Responding to Reading Struggles

What to Do When a Word Stumps a Child

Learning to read can be very frustrating for both the child doing the reading and the person to whom the child is reading. Here are a few suggestions for those times when a child is trying to read to you and hits a snag.

1. Give wait time. Try not to jump in to help too quickly. Give 5-10 seconds of wait time or more if a child seems to be working through a word. This can take practice and learning for both the child and adult. If your child looks to you immediately when approaching a difficult word, try encouraging her/him to try at it first. You may need to build his/her self-esteem at the same time by saying something like, “Try working through the word for a bit. You’re getting to be such a good reader.”

2. Once you determine it’s time for support, decide on the best approach. Sometimes saying, “sound it out” is a good method, but sometimes there another way. You may want to consider, for example, the below prompts as well:

  1. “Based on what you’ve read so far, what might that word be?” Or simply, “What word do you think would go there?”
  2. “Can you use the picture(s) to help you?”
  3. For words previously read in the book, you can say, “We read this word earlier in the book. Let’s go back and see if looking at that page can help us.”
  4. “Let’s break the word into syllables” – Then break the word into syllables having your child sound out each and then blend them together. Don’t be afraid to use a pencil to softly mark syllable breaks.
  5. Point to each letter or group of letters to guide the child through the sounding out process. Using something with a finer tip than a finger, such as a pencil, chopstick, or toothpick, for example, can be handy for this.
  6. For groups of letters that make unexpected sounds, don’t be afraid to give the child a hint, such as referencing a word they already know. You can also simply tell her/him what sound the letters make together.

3. After working through the tricky word, whether the child accomplished the task on his/her own, with help, or after being given the word, applaud the child for working through the word. Some examples include saying:

  1. Great job! That was a tricky word.
  2. You’re becoming such a good reader! I like how you worked through that word.
  3. Good job sounding that word out. It’s nice when sounding out words works, doesn’t it!
  4. I know that was frustrating. Even I come across words I don’t know. Good job tackling it!
  5. Reminding children that succeeding, trying, and failing are all part of the reading process and even adults still encounter this can also help them realize what they are going through is just fine!

I hope these tips help you and your reader enjoy your reading times together!

Keep an eye out for my next post, which will focus on reading skills to encourage during pre-kindergarten and kindergarten stages, as well as general reading time tips.

Thank you for reading!

signed sara