack of practice, a learning challenge/disability, disenchantment, or if a child's learning style does not match a specific teaching style. If their specific needs are not met, this group of children loses their self-confidence as learners and they may begin to struggle in other academic areas. These learners need to be more involved, feel better about their abilities, and develop an appreciation of books in order to be successful readers. 

Parents can use the techniques below with their challenged or fledgling readers:

Build up their academic self-esteem. Learners who struggle feel terrible about themselves. They compare their abilities to their classmates or siblings and want nothing more than to be like others who read easily. Take time to point out their strengths and progress. Be relaxed and patient when reading together. Explain that you will show them reading strategies, which are are tools they can use to work their way through a story. Most of all, cultivate the mindset that they are becoming readers.

Love literature with them. Build an appreciation and level of excitement about stories. Really sell it! Read for pleasure every day; every book does not have to come with a lesson. These children will not believe that reading is worth the effort if you do not convince them it is. This is just as true for our uninspired readers.

Pattern the classic reader. The characteristics of classic readers (children to whom reading comes easily) should be emulated and taught to all readers. They are behaviors that promote and encourage strong, independent readers.

Provide literary experiences. Use Reading House games and activities to actively involve children in their learning. Routines weave reading throughout the day, hands-on games deepen understanding, and cooperative learning connects their minds with new ideas.

Reading Recovery. The goal of this reading intervention program, developed by educator Marie Clay, is to assist struggling first grade readers. (Many of the program's strategies can be applied to readers of all ages though.) It would be impossible to fully explain all of the fine attributes of Reading Recovery here, but the running record technique is an assessment tool I find to be invaluable. For a full explanation of running records, click here. To do a very simple running record, I photocopy part of the story my student is reading. As he reads from his book I place a check mark over every word he reads correctly on my photocopied page. When a word is read incorrectly, I write the error over the actual text. When we are done, I have a helpful record of (a) the words my student knows, (b) the words my student doesn't know, and (c) the strategies my student uses when presented with unfamiliar text. This simple exercise can help parents determine if a book is too easy or hard for their child. It will also show what sight words and vocabulary to review. Lastly, it will give parents information about the strategies their child uses (or doesn't use) when reading.

Obtain a tutor, if desired. There is nothing wrong with enlisting the help of a certified reading teacher to provide additional assistance.

Try these activities with your fledgling and challenged readers:

UNINSPIRED READERS must focus on: loving literature, story extensions, and reading routines.

An overemphasis on testing often causes us to forget to celebrate the joy of reading and learning. As teachers and parents, it's our job to show our learners just how engrossing great books can be! There certainly is no shortage of stories that will catch their attention, take hold of them, and not let go until they read that last page.

The best way parents can start winning over their uninspired readers is by reading aloud to them. We typically read aloud to young children, but our older learners still need this experience as well. Share your enthusiasm, sense of wonder, and excitement as you move together through the pages. It doesn't matter if you use chapter books or picture story books. This positive energy is contagious and your child's interest will be piqued.

Selecting the most effective literature can be a challenge for parents who are overwhelmed by all of the book choices. The first place to start is with your child's interests. Think about the activities your child enjoys and look for books that include that subject. If you want to have a more detailed conversation with your child about his or her interests, complete a reading survey together and talk about their answers. Many parents say this simple activity tells them a lot about their child that they didn't know!

To further assist families who are looking for that next great read-aloud for their children, try some of the resources below:

Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook – This gem of a resource, first written by Jim Trelease in 1982, is currently in its seventh edition. It's a compilation of some of the best children's literature for families to read aloud with their families.

Teachers – Your child's teacher has a wealth of knowledge about the books that are appropriate for your child's age and readiness level. Ask for some suggestions.

Librarians – Your local librarian will have information about the most popular stories and can easily guide you to the books best suited for your child. Many libraries will have summer reading lists or "top ten" book recommendation handouts.

Friends – Encourage your child ask his or her friends for their favorite book recommendations. They can regularly swap their books and talk about what they have read.

Internet Search - Conduct an online search of the following phrases: "best children's books of all times," "greatest children's books," or "top books every kid should have on their bookshelf." You will immediately be directed to the best titles. - Search "kids books" on the Amazon website. There, you can create a search for outstanding books based on age, rating, topic, book type, and more!

Once those great stories are identified, read to you uninspired reader every day.By regularly focusing on the joy of reading, your learner will adopt this perspective and become more motivated. Also involve your uninspired learner with reading games and fun literacy activities which will increase their level of participation, thus heightening their enjoyment and eliminating boredom.

Try these activities with your uninspired readers:

CLASSIC READERS must focus on comprehension and story extensions.

