10 Ways to Improve Your Child's Reading Level

One reading specialist reveals her top practices to get reluctant readers back on track.

By Scholastic Parents Staff
Apr 30, 2020



10 Ways to Improve Your Child's Reading Level

Apr 30, 2020

As you know, academic success is anchored around literacy. Helping your child develop strong reading skills is critical for them to truly thrive. If your child starts to fall behind in reading, identifying the issue and bringing them up to speed is incredibly important. 

These 10 essential tips from Whitney Penalba, a Washington D.C. public school teacher and reading specialist, reveal the best practices teachers use themselves — derived from Penalba's nearly decade of teaching. (Bonus: Here are six strategies to improve reading comprehension.) 

Each child is unique, but Penalba says these teacher-approved tips generally help give a child's reading level a boost. For even more information on how your child's reading should progress throughout the years, check out this reading roadmap for kids in preschool through sixth grade.

For Kindergarten to 3rd Grade

These early years are formative because until 3rd grade, students typically continue to learn how to read. Students will acquire the ability to identify letters, decode letter sounds, blend sounds in a word, build a growing and then proficient memory of spelling, and establish a large bank of sight words. BOB Books are a great tool for enhancing these key early reading skills. 

Use these teacher-approved approaches, and you'll watch your child's reading skills skyrocket (be sure to also check out the best books for reluctant readers in 1st and 2nd grade). 

1. Decode mystery words: Read part of a book out loud to your child, omitting one "mystery word" that is frequently used (like "because" or "always").  Introduce clues about that mystery word in the text, including the number of letters it has, a letter the mystery word contains, or even a specific sound in the word. Ask your child to guess what that word is! Celebrate solving the mystery with a final reading, asking your child to clap every time the word is read. This is a fun way to introduce new high-frequency words to your child. 

2. Personalize story time: Have your child narrate a brief personal story to you while you write it down. Then, work together to read it out loud. This is called “Write a Story to Read a Story” in the education world. Give your child some inspiration from popular read-alouds.

3. Create silly sentences: Encourage your child to use their imagination to come up with the silliest sentences they can, using words that include a certain spelling pattern. For example, ask your child to use words that have the /əl/ sound spelled with ‘-le’, plus consonants ‘z,’ ‘g,’ and ‘k.’ By looking at an example text or poem (choose one from No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood), your child can identify words that fit the patterns of poetry. 

From 3rd Grade Onward

Reading comprehension skills are key at this time! That's because at this point, kids are moving on from learning to read, to reading to learn. Children will be asked to collect information from a variety of sources and summarize it in school. They are increasingly focused on both reading and writing skills and the ability to edit and revise their work — so if they're struggling, it's important to address it. 

For reluctant readers in this grade range, try these four teacher-backed practices. 

4. Give context: If your child is embarking on a new text, provide a bit of background knowledge and context about the book's topic if you can. For instance, if they just got a copy of an I Survived book like I Survived the American Revolution, 1776, talk to them a little bit about what America was like at that time in history. This will help ground children in the reading ahead. 

5. Discuss essential words: If you’re providing background knowledge for a book, talk about an essential word they'll encounter in the text, and further illustrate it with an example and a photograph that clarifies the meaning of the word. For instance, if you're reading a book about the beach, you might talk about "riptides" or "crustaceans." 

6. Ask questions: Ask your child questions at the end of a story or book they read based on the conversations you've had about the text. Your child has hopefully been building up ideas about the topic while reading!  

7. Maximize reading time: Encourage your child to take a book with them into bed, on a car ride, or anywhere else that they can carve out a little extra time to read. Even if they read just 20 minutes daily, that’s 3,600 minutes per school year — exposing them to nearly 2 million words annually! 

Penalba says that book sets or collections can be especially helpful for this age range. Diving into a series can get kids invested in a story and its characters, and familiarize them with the author's style of writing, helping the sequential books seem less daunting. Look to build collections with a common theme: These Raise a Reader Sets are a great place to start! 

Tips for Every Age

8. Let your kids choose: Give your children (and especially adolescents) the chance to choose the books they read. If they aren’t engaged, reading will become a chore rather than a cherished practice. Here are best sellers to get started with!

9. Partner up: You and your kids can partner up to read in a very similar way to how students might normally read in the classroom. Ask a question at the end of each page and have a conversation with your child — this "extra-textual" discussion time is important for building vocabulary and reading comprehension. Read one page and then invite your child to read the next, progressing in small chunks together. 

10. Put on a reading theater: A beloved classroom practice, this approach also works well at home. Assign roles to get the entire family involved in a book. Someone can play stage director, while others take the role of a specific character or characters. As everyone reads, it’s important to have them really get into the roles and act them out. 

Shop parent favorites for every age below to get started! You can find all books and activities at The Scholastic Store

For more tips on finding books at the right level for your child, visit our guide on reading levels for kids. You'll find book recomendations and helpful advice and insights, including even more teacher tips for struggling readers

Parent Favorites for Grades K-3

Parent Favorites for Grades 3+

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