It is sometimes hard to know how to help a child who is completely stuck on a word when reading. As I mentioned in a previous post, our go-to strategy seems to be "sounding it out." I would like us to challenge ourselves to find other ways to help children solve unknown words.
One of these ways might be to pretend unfamiliar words are blank spaces for students to fill in. In Debra Goodman's The Reading Detective Club, she gives an example story of the three little pigs in which several words are smudged and unreadable. In this book, a detective says he thinks he can figure out the missing words. The readers use context and background knowledge to fill in the blanks. Often, we will be able to think of several words that might fit in a single blank, but we can use our understanding of the rest of the story to choose one that fits best. Try this strategy with young readers by encouraging them to cover unknown words with a finger and to think about the possibilities. Then have them back up to the beginning of the sentence and try a possible word in the unknown word's place. In the end, we should be more concerned with students' meaning making and comprehension than their ability to read every single word perfectly.
Encouraging young readers to use various strategies to figure out difficult words themselves empowers them to read more and independently. When children know that they have options when they come to an unfamiliar word, they will be more likely to try to solve the word on their own. As always, our goal is to foster a lifelong love of reading. So support your young reading detectives as they solve these tricky cases.