what to say when kids make reading mistakes

originally published on 8/5/10 but sharing again because we all need these refreshers. . . 


what to say when kids make reading mistakes teachmama.comSo what should you say when a child makes mistake during reading?

I’ve been asked this question so many times by my friends, by parents of students I tutor, and by many, many readers of this blog.

And because we’ve run into this situation most recently this week after our trip to the library for fish books, I thought I’d share some ways that parents–and teachers–can handle those tough, uncomfortable times when kids make reading mistakes.

These are ways that I handle times when Maddy makes mistakes, these are the things I said when I listened to her classmates read when I volunteered at her school, and these are things I say when I’m tutoring and working with students.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • What to Say When Kids Make Reading Mistakes: Sure, our first inclination is to just give kiddos the word–especially if we’re in a time crunch or if the child is an especially slow reader.

Child: Something must be wr-wr wh-whh. Wrrroooo. Wruu. I don’t know.

Parent: It’s ‘wrong’. ‘Wrong.’ ‘Something must be wrong with. . .’

Child: Oh. ‘Something must be wrong with the sun to-today.’

The kiddo gets off easy and will soon learn that all he has to do is make some feeble attempts at sounding out a word in order to get Mom or Dad–or teacher–to throw him the rope.

We’ve all done it, but it sure isn’t a great habit.


When kids blindly choose a book to read,they may run into some reading problemos. Teach them to choose just right books.

There are ways we can use these exciting and (sometimes) trying times during emerging reader read-alouds as jumping off points for learning. If we just keep a few phrases in our back pockets, our kids really might start to become stronger readers before our eyes. . .

When kids won’t even try to sound out a word or they won’t budge, say:

  • Think about the letters you recognize and the sounds they make. What sound does this letter make (point to first letter)? Let me hear you make the sound. Now what sound does this letter make (point to second letter)? Let’s put the sounds together. . .
  • Look at the letters you know in the word and the picture on the page. The picture is here to help you. Think about the sound this letter makes (point to first letter of word) and what you see in the picture. . .

what to say when kids make reading mistakes

  • Think about what’s going on in this story. You just read, (read previous line). Look at the picture, look at the word, and think about what might happen next.
  • Skip the word you don’t know and move to the next word you can read.
  • You might not recognize this word, but I know you know this word (cover the first letter and let him read the part he knows—at from ‘bat’). Think about the sound that ‘b’ makes, put the sounds together, and you’ll have it!
  • You just read this word on the previous page, and you read it correctly. Use your detective eyes, find the word on the other page, and see if that helps.

what to say when kids make reading mistakes

When a child makes an error on a page and moves right on by like nothing happened, even if what she read makes no sense: Let her go! Don’t interrupt mid-reading; instead consider saying at the end of the sentence, phrase, or paragraph:

  • Are you correct?
  • Read it again and check closely.
  • Can you find the tricky part?
  • It’s in this line.
  • I’ll point it out and help you find it.

Use this prompt occasionally even when your child reads the words correctly!

That way she’ll get in the habit of self-monitoring while she’s reading solo.

Remember also to use the above prompts in order–that way beginning with a general question (Are you correct?) will have her go back and check her work without your help and specific direction!

what to say when kids make reading mistakes

what to say when kids make reading mistakes | teachmama.com

If you’d like to have these prompts as a pdf, you may download what to say when kids make reading mistakes.  It has a little more explanation and information and will hopefully be something worthwhile to keep on hand!

Cheers, and happy reading during this incredibly exciting journey!




  1. says

    This is a fantastic post and I love your idea of sharing a printable pdf for future reference. I used to video tape my teaching sometimes and it was amazing how fast kids learn to just look at the teacher to supply the word. They would get stuck and their head would just whip around to look at me. “Try something” became my go-to line for those kiddos! I’m sharing this on my fb page and with all my friends!!!

    • says

      Lisa–You’re right. This approach would not be the best for a child with severe reading struggles; depending on what exactly the child is struggling with and how he/she is assessed, I’d try to set specific goals for the child and use strategies geared toward meeting those goals. Also, if the child is diagnosed with a specific learning disability, all teaching methods should be adjusted according to how the child is coded and what the special education teachers suggest.

      Is there anything else you’d add here? Please do let me know–and THANK YOU for reading!

  2. Beth says

    My daughter started reading fairly young without a whole lot of structured teaching. Now about a year and a half later, she reads just about anything she sees. She can read Magic Tree House to herself enough to understand basically what’s going on. When she reads out loud, however, she skips easy words like “in” or “to.” Obviously she knows them, and I think she reads them but her eyes are faster than her mouth. I’m not sure how much I should just let her go and how much I should try to get her to say every word. I don’t think she knows that she skipped the word…it all made sense in her mind. Any thoughts?

    • says

      Beth–I think it sounds like you’re on the right track with letting her go if she skips those words during read-alouds because clearly she is confident in her reading ability–we don’t want to change that. However, I would do a bit more reading aloud with her–but YOU read. Read at a regular pace and maybe even stop to comment, ask questions, etc. Try to ‘reset’ her reading speedometer. :) And my Maddy did the same thing when she began to read; she read quickly and often missed those ‘tiny’ words. I tried to do my best to slow her down without embarrassing her: http://teachmama.com/improve-fluencyslow-down-speedy-readers/

      But another thing that helped was recipe reading. I can’t find the post now, but Maddy learned to REALLY pay attention to words by reading recipes. . . anything else fluency related def check out: http://teachmama.com/learning-during-read-alouds-improving-fluency/ . . . and PLEASE let me know how it goes!!

  3. says

    For me, the highlight of the article is this: “When a child makes an error on a page and moves right on by like nothing happened, even if what she read makes no sense: Let her go! Don’t interrupt…” So many times, we, as parents, make the mistake of interrupting the child immediately after a reading mistake and say the correct word or pronunciation just to make sure we’ve done our part. I like your prompts and your advice. That’s a true positive learning. Very well stated. Thank you Amy.

  4. Angela says

    When a child misreads a word in a sentence, I will wait until he/she completes the sentence and then I read the sentence back to him/her (the exact way they read it ) and ask if it makes sense. We then go back to the sentence and I have the student read it again. Often, this will help.

    • says

      Angela, thanks for writing–I’m always interested to hear what others do. What if the child’s mistake makes sense in the sentence? Or what if the child makes mistakes in every other sentence?


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