By Teacher Adam
At Englist, we get a lot of parents who ask us, “what can my child do to improve?” Or “what can she do to prepare?” Or, “what more could they be doing?”
The answer to all of these questions is simple: “Read.”
As a matter of fact, what we also tell parents is this: if your student were to read 20 to 30 minutes each day, every day, they would improve more than they will just by coming to class at Englist.
Reading will not only help your student at Englist, but it will help students in their other classes. It improves students’ brains. Reading ensures academic success. And even more than all of that – reading ability is one of the strongest predictors of success in life.
Thirty minutes a day might not seem like a lot, but it adds up. This adding up of words, pages, books, minutes, and hours is called reading volume, and if you want to be successful in English academia, you need lots of it.
I know we are a writing program, but let’s do a little math for a change.
If students read 30 minutes per day, that equals 182.5 hours per year.
If they read every day, from the time they are 5 years old until they are 18, they will have read 2,372.5 hours over 13 years.
If your student reads an average of 15 pages per hour, 30 minutes per day is an average 35,588 pages of English before they step foot into a college classroom.
Or, think about it like this – 35,588 pages of English is:
- The Harry Potter series, more than eight times over
- The Bible, 30 times
- Roughly 100 books
In college, students read somewhere between 40 and 100 books, depending on their major. So reading daily from kindergarten through high school is a college degree worth of reading.
Interestingly, many students read even more than 30 minutes a day, especially as they improve. What happens is reading becomes a habit because it’s entertaining, so students become self-motivated bibliophiles and increase their chances of college and career success all on their own.
This isn’t just our observation. There is a ton of research supporting the idea that reading volume is one of the strongest determinants of reading mastery and academic success.
Furthermore, strong reading skills are perhaps the strongest determinant for success in life (okay, reading and math are roughly equal in terms of importance, but they are pretty complementary).
Building reading habits
Okay, so you buy into the idea that high reading volume pays off, but how does one motivate kids to build strong reading habits? Well …
- First, start early – even as young as three years old. Kids have brains like sponges, and being exposed to words, books, and ideas will help stimulate them and lay strong foundations.
- Next, be involved. Start with you reading to your kids. If your English isn’t good enough, find an English preschool or kindergarten program, but kids learn more from their parents and are more enthusiastic about things their parents also care about, especially when they are little.
- Also, stay involved. Know what your kids are reading as they get older, talk to them about books, and read books along with kids (it’s fun!).
- Furthermore, parents who read themselves tend to have kids who also enjoy reading. Read in whatever language, but if kids see you reading, they are much more likely to model this behavior. It’s never too late to build good reading habits of your own.
- Finally, make reading a treat. Buy books as gifts, go to the library and bookstore for fun, let kids read what they want – yes, even comics. Kids want to do what is fun and special, so if reading becomes more than school work, they are going to make it a lifelong habit.
If you need more help, here is a handy guide to help you benchmark building strong reading habits:
- Pre-K – Kindergarten: Read 20 minutes with your kids. Start with yourself reading to them and tracking words with your finger. Over time, they will pick up words or memorize stories (re-reading is great!). Let them “read” when they can. As they start learning phonics at school, ask them to sound out simple words, but don’t pressure them.
- Grades 1-2: Let kids read to you for 20 minutes, with you helping as necessary. Talk about the stories you read.
- Grades 3-4: Have students read 30 minutes a day, but you should read the same book as them (or have read it before). Also consider having them read aloud to you once a week or so.
- Grades 5 and up: Have students read 30 minutes per day, any novel of their choice.
Note that for all ages, reading shouldn’t feel like work.
Students should pick the books, but you need to make sure they are not selecting something difficult (which many kids do).
Kids should read books that are actually a little easy for them, maybe just below current grade level. You want your kids to not have to work to understand what is happening, or they will get bored and become discouraged, or they may just track words without actually comprehending.
In other words, books should be “page turners” – keep it simple and fun. Remember, the point is to build volume, not to challenge (that’s what school is for!).
Building reading habits in older students
Many parents want to develop strong reading habits in kids, but maybe students started learning English when they were older. Or maybe they weren’t in a great program and only learned grammar and basic phonics. What can parents do to help these kids?
Obviously, this is a little more difficult, but also totally doable.
First, you just need to start. Make daily reading in English an iron law of your household. If your son is 15 years old but has elementary level comprehension, so what? Let them read what they can understand, but keep them consistent.
Next, find a strong English program, and make it a priority – perhaps even a daily class. It should include phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension instruction at the elementary level. The program should teach analysis at higher levels. Guided reading is a must.
If reading habits continue to be difficult to establish even after concentrated improvement, consider getting a one-on-one tutor to read with your kids and individually check their phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension. Englist also offers 1-on-1 help, so get in touch if you think this is your only option.
Eventually, if they have focused hard enough and worked for it, even older students will begin to enjoy reading in English, and once they do, let them read independently for 30 minutes a day.
In Taipei Teen Tribune, Englist’s most advanced writing program, a ton of our writers have become avid and independent readers.
As a matter of fact, these Englist students have learned to love reading so much, it has gotten them in trouble at their regular schools.
Every year, one of our students or Taipei Teen Tribune writers will show up to class and tell us they had been punished. We ask, “what did you do?”
They say, “I was reading in English class.”
Their reading skills get to the point that they are too advanced for the English programs their schools offer. So, they can get in trouble for reading English books. In English class.
When we hear this, we know they are thinking and engaged and headed for success.
Many of these students are off to great colleges, both locally and abroad, and have bright futures ahead of them.
Let your student join them.