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Reading and Writing SOS: Vocabulary and Comprehension

In this special Reading Rockets video series, experts answer real questions from families about reading and how to support their children at home.

National Education Association (NEA)

Reading and Writing SOS was produced in partnership with the National Education Association.

Question: How can I help my four-year-old learn more words?

Literacy expert Sandra Wilborn shares three key ways to build your young child’s vocabulary: lots of family talk, narrating your every day activities such as cooking or shopping, and reading to your child — while pointing out new words and then using them in your conversations.

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Question: How do I help my child learn new words while we read aloud?

Reading aloud is a great way for children to learn new words. Literacy expert Sandra Wilborn suggests that parents pause during the read aloud to elaborate on a new word by giving a simple definition, connecting the word to something your child knows, and using it in a sentence. Reinforce the learning by using that new word at home in the weeks ahead.

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Question: Should I tell my child to look up words in the dictionary?

It’s still okay to encourage your child to look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary (remember to do it with them!) — but that’s just the first step. Literacy expert Sandra Wilborn says that vocabulary development is a process that requires lots of exposure to a word in order to really learn it. Find out about the other simple things parents can do to reinforce word learning.

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Question: Should I be concerned if my child reads slowly?

A parent is concerned that her child reads accurately but very slowly. Literacy expert Kegi Wells explains that what’s most important is if your child understands what she’s reading. Kegi offers simple ways to check for understanding and how to model expressive reading.

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Question: Should I correct my child when she reads aloud to me?

It depends on the situation, says literacy expert Sandra Wilborn. If your child is reading out loud for fun, it’s best to just offer a gentle, quick correction and move on. But if your child is reading aloud as part of a more structured learning time, you should offer more guidance, such as encouraging your child to slow down and sound out unfamiliar words, and to check for understanding (“Does that sentence make sense?”).

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Question: How can I encourage reading when it’s hard for my child?

A parent asks about the best way to encourage reading when a child finds it difficult. Literacy expert Kegi Wells explains different strategies to help children to become stronger and more engaged readers.

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Question: Can parents help a third grader with comprehension?

A parent says that her son can read a story but can’t have a conversation about it. Third grade teacher Chelsey Short shares three simple ideas to help your child understand what they read — break down the story into smaller pieces, give a reason or purpose for reading, and encourage your child to look back in the text for answers. She also has some suggestions for making this practice more fun!

Meet our experts

Chelsey Short

Chelsey Short is a third grade teacher at William B. Wade Elementary school in Waldorf, Maryland, where she loves helping students learn with fun and engaging lessons. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a focus on K-8 mathematics and a minor in special education at Southwest Minnesota State University. Chelsey is a member of the Education Association of Charles County Executive Board where she advocates for policies that benefit educators and students. Recently, she joined the New Mom Club and enjoys spending time with her daughter during her free time.

Kegi Wells

Kegi Wells is the Coordinator of Professional Development for the Jackson area and the southern part of Mississippi at the Barksdale Reading Institute (opens in a new window). Kegi has most recently served as Director of Curriculum and Instructional Management in the Quitman County School District. She began her career as a teacher at Crystal Springs Elementary School and later became the assistant principal at Crystal Springs Middle School. She then served as an instructional coach and later the principal at Madison S. Palmer High School in Marks, MS. Kegi received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA. She received her Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Mississippi College in Clinton, MS.

Sandra Lloyd Wilborn

Sandra Wilborn is the coordinator for school readiness at the Barksdale Reading Institute (opens in a new window), where she leads their Parent Academy and works on several early literacy initiatives. She is a retired Assistant Principal and has 31 years of educational experience in grades K-6. Sandra has been a National Board-Certified Teacher for 15 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Delta State University, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Mississippi, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Columbia University.