learning during read-alouds: 5 things never to say to emerging readers

5 things to never say to emerging reader

Sometimes it’s very easy for teachers and parents to feel impatient with emerging readers.

It’s hard to listen to kids sound out every word on a page and get through only five words a minute.

It’s hard to know what to do when kids insist on reading books that aren’t the ‘right fit’ –either too easy or too difficult.

It’s hard to sit still when a kiddo reads a whole page of nonsense rhyming words.

Or when he reads a whole page fluently and is completely unable to tell you anything about what he just read.

It’s also frustrating when you sit down to read with a child and he refuses to read out loud, saying, I’m not in school, and I’m not a good reader. I’m not reading to you.

In the Read-Aloud Learning Series I’ve been doing, I’ve tackled some easy and very cool strategies that any parent can sneak in during the short span of a read-aloud.  And the feedback I’ve received has been awesome–I definitely plan to continue it. But as parents, it needs to be our number one priority to make our kiddos comfortable reading with us–and want to read with us–especially in the summer.  They need the practice, and they need to know that reading with mom and dad is a safe, enjoyable, natural thing.

So before our Smart Summer Challenge begins, I wanted to throw in a post that I’ve been working on for some time because it’s just that important and because so many people have asked me, emailed me, and questioned me about: What should parents NEVER say to their child during a read-aloud?

So here we go, in no particular order — What Not to Say to an Emerging Reader:

DON’T SAY: Stop. Re-read this line correctly.


  • DON’T SAY: Stop. Re-read this line correctly.

INSTEAD: If the mistake didn’t interfere with the meaning of the text (like if it was ‘a’ for ‘the’ or ‘fine’ for ‘fun’) let it go.

Do. Not. Interrupt. Your. Child’s. Reading.


How would you feel if you were putting your heart out on the line, trying something you weren’t totally comfortable with, in front of someone who you were afraid would challenge you, only to have that person stop you, interrupt your flow, and make you start over before you even finished?  Over and over and over again?

Right. So that’s why if your kiddo’s reading and makes a mistake in reading a word, let it go. We want our kids to be comfortable reading with us–we want them to feel safe–so let it go.

Just make the correction when you read it the next time.



DON’T SAY: Speed up! OR  Slow down!!

  • DON’T SAY: C’mon, speed up–you have to read a little faster! OR  Slow down–you’re zipping through this!!

INSTEAD: Model appropriate pacing and fluency.

Fluency–or reading with appropriate speed, pacing, and intonation–is something that is best taught through parent or teacher modeling and tons of reader practice. Seriously. Fluent reading sounds like conversation, or natural speaking, and it’s something that has to be learned.

So if your kiddo is a total speed-reader or if, at this point, she’s as slow as molasses, it’s time to switch gears. Grab a level-appropriate book and say, Hey! I found this awesome book for us, and it’s going to be our book this week. We’re going to read this book until we become experts on this book– we’ll be book-reading super-stars by the end of this week, mark my word. . .

And the first day, you read the whole thing in its entirety. And then do an echo read, page by page.  An echo read is really just like an echo–a portion of a text is read and then re-read by a second person (or class if you’re in the classroom).  You can echo words, phrases, or whole pages.  In this case, with an early-emergent text, it’s great to echo read page-by-page.  First, you read a page and then your emerging reader reads that same page.  And then you read the next page and she reads that very same page, like an echo.

And on day two, you read it in its entirety the first time, and then together, you echo read every two pages. Or every three pages.

Day three, you read it the first time, and either echo read by three pages or try a chorus read. A chorus read is where you read it together, in unison, like a chorus. Sometimes these are hard, but for pacing, it helps.

Day four, you read it the first time then hand the book over to your kiddo for an entire kid-read. Give her specific praises for her super-star parts: I really like how you paid close attention to the punctuation here (point to the specific part). You noticed the question mark, and you knew that meant that [the character] was asking a question, so you made your voice go higher at the end. Awesome.

Maybe on day four, you can tape yourselves reading or put it on video (not a big deal–just grab your flip cam or camera–it doesn’t have to be a huge, complicated video production) and talk about what sounded great and what you both need to work on.

