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Teaching your child to read: top 10 tips

Nancie Atwell won the first-ever Global Teacher Prize for her unique approach to teaching reading and writing. Here, she shares some simple suggestions for developing children's reading skills - and their love of literature

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1. Read aloud

Read to your children frequently, and from a very early age. Choose picture books that engage them through images and rhythm; even though they can't read the words, they'll start to make the connection between the pictures and the text.

2. Sit side-by-side 

Sitting with your child next to you or on your knee while you're reading to them, so that you're looking at the book together, offers many benefits. Make sure you point to words as you go along, underlining them with your finger, so that the link between what you're saying and the words on the page is strengthened.

3. Let them join in

When you read aloud, pause occasionally on words or phrases you think your child can guess - or, in the case of old favourites, remember. When reading The Gruffalo for the 1,672nd time, for example, try leaving a pregnant pause at the end of the phrase: "Silly old fox! Doesn't he know, there's ...?". Make room for their predictions, questions and comments about the story or illustrations - the more you talk, the more they'll get out of it.

4. Encourage them to have a go

When your child is just beginning to read, it's important to empower them. Let them make informed guesses, and praise them for it.

5. Try to bite your tongue 

Tempting as it is, try not to jump in with the right answer: making mistakes is a crucial part of learning. Give your child enough time to hear their mistake and correct it themselves; if they don't hear it, wait until the end of the page before pointing it out. 

6. Talk about books 

Discuss books with your child just as you would with a friend. Concentrate on your child's feelings, preferences, opinions and observations.

7. Encourage rereading

Let your child choose books they enjoy or find easy. It's good to introduce new things, but not at the expense of their enthusiasm; rereading is comforting and builds confidence. Take advantage of your child's love of a particular story by reading it as many times as you're asked (even if, inside, you're groaning with boredom).

8. Get in touch with the details

When an early reader is reciting a memorised book, ask him or her to touch the words as they say them. Draw their attention to left-to-right sentence structures, individual words, and the spaces between them.

9. Listen

Spend time listening to your child read aloud - but draw things to a close before he or she gets tired.

10. Most importantly of all: be patient

Learning to read can seem like a lengthy process, but try not to show anxiety or frustration. Plenty of practice and relaxed, happy experiences with books are the keys to children becoming fluent, joyful readers.

Nancie Atwell teaches English using the technique of allowing students to choose the subjects they write about and the books they read. Because the structure of her classes boosts capacity and stamina, each year her students read an average of 40 books across fourteen different genres. Through her encouragement and support, many of her students have gone on to become published authors.

Nancie has written nine books, edited five collections and delivered hundreds of keynote addresses and workshops about her teaching.

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Last updated: about 3 years ago