A Guide for Parents: Improving Your Child’s Literacy

What is Literacy Lift Off?
Literacy Lift Off is an intensive short term initiative which will run for 6-8 weeks. The programme consists of reading (levelled PM+ books), writing (with coloured markers and blank books) and word work (with magnetic letters). The children have been assessed to ensure that each child is reading books at their optimum level for learning. This term we are starting the programme with Senior Infants.
Learning support teachers come into the classroom so that every child benefits from intensive tuition in small groups and many different teaching styles. Each group works at a particular level on the same book. At the writing station they compose sentences based on their books with an emphasis on developing their descriptive language.
The focus is on helping children to see themselves as readers and writers. They will get lots of opportunities to improve their vocabulary and to reinforce their use of ‘book language’ in both their reading and writing.

Reading Homework
Please listen to your child reading their Literacy Lift Off book every night that the folder is in the bag (Mon- Thurs)
Remember Enjoyment is the Key to Success with Reading:
Think of it as story time rather than homework. Invite them to tell you a story. Do it in as calm and relaxing a setting as possible – curl up on the couch, or in a comfy armchair with a good light to read by.
It might make it more enjoyable for the child if you take turns reading every second page. Or perhaps you might take turns reading the story part or the talking parts.
We want them to keep reading and not lose the meaning of the story or get frustrated with working out words.
Before the book is even opened talk about it: look at the front and back covers, the blurb, the author’s name etc.
Prediction questions can be used at the end of the book (because your child will already have read the book in school) – what does your child think might happen after the ending – what might Jack do next? etc
Remember to encourage the children to use the following strategies, which they have been learning in school, to work out unknown words:
• Look at the picture.
• Look at the first letter of the word.
• Read back over the sentence from the start to check it.
• Read on to see what makes sense.
• If they are stuck on a word, such as ‘Hello’/ ‘thank you’, give hints, e.g. ‘Hello’- what do you say when you meet someone you haven’t seen in a while. ‘Thank you’ – what would you say if someone did something nice like that for you?
Ask your child to point to words as they read them if this helps them. They could also run their fingers under longer words. Try ‘pinching words’ to find chunks in them (i.e. place your thumbs at either end of a tricky word and move the two thumbs close together until they cover a letter or two e.g. cover the ‘h’ and ‘d’ in hand and you can see the chunk ‘an’.)
Talk about the pictures in the book … What colour/ shape/ size is ______? What is Jack wearing? What’s happening in the picture? What season do you think it might be? How is Sam feeling here? Where do you think this story is set? Where is Sally standing? Is she in front of the tree or beside it?
Pay considerable attention to spoken words and words in bold writing. Ask your child to scan the page for speech marks before she/ he starts to read. Where does the talking start? Where does it end? Who do you think is talking? If this part is in bold how could you read it?
What way do you think Sally would speak? How do you think she is feeling in this part of the story? How do you think her voice would sound now that she is angry/ sad/ happy etc?
Ask the children a couple of questions during and after reading the book to ensure they comprehend what they are reading:
• What happened in the story?
• The story is over but what do you think might happen next?
• Which person in the story did what?
• Sequence the events in the story… what happened first, next, last?
• Ask your child to tell you the story in their own words.
• Why do some sentences have “ speech marks ” around them?
• Why does this word start with a capital letter?
• Why is there a comma/ full stop/ question mark/ exclamation mark here?
• Can you find any more full stops on the page? What happens if you don’t stop at a full stop?
• Read out the sentence that tells you what Tom did.
• What caused that to happen? Is there anything Sally could have done differently? What do you think would have happened if she had done that?
• What happened because of something someone did?
• Is it true/ false that something happened?
Higher Order Questions
Be sure to include questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer but involve higher order thinking on the part of your child. This type of questioning can help children think more deeply about a story and may help to deepen their understanding of it. For example, if the story was ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ you might ask:
• I wonder what would have happened if Little Red Riding Hood had met the wolf when her Mammy was with her.
• What type of person do you think the wolf/ Granny/ Little Red Riding Hood/ the Wood-cutter/ Little Red Riding Hood’s Mammy was?
• What would you put in a basket for your Granny?
• I wonder what the wolf was doing before Little Red Riding Hood met him.
• What do you think the Wood-cutter said to Little Red Riding Hood after he saved her? And I wonder what she said to him.
• How do you think Little Red Riding Hood’s mother felt when she heard what had happened?
• What do you think Little Red Riding Hood would do if she met another wolf?
• How would you stay safe if you were going visiting someone?
Some Tips to Help with Written Homework and Spellings
• Help your child to slowly sound out words (without breaks between the letters sounds). This is called slow articulation and it is the key to good writing and reading.
• Use the Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check method when working on spellings. Ask your child to look at the word and notice what it looks like (long/ tall parts/ tails etc) and then say it. Then ask them to cover the word (e.g. by folding the paper over) and then write it on a piece of paper. When it is written, ask them to check it. Fold the paper over it and go again. Repeat this process 5 times. i.e. keep folding it over (like a fan) covering up their last attempt, as they practise writing the word.
• Put spellings into sentences: Ask your child to put their spellings into sentences that show what the word means e.g. candle: I blew out the candle and then it was dark. This helps them understand what the word means and helps them to spell it in context. They could also see if they can put a number of their spellings in one sentence. They can do these exercises orally either.
• Spelling tricky words or words that are not common words. If your child asks you to spell a word that’s difficult to spell and isn’t easily sounded out, e.g. beautiful, write it on a piece of paper. Then tell them they can look at the piece of paper as often as they like but you will hold onto it and they have to write it down at the other side of the room. They tend to want to make as few trips as possible.