Day five, it’s showtime. You both give yourselves ‘practice reads’– start by reading the book yourself and then give it to your child.  Then it’s the BEST READ EVER–you both get to go on ‘stage’ for the most awesome, perfect, wonderful read ever.  Video tape it, audio tape it, or Skype-read with your faraway aunts, cousins, grandparents, or friends.  You both practiced all week–now show off your skills!


DON’T: Laugh.

  • DON’T: Laugh.

INSTEAD: Think about something serious and ugly and breathe deeply until you regain composure.

Even if your kiddo replaces ‘bat’ with ‘butt’ or ‘fact’ with ‘fart’ don’t laugh.  The fastest way to kill confidence is to have the person a kiddo loves and trusts the most laugh in his face.

If you can laugh together, that’s one thing; most likely if your kid is reading aloud and says ‘butt’, he’ll break out into hysterics and you will too. But if he’s working hard, concentrating, and trying his best and still managed to make a mistake that tickles your funny bone, then just move on.



DON’T SAY: You know this. . .

  • DON’T SAY: You know this. . .

INSTEAD SAY: What part of the word do you recognize? If you get no response, say, Do you recognize this part (point to the beginning chunk or letter) or this part (point to the ending chunk or letter)?

Three things here:

1. If the kid knew it, she would have read it.

2. We all hate to be reminded that we knew something but forgot it.

3. By picking out two parts of the word, you’re setting her up for success. It all goes back to the choices thing that really helps with kids. Most likely she will recognize either the ‘b’ or ‘-at’ part of ‘bat’ or the ‘th’ or ‘-ick’ parts of ‘thick’.  If she can pick up either part, say, You got it! That does say ‘ick’. Now let’s put the first part, (give it to her and pronounce it) ‘th’ together with ‘ick’: th-ick. Thick!

Then put that new word into the sentence and give her a high-five for getting through it.


DON’T SAY: You’re wrong. That says, . . .

  • DON’T SAY: You’re wrong. That says, . . .

INSTEAD SAY: Nothing. Really. Remain silent. As hard as that may be.

It goes back to the very first thing I said about stopping kids as they read and making them re-read.

Let. Them. Read.

And unless it’s a mistake that interferes with the meaning of the text, let it go.  And even more importantly, if every time your child gets stuck, he looks at you and you give him the word, then he’ll have a pretty easy time reading with you and won’t get to practice any decoding skills.

Now, that being said, if he did make a huge meaning-changing mistake, at the end of the page, go back and say,

  • Are you correct?  (And if he says Yes! then say. . . )
  • Read it again and check closely. (If he reads it again incorrectly, say. . . )
  • Can you use the picture to help you figure it out?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Does it sound right?

(And if he looks at it again and still misses the error, say. . .  )

  • Can you find the tricky part? (And if not. . . )
  • It’s in this line.
  • I’ll point it out and help you find it. (And then go back to pointing out the two chunks he may know. . . )

After kids become more comfortable reading with you, then hit them with an Are you correct? every so often on a page that he did read correctly. It’s not to make kids think you’re a pain in the neck; it’s to help them become better self-monitors.  And as self-monitors, we’re constantly checking and re-checking to make sure that what we read made sense.


And that’s my initial list of what not to say to emerging reader: which can be downloaded here. If you share it (and I hope you do!), please kindly link to this blog post. 

My amazing friends over at we teach have helped me with this post, giving me feedback on my ideas and also adding some other things never to say to our little emerging readers.  They’ve added:

  • Good readers say the first sound in the word. . . . Good readers do this (or that. . . )
  • Come on, try harder!
  • You should already know that!
  • All the other kids can do this!
  • Why aren’t you paying attention?
  • Didn’t we just go over this yesterday?
  • You’ll thank me for making you read this when you grow up.
  • I loved this book when I was a kid; you’ll love it too.
  • That’s an easy word.
  • That’s a Kindergarten word; you should already know it.

Cheers, and happy reading during this incredibly exciting journey!




  1. Carrie says

    We are so lucky to have you! Honestly. I don’t have an emerging reader yet, soon I suspect, but I am printing this and filing it away. I’m also making Doug, my husband, read it. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your posts and advice. Proud to call you a friend and mentor.

    • amy says

      Carrie–If you knew how much I learned from you when we were teaching together, you’d know that anything I can do to return the help/ mentoring/ support, I’d gladly do, my friend. You made me a better teacher, and I know that for a fact.

