Recently, a teacher asked me about a third grader she is working with who makes up nonsense words when he doesn't understand something, and then keeps on reading. She wondered what she could do to stop this behavior. I told her that self-monitoring is critical for the reading process. It is not OK to make up words and to keep on reading. How to deal with a student who makes up words will be the focus of this month's teaching tip.
Students who have struggled to learn to read for several years can build up inefficient, and, frankly, bad reading habits. This child, because he did not know how to solve words he didn't know, came up with this behavior. If unchecked, it can lead to poor comprehension. Before the teacher can address teaching him how to solve new words, she needs to break him of his habit.
Using Prompts to Break Bad Reading Habits
The prompts we use with beginning readers for self-monitoring will work just as well for older students. When a student reads something that doesn't make sense, say, "Did that make sense?" Use your voice to indicate it doesn't. Then say, "Try that again make sure it looks right and makes sense." Or say, "Something was tricky. Can you find it?" You could also try: "Were you right?" You can use this prompt when the student does something right, but also when he makes a mistake. Sometimes follow it with "How do you know?" Or simply say, "Try that again."
Make sure your voice carries a strong message to your students that you expect them to check because you know they can. Praise them for stopping and noticing when something does not look right, make sense, or sound right. Praise can go a long way to establishing new, more efficient reading behaviors.
Pioneer Valley Books offers many resources to help teachers help students learn to read. One such tool is the Prompting Guide Card Set, which provides a summary of key literacy behaviors needed for levels A through M and suggestions for teaching actions that will help you support students' learning.
Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.
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