Rev up reading for second graders

Easy activities to help your second grader master essential reading skills.

By Catherine Ann Velasco

Write on!

Skill: Decoding

Practicing writing is a good way for kids to build reading skills, as it helps them sound out words and shows them how letters form words. In fact, new brain research has shown that writing may be a more natural first learning step than reading. Ask your child to write a grocery list as you both figure out what you need at the store. (Add a couple of challenge words like "yogurt", "spinach," or "peppermint tea" to see if she can sound them out.) At the store, have your child read out loud and check off your purchases as you toss items into your shopping cart.

Word attack

Skill: Decoding

Teach your child to attack new words with a vengeance! Create a “killer word bookmark” out of card stock paper and have your child decorate one side of it with something he associates with power — a shark, a dinosaur, or himself as a super hero. As you read with your child and come across a word that is hard to sound out, write that word down on the bookmark. Then as you read each day, review the words on the bookmark. Add a couple of words a day, and choose examples that require him to use decoding strategies, like breaking the words into chunks and recognizing common suffixes.

Rock the book

Skill: Fluency

Play a little fluency trick on your second grader. Next time you read to him, don’t pause for commas and periods but put pauses in strange places that make no sense. It won’t be long before your child stops you or begins snickering. Get him to explain what you’re doing wrong and ask him to read the passage the right way. Talk about how punctuation influences expression, and demonstrate how you pause at commas, stop for periods, raise your voice when reading sentences that end with question marks, and read in a character's voice when there are quotation marks. As you continue reading, occasionally lapse and make a punctuation fluency mistake and see if your child catches you.

Hear the book

Skill: Fluency

To help your child improve reading fluency, get audio versions of books you child is reading (you can check out audiobooks at your library, or find them online). Have her follow along in the book as she listens. Pause the audiobook occasionally and ask her to read a passage aloud, imitating the pace and expression of the audio reader. Audio book tip: Roald Dahl’s expressive reading of his many classics provide wonderful examples of how fluency can make stories come alive.

Make a mental movie

Skill: Comprehension

When you come to a descriptive passage in a book, have your child close his eyes and create a mental movie of the scene. Read the passage over together, looking for details that bring the scene to life. Ask questions like, "How do you know they were on a pirate ship? Which words help you understand that the child was feeling homesick?"

What happens next?

Skill: Comprehension

When your child has finished reading a favorite book, ask her what she imagines happening to the main character after the book is over. Ask why she thinks certain things may occur, referring back to the events of the story or what she knows about the main character. How likely is it that Peter Rabbit will sneak back into Mr. McGregor’s garden, even after his close call? What does she think is likely to happen next year at Wayside school? Encourage your child to identify details in the book that help her predict what will happen after The End

Learn all about it

Skill: Knowledge

Find a nonfiction book that your child isn’t familiar with and before reading, talk about what you both know about the topic. Then, when he's finished the book, find out what new information he learned. To avoid answers like "I dunno," ask specific questions. For example, if he read a book about dolphins, ask him what dolphins eat, or how far they travel in the course of a year. Or simply ask your child to name three new things he learned. Did you know, for example, that dolphins don’t drink sea water, because they get all the water they need from the fish they eat?

Know your author

Skill: Knowledge

Help your child learn more about the authors of her favorite books. Did you know, for example, that Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was a British air force pilot during World War II? Or that Beverly Cleary, who created the Ramona series, was a struggling reader during her first years of school? Check out author biographies from the library or help your child do research online. Pose questions for your child based on what you learn, for example, do you think the author's books are based on her own experiences? Did the author live a long time ago, or is he still alive? Let the exploration of the author’s story lead you to other topics. For instance, learning about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life could spark her curiosity about how Native American families lived at that time.

Catherine Ann Velasco has covered education and children and family issues for more than 22 years. She's won numerous awards, and served as a fellow of the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families and the Education Writers Association’s Statistics Boot Camp. Velasco lives near Chicago and can be reached at