Writing At Home
Encourage lots of different types of informal writing (don’t be overly concerned with the correct spelling here but perhaps notice mistakes they are making again and again).
• Message boards – Post-it notes for messages at home – e.g. ‘No Milk’ on the fridge
• Shopping Lists
• Ask the children to write the menu for the coming week – discuss healthy options
• Chalk boards and White boards
• Postcards
• Birthday cards, thank you notes etc
• A note to the Tooth Fairy/ a letter to Santa
Beyond Literacy Lift Off:
Choosing the Right Books for Your Child
Reading their own Books
How to choose appropriate books for children to read independently: Use the High 5 Rule: Ask your child to hold up one fist as she/ he reads one page of a new book. Put up a finger every time they come across a word they can’t read. If they are can’t read 5 words on one page and are holding up a ‘High 5’ the book is too hard and they should choose another book.
Look for books with the right number of words – A book should not be so long that your child is daunted by it.
Look for books with repetition in them. Repetition within stories (e.g. Chicken Licken/ The Enormous Turnip, The Gruffalo etc) will help your child to deepen their understanding of the story and to develop their vocabulary. If they are reading the story themselves it reinforces the new words they have learned within the story by rereading those words and phrases again and again.
Look for books with pictures: The Roald Dahl books, The Worst Witch, Horrid Henry, The Horrible Histories Series, Dick King-Smith books, Michael Morpurgo books etc all have pictures there to help the child gain meaning from the story.
Chapter books: Horrid Henry is a brilliant introduction to chapter books for children who are roughly 7 to 9 years old. They would be ideal as a follow on at home a few months or a year after Literacy Lift Off. The characters (with their alliterative names which are easy to remember and ties in with their personalities (e.g. Moody Margaret, Sour Susan, Rude Ralph, Weepy William etc) turn up again and again so young readers know what to expect.
Non-Fiction books: Being able to read non-fiction books effectively independently is a skill that will become more important as your child moves up through the school. Non-fiction books make up a huge percentage of their books in secondary school. Children need to learn how to access the information in these books and not to read them as if they are stories with a beginning, middle and end.
Non-fiction books are set out in a different way to fiction books and it is very beneficial for children to be exposed to a variety of non-fiction types e.g. books of facts, reviews, recipe books etc. They need to learn how to look up the index and the glossary. Children need guidance as they practice getting information from labelled photos, pictures, diagrams and maps. They also need to be taught that punctuation in a non-fiction book can be used differently than in fiction book e.g. bold writing is often used to high-light important words in non-fiction books whereas in fiction books it usually means you say that word louder.
Sharing Stories with your Child
Books of Poetry and Nursery Rhymes are excellent resources when it comes to improving your child’s literacy. Oral language development is vital so listening to and repeating rhymes and poems are always worthwhile.
Fairy Tales and Aesop’s Fables should be included in any child’s own library at home. They should be read and re-read again and again.
Good Authors are worth returning to. Dick King-Smith, Michael Morpugo, Jill Tomlinson, Julia Donaldson, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, and Jill Murphy are some tried and tested favourites. Children will also love Kaye Umansky, Cressida Cowell, Eoin Colfer, Andy Stanton, Terry Deary, Roddy Doyle and David Walliams.
Good Publishers of Children’s Books include Ladybird, Usborne, O’Brien Press and Puffin to name a few. Look out for the Puffin Books of Stories for 6 year olds/ 7 year olds/ 8 year olds etc. These come on cd and are very good.
The Classics of literature are classics for a reason. Some examples which would be suitable for reading aloud to your child at this stage include: The Wind in the Willows, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, Black Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, My Naughty Little Sister, Just William, Huckleberry Finn etc. These books come on CD and often have full cast dramatization. Look out for compilations of snippets of classics so you can get read one chapter from various classics to your child and see which ones they would like to hear more of.
Listen to Stories Together
Books on CD are a great way to share these books with your child. The car is a good place to listen to books on CD because you can stop the CD when there’s an interesting word used pause the CD and ask them what does that word mean?
Carlow Library has a very good selection of audio books.
Carlow Library Online has downloadable books. You could even put them on an MP3 player if you wanted to.
Recommended Websites: You Tube has a vast selection of books on CD
Book Language and Vocabulary Enrichment
Pause the story (even when you are reading it yourself!) and ask what the author means by… e.g. Day by day/ worthy/ scheming/ perished/ famished etc.
Be sure to take out a dictionary and look up new vocabulary – looking things up in a dictionary is a skill in itself.

Examples of free online dictionaries are: http://www.wordsmyth.net/ http://www.visuwords.com/ http://www.dictionary.com http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Use these new words in everyday life. Try to work the word or phrase into conversation that day or that week. The best way to consolidate learning is to apply it.
Being a good Example to your Child
Let them see you reading and writing. There are lots of opportunities for reading and writing every-day. We read and write lists, letters, emails, crosswords, greeting cards, books, recipe books and texts. We fill in calendars, leave notes around the house and make a note of a recipe or directions to a place we are visiting. Let your child see you reading and writing and include them when possible.
And Finally…
Bedtime Stories
Reading to your child is the single most important thing you can do to improve their literacy and bedtime stories are a lovely way to end the day!
Keep bedtime stories going for as long as possible – right into your child’s teens if you can. Change the books to suit your child as she/ he gets older e.g. a chapter or two a night of chapter books that suit your child’s stage of development. Don’t worry if your child wants the same story night after night. Repetition of the same story helps children feel secure.
It’s all about children becoming more confident and independent readers, and hopefully, children who choose to read for pleasure long after Literacy Lift Off is over.