When Kids Get Stuck During Reading

Learn what parents can say when kids get &stuck& and won&t even try to read words aloud.

By Amy Mascott
Mar 25, 2013



When Kids Get Stuck During Reading

Mar 25, 2013

Often, when our kids are reading, they hit a word that they don’t know or recognize, and they get ‘stuck’.  As parents we all want to nudge them along, keep the momentum going, and—most importantly—keep our kids’ confidence high.

So what can we say when our kids hit these minor roadblocks?

Is it okay to give them that tough word when they look up at us with desperation in their eyes?  What do we do when kids won’t even make eye contact with us and instead stare lasers into the page, secretly praying that the word will magically appear in their head and then out of their mouth?

What should parents do to encourage kids to work through those words in order to carry the learning from class to home?

First of all, parents, it’ll be okay.  No matter what you do or say during read alouds, as long as you’re reading with your child, you’re on the right track.  However, it’s important to know that there are better—not perfect—but better things you can say that will get those wheels turning in their brains and help them work through the hard parts.

When your emerging reader hits a difficult part and won’t even move—not even a little bit—you can say:

  • Think about the letters you recognize and the sounds they make. What sound does this letter make (point to first letter)? Let me hear you make the sound. Now what sound does this letter make (point to second letter)? Let’s put the sounds together. . .

If that helps, great! Secretly pat yourself on your back and carry on. 

If it doesn’t help, consider saying:

  • Look at the letters you know in the word and the picture on the page. The picture is here to help you. Think about the sound this letter makes (point to first letter of word) and what you see in the picture. . .


  • Think about what’s going on in this story. You just read, (read previous line). Look at the picture, look at the word, and think about what might happen next.

I’m a big fan of encouraging kids to skip tough words because I feel that momentum is important and you can always go back and use it as a ‘teachable’ moment after reading the passage.  For some kids, skipping words is hard for them. They feel like they’re really cheating.

If you’re cool with it, say,

  • Skip the word you don’t know and move to the next word you can read. It’s fine!

If you recognize a familiar word within the tough one, you can try this:

  • You might not recognize this word, but I know you know this word (cover the first letter and let him read the part he knows—‘at’ from ‘bat’). Think about the sound that ‘b’ makes, put the sounds together, and you’ll have it!

Or if you know the child just read the word, consider using:

  • You just read this word on the previous page, and you read it correctly. Use your detective eyes, find the word on the other page, and see if that helps.

Something here should work for you and your emerging reader.  Reading is a journey—an exciting one!—and we’re all learning as we go.  Enjoy the ride.





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