Top tips for helping pupils improve their reading skills at home

Although the SATs may not be taking place this year, while children are continuing their education at home, we’ve compiled our top tips to help pupils improve their reading skills. This will not only allow them to continue improving their skills but will also prepare them for progression to year 7.

1. Encourage reading outside of their comfort zone
Many schools are using a novel/picture book to plan their English work around and this is a model that is proven to impact on standards for both reading and writing. However, when children are reading a novel where they have invested in characters and a plot, the skill of inference becomes easier as they begin to predict accurately how and why a specific character will behave as they have a hundred pages of evidence to support them. Justifying their opinion about a character is also easier as they know these characters inside out.

However, in the Key Stage 2 reading test, agility is measured as children move through three unfamiliar extracts. They do not have any knowledge of the characters and plot and therefore must make quick inferences based on what they have read/stated or implied. To encourage children to be confident to do this, it is vital that they have been prepared for the unexpected. This includes serving a diet of high-quality fiction, non-fiction and poetry to them.

Our Achieve Reading SATs Revision resources cover a wide variety of reading texts to enable your pupils to become familiar with different types of text. Exposing children to the opening chapter of novels; double-page spreads from non-fiction and a range of poetry will ensure that they have reserves to build on when faced with unfamiliar texts.

Our Cracking Comprehension series has great resources to embed key reading comprehension skills and measure progress with a mix of print and digital resources, fun activities, interactive software and recognisable texts. We are currently offering a 90-day free trial for schools of our digital Cracking Comprehension resources. Find out more and sign up here.

2. Creating a voice-over
When we watch a high-quality drama, we are constantly analysing what is happening in front of us – either internally or verbally. For example, ‘I cannot believe he has just done that; I knew there was something strange about her; Isn’t that the car that was in the last episode; She cannot possibly be the same person can she?’ It is almost easier to do this when we are watching. However, good readers create this voice-over whilst they are reading. To encourage/teach children to do this, I have tried a number of summary activities:

  • Before reading an extract (fiction or non-fiction) display a task: ‘What are the five most important events/things from this extract?’ Challenge children to complete this once you have read the extract with them. This short activity will highlight who has understood what they have read and will also show you what the children deem to be important.
  • After reading an extract, give the children a line and ask them to plot five events that happened within the extract. Again, it is always interesting to see what five events they select. Children should be encouraged to revisit the extract to select their events. Teachers or parents/carers (if home schooling) can monitor skimming and scanning skills and also recognise those who can/cannot sequence events.
  • Share the hashtag # symbol with children and briefly explain its purpose to summarise. I would recommend a limit of six words. Begin reading an extract and model how to hashtag at various points of the extract. Pause and ask children to support you to write a hashtag that would summarise what has just been read. This activity can generate discussion of well-known phrases and proverbs such as #GreenEyedMonster; #AnotherOneBitesTheDust and #EveryCloudHasASilverLining.
  • Display various emoticons and explain to the children that after they have read the extract they should select an emoticon to match a character, event or theme in the extract, justifying their choice with a reason. This can be an effective verbal discussion but equally can be a mini assessment for what the children have read.

3. What does 90+ words a minute sound like?
Do all Key Stage 2 children know what speed they should read at? Obviously, we are expecting children to read and understand rather than race through without any understanding. It will benefit all children if they are frequently exposed to hearing someone read at 90+ words a minute. I would recommend a weekly reading activity where the teacher or parent/guardian roughly identifies a word count, and then gives children an appropriate time limit, for example in year 6 giving children 700 words to be read in 6 minutes. Then the teacher or parent/guardian models what this sounds like by reading the extract in 6 minutes. That is 12 minutes well spent as the children are developing stamina at the same time as hearing a role model for speed.
If children understand what they have read and can summarise as they read, they will be able to access both retrieval and inference questions with more ease.
Learn more about our Achieve Reading SATs Revision books and order online here.
Madeleine Barnes is an experienced primary school teacher and senior leader who is currently a full-time English Advisor. She offers bespoke training to support schools locally, nationally and internationally. Madeleine still regularly teaches in the classroom and includes live-teaching sessions in most of her training. Madeleine is an established educational author, writer, blogger and series editor for a range of educational publishers (including our Achieve Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation SATs Revision series). She is a DfE QA proofer for grammar and reading.


Achieve, books, Cracking Comprehension, key stage 2, ks2, Parents, Reading

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