  2. says

    This is great and we might share a brain. I have one of these posts in the cue and just thinking I’ll send people here instead. I would just SUPER emphasize not saying it’s easy or you know this. I so think parents/teachers think they are being encouraging by “reminding” kids they know something or that it’s easy when it’s really such a crushing blow-no matter what subject it is. You rock Amy!

    • amy says

      Cristie–What a riot. That’s why we like each other so much, I bet–we most likely do share a brain. How about you move back down to MD, my friend? You’re right–I don’t think that anything that I mention here is done to be mean or hurtful–I truly believe that parents are trying to do the very best they can–but there are better things to say, and I guess that’s my point. And btw, YOU rock, Cristie!

  3. says

    thanks! jack is doing really well on the reading! i find myself saying, “you are doing a great job of using the picture clues to help you figure out that word!”

    • amy says

      That is SUPER news, and I should have mentioned that in the post–using the picture clues is a big part of the game!!

    • amy says

      Carisa! Thanks, my friend–you made my day. Let’s try to catch up sometime this summer. I have a ton of books I can send your way if you’re still doing the girls’ bookclub. Ping me when you get a sec. xo

    • amy says

      Jess, thank YOU for sharing the post and doing so in such an incredibly kind and generous way. I’ll add it to my ‘on the web’ page–thank you, thank you!

      • says

        I’ll let you know if I even get the courage to try it! I might just foist it off on his first grade teacher. The thought of having structured time in the summer makes my skin crawl, but I also don’t want to have him overwhelmed on the first day of school. Ugh.

        • amy says

          Elaine! Don’t be afraid–this is about as loosely structured fun learning as it gets, my friend. No foisting (great word, by the way–), just get sneaky and he’ll never even know it’s learning–he’ll just think he’s got a way-cool mama!

    • amy says

      thanks, Wynn–totally appreciate you writing and glad it’s explained clearly–it felt rambly to me at times. . .

  4. says

    Thank you for this post! I had the most frustrating time with my son last year with his reading, so I finally just told myself…he is only 4, leave it alone. I did not want to scar him and make him hate reading! SO I laid off, and restarted this year, after he started doing more on his own (I know 4 sounds young, but he COULD read)…anyhow, things are going much better for us this year…so MUCH better and we are both happier, but I see that I am still making a couple of these mistakes you mentioned. Now I know what to work on from my stand point! TY. I am going to share this article on my facebook page, and may even blog about it! Hope you’ll stop by my blog!

    • amy says

      Jennifer–You totally did the right thing, and believe me, my friend–you’re not alone. Reading is tricky for so many kiddos, and it’s imperative that we handle this important time with care. Thanks for sharing and I’ll certainly be by to visit!

  5. christine says

    Hello, I know I’ve posted to your blog a few times as I’ve really gleaned so much great information, but I have to say how FANTASTIC AND INFORMATIVE this post was. Seriously. Its like you’re writing to me personally sometimes as you always seem to touch on exactly the issues I’m currently dealing with at home. Maybe its an “Owen” thing (mine just turned 6!). Indeed – its all about the framing with him: I’m always looking for a “hook.” I have been REALLY struggling with how to get him to practice reading, make it NOT seem like work (total dealbreaker), and how to respond to the cries of “I’m too tired,” “I read in school”, “I don’t remember what this book says” and “you just read it.” Even asking his teacher and my former Reading Specialist mother-in-law for suggestions did not yield anything nearly as clear as this. You use the expression “set up for success” frequently in your writing and that really resonates with me in terms of how to connect with my child and his emerging skills: honor his ability level, play to his strengths, praise what’s working for him, and encourage a review of shortfalls in a very positive way. Thanks for another great lesson.

    • amy says

      Christine. You. Made. My. Year. Not joking.
      Thanks for writing and letting me know that this post helped you–I am so, so very glad. Because if I helped just one person, it was worth the time, effort, and energy I spent on it–woo-hoo!!
      We’re all trying our best, and I know how hard it is–but it can be fun, too, as long as we very carefully cross over from parent to teacher-parent. Have a blast with your O-man, and please let me know how it goes. xo

  6. Jaynee says

    Perfect timing–I’ve been working on Kindergarten sight words with my 4 yr old and I’ve caught myself so many times saying, “come on, you know this word” or, “Oh, now I KNOW you know this word!” I’ll definitely be keeping those comments to myself from now on. Thanks so much!

