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What To Do When When Your Child Is Skipping Words While Reading

Any parent or caregiver who has endured those early months and years of children reading aloud know how much patience it requires. And often, we feel ill equipped to help our children when we notice a recurring problem. Skipping words ranks high on my list of head scratching issues during this phase, so I love this simple guide to navigating such a common problem from Renee. -Nicole

Skipping words (or omitting as it’s called in teacher-speak) is a common reading behavior you may notice when your child reads to you. As a Title I Reading Interventionist, it’s probably the most common error I see, and chances are you do it too! It’s an issue that typically falls into two categories: skipping small words and skipping critical words.

Skipping Small Words or Sight Words

Children frequently skip over short words (also called sight words, high-frequency words, Dolch words, Frye words, or popcorn words) that don’t create a concrete picture in their mind, like the, a, and an, or other basic sight words. Most of the time, these small words aren’t critical to create meaning or to get the overall gist of the text. Sometimes your child might even be reading the word in his/her head, but skips it orally.

If you feel like this is happening often, consider:

  • Asking your child to use his/her finger when reading to help with focus
  • Asking your child to reread a line to raise awareness of skipped word
  • Asking, “Does that sentence sound right?”  
  • Reading the sentence back to them and ask if it sounds different from how he/she read it
  • Checking to make sure your child does know how to read the sight words. Use this list to check.
    Note: if this list is hard for your child, note the words that they don’t read correctly. Practice the missed words from time to time, but don’t overdo it. Make sure to point out growth once your child does master a word. It’s really normal for kids to have certain words that are just harder than others, and these are typically words that either don’t follow typical patterns or look similar to other short words (like “how/who”).

Occasionally skipping sight words is a common mistake that is usually not critical to successful reading comprehension. If you don’t feel that the mistake is hurting comprehension, you don’t even need to stop your child repeatedly to fix it.

Skipping Critical Words

If your child is motivated to read something well because he/she has a genuine desire to understand it, he/she will go back to reread a skipped word IF the words do not make sense. This is what the term “monitoring for meaning” means: your awareness as to whether or not the words makes sense as you’re reading and what you choose to do with that awareness. If you’re monitoring for meaning and realize you don’t even remember what the last paragraph said (confession: this is frequently me reading past my bedtime on a school night!), and you care, you’ll go back to reread or save it for tomorrow. If you don’t care, you’ll continue aimlessly reading until you’re snoozing away.

As you listen to a child skip a critical word, your reaction will likely be to point it out. I caution you NOT to do this right away. (I know, it’s so hard!) If the point of reading is to make meaning, allow him/her to experience what educators call productive struggle (see previous post). Essentially, this is when your child tackles a challenging task, one that takes grit to stick with it, but will be rewarded when success is reached.

One of these common scenarios will likely play out:

  • Sometimes a child will go back to reread the sentence at the end of the sentence when it either didn’t sound right or make sense.
  • Sometimes the reader won’t realize the skipped word was critical to understanding later, and will go back to reread a few sentences later.
  • Sometimes a reader skips a word because the reader lacks the phonics skills to sound out the word. If you get the sense this is the case, go back to the word together. If this is happening frequently in the text, it may be too hard. If your child still wants to read it, suggest buddy reading the text. Let your child decide what would feel comfortable (maybe he/she reads a paragraph or page, you read the next) or you just read the entire text aloud. Think about all the great vocabulary and modeling you are doing!
  • Sometimes a reader skips a critical word because he/she is reading too fast or is unmotivated to put forth the effort to sound out the word. Encourage your child to slow down. If that still doesn’t work, model what the reading should sound like, and have the child try to get his/her reading to sound more like yours.

Praise your child when he/she independently goes back to reread the skipped word that was critical to successful reading comprehension. Resist temptation to do it for him/her immediately.

Additional Issues Related to Skipping Words

There are LOTS of reasons why your child may skip words, so I don’t want the statements above to oversimplify, as reading is a very complex process and mistakes are made for many reasons. Other reasons your child may skip words:

  • Poor vision
  • Symptoms of dyslexia
  • Fatigue
  • Low motivation or lack of interest in text

If you feel this becomes a serious problem, and trying the tips above over time do not help, and your child’s ability to comprehend is affected, reach out to your child’s teacher. The teacher or reading interventionist should do what’s called a reading record (or running record) to check for patterns in the reading behavior and can give you more insight to the root of the problem.

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