Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 1 “Does it make sense?”

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

What strategies do your students use to fix their reading? As teachers, we want our students to recognize when something doesn’t look right, sound right, or make sense — and FIX IT! But, do they use the same strategy over and over again — or worse — not even try to fix a mistake? This post will begin a series about good fix-it strategies (for any age reader) and prompts teachers can use to encourage students to use them. Keep reading for a FREE prompting guide, poster, and bookmark to use in your classroom.

The fix-it strategies I will share are based on the three cueing systems in reading: Meaning, Structure, and Visual. When students make errors in their reading, the errors fall into one of these 3 categories. 

In this post, I will focus on the MEANING system, which in my opinion is the most important one. After all, the ultimate goal in reading is to comprehend or make meaning. When a reader comes to a hard word, is he/she only trying to sound it out? Or are they thinking about what makes sense and sounds right? Hopefully, a little of each. A good reader looks at the letters, combined with the structure and meaning of the story to decide what that tricky word could be.

I’m sure you are familiar with this scenario.  A child sees this text:  She went to the store to get some milk. But, the child reads it as:  She went to the story to get some milk. And the child keeps on reading, oblivious to their mistake. After all, the word does look like story.

Which one of these prompts do you think will help the child fix their reading most efficiently?

  1. Tell the child to “sound it out” (which is the #1 strategy students use and are told to use).  The child might try this: /st-or-eh/ or /st-or-ee/. Neither of these make sense.
  2. Give the child a mini-lesson about the “rule” involving a silent e. If this has never been presented before, the information is likely to go right over their head with no future application.
  3. Ask the child this question: “Did that make sense? You said “She went to the story for some milk.” Teacher prompts: “What could that word be that makes sense and looks like that word?” The child reads again: “She went to the store to get some milk.” 

Hopefully for this example, you selected #3. Students need to be taught to listen to themselves read (referred to as self-monitoring) and fix it (self-correct) if the sentence doesn’t make sense. Ideally, they do it on their own without the teacher prompting.

What if the child reads the same sentence like this: She went to the ??? and then stops because they don’t know what to do next. Which of these do you think might help the child process meaning more efficiently?

  1. Tell the child to sound out the word (which might still result in the child saying “story” or “storeh”).
  2. Tell the child to chunk the parts /st/ + /or/ + silent e.
  3. Tell the child to skip the word and read the rest of the sentence (if you suspect the child knows all of the remaining words). “Now do you know what that tricky word could be? What makes sense?”
  4. Tell the child to look at the picture (if available) which shows a grocery store. Teacher prompts: “Do you see anything in the picture that could help you with that word?”

My recommendation is to try #3 or #4. Skipping (or jumping over) the word (and then coming back to it) is a good strategy to encourage the child to use meaning when it is evident that the context after that word will help. Children often don’t know they have permission to skip over a word – they think they must stay on it until it is figured out or told to them. Children gradually learn to let their eyes scan over the upcoming words which makes this strategy more useful. This should be a mini-lesson when you know children are ready.

Referring to a picture is another strategy to help with meaning. I always tell students to look at the pictures before and during reading because it is likely the text will use some of those words. This is why we don’t want to cover the pictures. Do you notice the child looking at the picture when they come to a tricky word? If they did that and then got the word correct, let them know you noticed. Children are more likely to repeat a strategy when they know what it is and how to use it.

Does this mean to never tell the child to sound out a word? No!! Sounding out a word definitely has its place in decoding – but just not in every case. For sounding out to work in every case, students would have to be well versed in all of the phonics rules (which don’t apply 100% of the time anyway). Beginning or struggling readers don’t usually know all of the phonics rules or how/when to apply them.

Here are some prompts teachers (and parents) can use to help a child consider the meaning of the text first. You can find them on the FREE Teacher’s Prompting Guide.

  • Did that make sense?
  • Look at the picture? What is happening?
  • What would make sense there?
  • Try _______. Would that make sense?
  • What is happening in the story?
  • Cover the word. Predict what it could be.
  • What do you think might happen next?
  • What do you expect ______ to do/say next?
  • Think about who is talking now.
  • Look at the first letter and the picture.
  • Skip over that word to see if the rest of the sentence helps you figure it out.

My #1 hint when listening to children read:  Wait until they finish the sentence before prompting. It’s so important, I’m going to say it again: Wait until the child finishes the sentence to prompt them to fix it. Why? The student needs to be given the opportunity to hear them self with the complete sentence. It is when the sentence doesn’t make sense that a child should decide to try something else . . . which is called self-monitoring. IF the listener stops the child as soon as they make an error, then the teacher is doing the monitoring and NOT the student. We are also stopping them from using the remaining context to self-correct. Our goal as teachers should be to help the child learn how to self-monitor and apply fix-it strategies to make their reading make sense.

This is also why the strategy try it again is helpful to the meaning-getting process. Often a child is so busy concentrating on each and every word, they lose the meaning on the sentence level. If they get to the end and realize it didn’t make sense, prompt them to “try it again” which can be loosely translated “have another go at it.” All the hard work at decoding was done on the first attempt, so on the second attempt the child might be more focused on the meaning. Yeah!

Here is a new FREEBIE!! It is my reading strategies fix-it guide, both in full size (click HERE) and bookmark form (click HERE). You will see the reference to pictures, jumping over a word, and try it again which are meaning-based strategies. I will focus on some of the other strategies in future blogs in this series on Fix-it Strategies. Enjoy!!!

2 thoughts on “Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 1 “Does it make sense?”

  1. I’m excited to use this prompting guide during my instruction. I have it in my guided reading cart at my table, ready to be put to use!

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