Using Kids' Newspapers to
Improve Reading Fluency

"The more we know about life, the universe, and everything, the easier it is to read." So says Mem Fox in her highly regarded book Reading Magic. book depository amazon Why is background knowledge such an important factor in learning to read fluently? And how can we, as parents, use our daily newspapers, and also specific kids' newspapers, to encourage our children to accumulate a rich and varied cache of background knowledge.

In order to read fluently and gain meaning from what we are reading we do not read every word. Instead we predict some of the words based on what we know would make sense in the context of what we are reading. To make accurate predictions we need to have both a rich vocabulary and some experience or knowledge of the subject. Imagine reading a chemistry journal with no knowledge of chemistry. It wouldn't be easy.

If a child has no background knowledge on a subject, she is unable to make predictions and so finds it harder to get the meaning of what she is reading. Instead, reading becomes a laborious process in which every word has to be read individually, perhaps breaking words down into their individual sounds.

We, as parents, can help our children accumulate background knowledge by exposing them to all sorts of different experiences through day trips, vacations, visits to the park, shopping trips etc. We can also introduce them to interesting and varied books and other reading materials. The importance of reading aloud to your child in gaining this background knowledge should not be underestimated.

kids newspapers

One great way to expand your child's background knowledge is to discuss the daily news with her. If your child sees you reading a newspaper regularly, you are already tacitly encouraging her reading skills. She will see that you value and enjoy reading and will begin to learn why, what and how people read. No doubt she will ask you what you are reading. That is your cue for expanding her knowledge on a particular subject. Choose an article which you find interesting, and you think she will too. Summarise the article for her and provide any additional details you think your child will need to understand it.

Try also reading verbatim some sentences from the article (or the whole article for older children). Newspaper articles are written in a different literary style to, say, children's books. This can make them hard for your child to understand at first, because she will not be familiar with this type of language pattern. However, the more newspaper articles she hears, the more familiar this literary style will become and the better she will get at making predictions when she reads such articles herself. For more on this see Steven Bialostok's book Raising Readers. amazon Try this simple activity of matching photos with headlines and captions to get the most out of sharing news articles from your regular daily paper with your child.

In addition to your regular newspaper, there are also a host of on-line news sites especially for children. These kids' newspapers are great for providing the news in language which your child will understand, but still respecting the literary style of a newspaper. Older children can browse the news themselves, or you can choose interesting-looking articles from these kids' newspapers and read them aloud to your child.

Recently my son and I read a great article at Teaching Kids the News, a Canadian website which provides daily news articles appropriate for grades 1-6. The article we read was about 'uncontacted' tribes found in Brazil and contained a link to YouTube of footage taken of these tribes (search on 'Brazil' to find the article). My son was fascinated and it led to an interesting discussion on how we all used to live and what it is like to live without any of the things we take for granted nowadays. Later that day I was thrilled to hear my son explaining what we had discussed to his younger brother and also to a visiting guest.

The BBC in the UK produces the excellent Newsround website with articles on the latest news stories as well as the latest in sport and entertainment news. For older readers there is the News School Report which gives 11-16 year-olds across the UK the opportunity to make and broadcast their own news.

First News is the UK's only kids' newspaper and is produced weekly and aimed at children aged 7-14 with an accompanying website.

Scholastic News publish weekly newspapers in the US for grades 1 to 6. These kids' newspapers cover current events and non-fiction of interest to each age group. Usually distributed in bulk through schools, you can order a single copy as long as you order the teacher guide also. Scholastic News Online can be accessed for free and contains breaking news and highlights from the print magazine.

Time for Kids is another of the popular US kids' newspapers with different editions for grades K to 6 and also has a kids' internet site with topical articles.

Another useful resource is The Learning Network from the New York Times, which provides teaching ideas based on New York Times content. In the 6 Q's About the News quiz your child has to answer basic questions — Who, What, Where, When, Why and How — about an important recent story which they can read on-line. The Weekly News Quiz also looks like a fun way to test your child's understanding of that week's front page news with a series of multiple choice questions. I also love the long list of activities suggested on the site to help improve your child's reading comprehension and background knowledge using any newspaper you can get your hands on.

So don't delay - start sharing the news with your child today!

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