    • amy says

      So glad it helped you, and please let me know how it goes–we’re all just doing the very best we can–I believe that.

    • amy says

      Jenni–you’re welcome. I think we, as parents, need reminders daily–this is a hard gig, this parenting thing, and I truly believe it takes a village. And lots and lots of do-overs. :)

  7. Laura Woodside says

    You hit the nail on the head with this one Amy – really, really well said and well thought out — I think you could/should turn this into a best selling book!!!!! Great reminders for us all!! :) When I get back into a school setting, I’ll be directing every parent to read this post! :)

    • amy says

      Laura. You are way too kind, my friend. Thanks so much for writing, and promise me that when I do find the time to write my first book, that you’ll be one of my first readers and/or editors. And when YOU publish YOUR first book, I’ll do the same for you. xoxo

  8. Kelly says

    Wonderful post! Cannot tell you how many times I have almost uttered ‘you know this.’ I Like the suggestion about saying does any part of this look familiar and will be adding that to my strategies. You are are doing such a great service to parents trying to help their kiddos with reading.

  9. Holly says

    Thanks Amy! (I’m printing this for my husband.) :)

    We have an emerging reader at our house. I have to admit that one of my favorite things is cuddling up with a good book and having my five year old read to me! What fun!

    • amy says

      Holly–thanks for writing and thanks for printing, my friend! Reading with my kiddos tops my list of faves, too! SO fun!

  10. says

    The odd thing is that for most of the things you listed, we are saying them to kids in our efforts to ENCOURAGE them, but seen in the light that you have cast, it’s obvious that they’re anything but encouraging. Thanks.

    • amy says

      Yes, yes, yes. That’s why I thought it was important to write this–because most often these comments are said with love and good intention–but there are better things to say that will ultimately help support our kids better. Thanks for pointing that out–I should have mentioned that in the post.

  11. says

    Great post! My favorite part is not stopping a child when the meaning is not changed.
    Rereading books is another super piece of advice. If a part was hard to decode or a word was missed, it’s likely a child will find it easier to read the next few times. Learning and enjoyment happens each time a book is reread.

  12. Kadya says

    My son is seven and struggles with reading. It’s hard for me because I TEACH English at the high school level. However, I’ve learned words to use with him that do not involve the “No! No!” words. For example, he’ll read a sentence on a page and have missed a few words and I can’t let it go because it interrupts the story meaning for him. So, I’ll say to him. “Whoops! I think something happened there. Can you use your detective eyes to find those words you missed?” Kiddingly, I might add, “Maybe someone stole those words from you! You’re a great detective. I bet you can tract those stolen words down!” You know, he gets them every time. Thanks for this. I think a lot of parents get frustrated and don’t know what to say when they have their kids read to them.

    • amy says

      Thanks, Kadya–so important to remember to spin the negatives into a positive like you explain here–not saying ‘no’ and instead making it a game. Funny, though, how it takes SO much practice to do that, don’t you think? (At least it does for me. . . ) :) Thanks for writing and happy high school English teaching–boy, do I miss it!

  13. Kate says

    I just stumbled across your blog for the first time, and I have to say I loved this post so much I had to pin it, and share it on fb, and do everything I could to share my excitement over it! As a former teachers assistant turned stay-at-home-mommy, I am bent on using my classroom skills to help my little guy flourish! Thanks again for the great post :)

    • amy says

      Kate! Thank you thank you thank you–means so much to me you have no idea. Many thanks for your pin, FB shout, and overall excitement over the post. You made my weekend. Thanks for reading, my friend!

  14. says

    Thank you so much for posting this!! As a Reading Recovery trained teacher, it can be so hard to watch even other teachers do this! (I can’t even begin to imagine what parents say to their children at home!) I know I was guilty of this when I first started teaching. Oh how I wish I could go back and “fix” those poor kiddos I “broke” those first two years… Wonderful post!!

    • amy says

      thanks Heather!! I know–and I feel the same way–I *wish* I could go back and re-teach all of the students I ‘broke’ as well. . . but we can only start fresh after we know, right? thank you SO much for reading and sharing your feedback with me. I’d love to chat more with you about reading at some point!!