Classic readers can easily become uninspired readers or indifferent learners. Why? Because they always want more; more knowledge, more challenging and interesting stories; more exciting opportunities. We can take this type of learner for granted and be happy that they are good readers and that they will do well academically. But I feel it's our job to push them further. Challenge them to come up with new ideas, encourage them to invent and create, inspire them to try new activities that take them out of their comfort zone. They crave this sort of teaching but they don't know it. A classic reader will just feel dissatisfied or bored if they aren't properly challenged.

The learning opportunities listed below are only starting points, but that's all you'll need with a classic reader. This type of learner needs only to be challenged with a specific project, given basic parameters, and then pointed in the right direction. At that point, they just run with it. They will amaze you with their level of thought, the path they take, the conclusions they reach, and the results they achieve. If you give them freedom to make some of their own decisions, they will go even farther than you anticipated.

First, select a chapter book or allow your classic readers to choose their own. Whether you are at home or at school, classic readers enjoy collaboration so encourage them to work alongside others. Have them review the list of advanced learning opportunities below and tell them to think about them as they read their book. Once finished, they will choose one to do as a response.

As they read, have them keep a journal and jot down notes about the characters' qualities, the problem(s) in the story, the characters' actions in dealing with the problem(s), and the eventual solution. Encourage them to keep a list of interesting vocabulary from the story. Also after each chapter, have your learners write a letter to the story characters, or a diary entry about the story characters, discussing the actions they would have taken if they were in the same situation. Would they have acted the same or differently? What new ideas would they have shared or tried? How would they have solved the problem? These journal notes will become the springboard for their thinking as they complete one of the learning opportunities.

Try these advanced learning opportunities with your classic readers:

  • Community Service Project – Did the book cause you to think of any services needed in your community that are not currently there? How can you start a program that meets that need? Who should you talk to for permission? What supplies and assistance would you need? Who would you be helping? Draft a plan and create a presentation to show others your vision. Adjust your plan based on the feedback you receive. With approval, apply the plan to your community.
  • Volunteering – Were there people, places, or events in your book that would have been better off if volunteers were available to help? What does volunteering mean to you? Were any of the characters' actions similar to volunteering? Research the volunteer opportunities for students your age in your community. Talk about these opportunities with friends and apply to help/volunteer as a team.
  • Invention/Creation – Was there a problem in the book that could be instantly solved if a product or service existed that could take care of it? What would that product or service be and what would you do if you were tasked with creating it? What specialists would you need to consult for information? Is the development of this creation a possibility in the next year, 5 years, 10 years? Do not limit yourself while brainstorming invention ideas or entrepreneurship initiatives. Storyboard your favorite idea and create a model of the product or an action plan for the service.
  • Teaching - There is no better way to demonstrate your understanding of a topic than by teaching it to someone else. Choose any topic from your book and create a lesson for it, explaining its importance. Teach the lesson to someone a little younger than you. Include a hands-on activity that will really help your young learner understand the concept. Other teaching ideas could be to create a study/learning guide of the book and share it with another reader or write up a series of lessons that will help a young child to become a better reader.
  • Improvement of processes, procedures, routines - Were the characters in your story doing something in an ineffective way? Is there technology that could improve the process? Can a procedure be improved if the sequence of steps is changed or altered? Propose a better way of doing an ordinary task and relate it to your story. Write and illustrate your step-by-step process. Explain the new routine or procedure to your learning partners and challenge them try it using your detailed instructions. Did your new way work better than the old way?
  • Research – Conduct research to learn more about a factual scientific premise or historical event mentioned in your book. Is there a science experiment you'd like to conduct to learn more and then share your results? Can you find related historical information or people that others might not know about? Create a timeline of events or a family tree of the historical facts you've uncovered or conduct a science experiment and write about your experience and results.
  • Motivate with a campaign – Was there a political issue discussed or referenced in your book? Do you feel differently than the perspective offered in the story? Create a campaign of ideas that you believe are more ethical, relevant, and beneficial to society. Find someone with an opposing view and debate your ideas in front of your peers. Who makes the more compelling argument?
  • Promote change – Learn more about the concept of a "paradigm shift." Select one main idea from your story and flip it upside-down. What is a completely different way to look at it? Brainstorm as many variations as possible on the topic. Pick a favorite unique perspective and promote the new idea. (Example: Having thousands of songs on a small iPod instead of collecting hundreds of bulky music records and CDs was Steve Jobs' paradigm shift idea about how we could listen to music in a completely different way.)

Only when we fully appreciate the potential of classic readers, will we understand how to meaningfully inspire them to significant achievement. Check out THE READING HOUSE book for more activities, games, and challenges that will inspire, motivate, and empower your learners!

10 Reading Routines You Can Start Using Today