The Best Way to Read a Story

Do you really know how to read a story with a child? The best way?

  • The most important literary activity in which parents of young children can engage is to read a story and model appropriate reading behaviors during the reading.
  • Before you begin, try to activate your child’s prior knowledge about the subject matter of the book. Read the title, look at the pictures and discuss what ideas might be in the story.
  • Here are three of the most important areas on which to focus.
  • Decoding: It is important to realize that not all children’s books are meant to be read by children themselves.
  • Some books whose ideas are appropriate for preschool and primary age kids have very high reading levels. Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, for example, has a readability level of eighth grade!
  • Award winning books are wonderful and engaging experiences, but the award is often for art work or theme development. Some children simply have not yet acquired the reading level necessary to decode the words in these books fluently. It is important to share these books with your children. They are great books, but you might have to read them TO kids.
  • Check the internet for a list of Caldecott Award winners.  Do not always expect all school age children to be able to read them by themselves with understanding.
  • Many times students bring these books home from the school library, and parents become disheartened because their children cannot read them fluently.
  • For more information on this matter, refer to our free Tips: Choosing Books and Why Kids Don’t Read.
  • As you begin to read books to very young children, point with your finger to first the left page, then the right. Later, point to the words in a left to right pattern.
  • This will get your child’s eyes used to focusing in a left to right progression, which is the way we read in English.  If (s)he gets used to this eye pattern, it is one less hurdle when beginning to learn to read.
  • When your child begins to read by himself or herself, it is important to read a lot of books that are appropriate to his or her reading level.
  • If (s)he hesitates or stumbles on a word, there are some specific strategies that you can employ to help develop an independent routine to figure out a word (s)he does not know.
  1. Look at the picture to get a hint.
  2. Try to “sound it out.”
  3. Try to see a “chunk” (word family part) in it.
  4. Read to the end of the sentence using the work “blank” in it.  See if (s)he can figure out a word that makes sense.  Offer some choices if the child cannot think of any. Then reread the sentence again with each word correctly pronounced. This is called “using context.”
  5.  If your child still cannot figure out the word, simply tell it to him or her and move on.  Have him or her read it correctly and go to the next sentence. Too much emphasis on the “problem word” disrupts the flow of the story and decreases motivation to read.
  6. Related to the decoding of words is fluency. This is the smooth reading of words with appropriate pauses and emphasis that we have in human speech. It is important to comprehension, which we will discuss shortly.
  • If your child is reading a story at a reading level which is appropriate to his or her level of development but still hesitates and reads “word- by-word,” there are some strategies that you can employ.
  1. Try echo reading in which the child rereads a sentence after you do.
  2. Or try paired reading in which you both read together while you adjust your rate to accommodate his or hers, but still encourage flow and emphasis where necessary.
  3. Reading poetry together helps because so much of children’s poetry has a steady “beat”, or rhythm, like songs do.
  4. Reading easy material (lower than your child’s reading level) doesn’t hurt.  It helps fluency and increases motivation. If your child is stumbling over too many words, the book is simply too difficult.
  • Comprehension: This, after all, is the purpose of reading, which is simply written communication. Trust your instincts.  Parents usually have fairly good ones.
  1. The easiest and most effective way to help your child with comprehension is by modeling. As you read together, laugh out loud when something is funny. Wonder out loud if something is surprising.
  2. Vary your tone of voice and expression to add interest and to aid  understanding.
  3. Correct a supposition out loud when you discover it was wrong (As all good readers do.)
  4. Predict, affirm, draw conclusions out loud as you read through the story together. Don’t dwell on fact questions; ask questions which involve opinions and expand on your child’s responses. Be sure to give your child extra “think time” before expecting an answer. If one is not forthcoming, give little clues to prompt a good response.
  5. When finished with the story, help your child retell the story in correct time order. This involves two skills with which many students have trouble: sequence and identifying important information.
  • Give your child the individual attention in these skills which s/he will probably not get in the classroom situation.
  • Enjoyment:  When you read a story with your child, or when s/he reads a story to you, it is important that “good feelings” become associated with reading.
  • Never punish children by telling them to go to their rooms (or back to their seats) and read a book. Your children will learn to hate reading.
  • Pick books that you, yourself, enjoy.  Having fun is contagious, and children are easily influenced.
  • Check out our free TIP: Our Favorite Books as a place to start. Also, the National Education Association Booklists are a good resource for book titles. 

Research has shown that asking emotional “engagement” questions increases not only enjoyment, but also motivation to read more. Ask questions like these:

  1. How does this story make you feel?
  2. What happened to make you feel this way?
  3. What else makes you feel like this?
  4. How do the pictures make the story better?

There are also many fun activities you can do which can be related to a story.

Make and/or eat a blueberry muffin after reading Blueberries for Sal.

Create a crazy newspaper hat after reading Caps for Sale.

Cut out a paper snowflake after reading A Snowy Day.

You will be surprised how imaginative you can be after you begin to get the creative juices flowing.


Teachers might find Sequencing Cards for Where the Wild Things Are, Strega Nona, and Charlotte’s Web useful and enjoyable.

You have just a few short years to interest your child in reading and get them hooked on books.

It is very important that kids read for pleasure, not just for schoolwork. Summer reading is especially important. You might find that Reading Spotlight’s Blog Post: How To Motivate Summer Reading is helpful. We also have developed a FREE Independent Reading Packet with helpful questions that motivate more reading.

It is the parents’ and teachers’ jobs to make reading for pleasure a priority.


© Reading Spotlight 2021