  15. Chris says

    Wow – how fortunate I feel to have clicked through on Pinterest leading to your site. I have read through 3 of your learning ideas and feel like you know of and are speaking about our family (but not in a creepy way, LOL!). Thank you for such wonderful reminders on the beauty of learning and the wonderment of a child – fabulous site which I will continue to follow.

    • amy says

      Chris–thank you thank you thank you. Means so much–and I LOVE that I’m ‘speaking about’ your family because it means we’re not alone! I look forward to staying in touch, my friend. Thanks for reading, and even more thanks for taking the time to write. Means a ton.

  16. Amber says

    Thank you!

    I was getting so frustrated with my wonderful daughter. She knows all the letters, she knows all the sounds, she can sound out words, she can put together words from sounds— why couldn’t she read?!!?!? (or at least, decode) I found this site at about 11pm last night and thought the echo reading would be perfect. I considered waking her up to read with me! (Only for a moment. :)

    After doing an echo read of the first Bob Book this morning, she read it all herself. Whew! Maybe she just memorized it, but I don’t care. That was the tool we needed to save our sanity! :)

    • amy says

      AMBER! Awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Love that you found something that works for you, my friend, and better yet–that seems to work for your daughter. It’s all about building confidence in the beginning. So who cares if she may have memorized? Most likely, she will learn more than a few words along the way. . . just a piece of the very big–and sometimes confusing–puzzle of reading! Many thanks for reading, and huge thanks for writing, Amber! Stay in touch!

  17. Shannon says

    Man, I wish I had read this post at the beginning of the year when I started homeschooling my 7 year old! Thanks for your tips, at least I can start implementing them now :)

    • says

      Shannon! It’s never too late, my friend! And the great thing is that these tips can be shoved into any few minutes you have, at any time of the day!

  18. says

    Ahhh, I’m so guilty of the “you know this …” one. Thanks for pointing that out. I have to remind myself, my kid is only 5, and maybe she forgot it. :)

  19. Mikki says

    Ooh, this was so helpful! My children aren’t yet at this age, but soon for my eldest. Currently I struggle with ANY structured learning with her. She takes everything I say so critically and melts down into tears. 5 minutes in and were done for the day. I see here now where I can apply these techniques to other areas of my teaching her, and am super excited to put it into practice. Thank you sooo much for this.

  20. Debbie says

    This advice is right on. As a former Reading Recovery teacher, mother of three boys and now grandma of five boys I endorse your recommendations completely. Good job!

  21. says

    I just loved this post! You always hear what you should do, but this is the first time that I’ve read a post of what you should never do.

    Some of these are really hard not to do and you have to stop, take a breath and remember that this moment is about your child reading to you. Enjoy the moment! Savor every bit of it! Before you know it, your child will be grown and these moments will only be a memory.

    Loved this post so much, I’m going to share it on our Facebook page!

  22. Sam C says

    This is great! My class has a reading night coming up, and I will share this with my parents. We need to help parents so that they can continue to support our readers in a positive way. Great insight.

  23. says

    What a great resource!! One question: When is it OK to tell a kiddo that they missed a word or read it incorrectly? My daughter is 5 and is past the emerging reader phase (she easily reads Madeline, Frog and Toad, and other easy readers), Sometimes she zooms through a page and misses a word or two and other times, she just inserts whatever word she thinks belongs there if it’s a really big word that she doesn’t know.

    • says

      I would only correct her if the missed word interferes with the meaning or if she asks you to make sure she’s reading every word correctly. At this point, her confidence in reading and interest in doing so independently trumps those teeny, tiny mistakes. :) Have SO much fun!

  24. says

    Oh man :( Guilty of all the above except for the laughing at them. I am going to try my best not to anymore. This is my 3rd yr of homeschooling and my 1st yr of teaching Kindergarten. Its so hard to try and explain to a child to sound out their words and then they come across words like PHONE. :/

    • says

      Jana–You are not alone, my friend! No worries! As far as those crazy English words like ‘phone’–just explain that it’s the beauty of our Germanic, piecemeal language!! You’re doing a great job, I’m sure–no matter what!


  1. […] not sure, but that’s a whole other story. . . ). So I decided that if I was going to practice what I preach and not scream SLOW DOWN!!! Stop! What does that say?! NO!! You’re wrong!! then I needed to […]

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