5 Steps for Active Reading with your Child (Part 2)


a mother and son reading

Stop at every vocabulary word that you’re unsure if they know, or that you want to review. I usually check to see if my son knows a given vocab word about three times.  Ask them to define the word. If they are hesitant or incorrect, define it from them, providing the etymology and Latin or Greek roots when applicable and if you know them.

If you and your child both know some words from a romance language, such as Spanish, you can help them look for the foreign word in the root of the vocabulary word, which is, of course, the Latin root. For example, I remember explaining that the word lunatic contains the “Spanish word” “luna” or “moon”, because long ago they thought that looking at the full moon made people go crazy. Name other words with the same Latin root: vitamin, vital signs, and revitalize all have the Latin root “vita” (or “vida” in Spanish), meaning life. “Dormant” and “dormitory” contain the Latin/Spanish root “dormir”, meaning to sleep.

If possible, look up the image on your smartphone or tablet, which you can have by your side when reading to your child.


While I read, I also take any and every opportunity to slip in bits of content knowledge as it comes up in the text: history, science, geography, knowledge of foreign countries, cultural differences, etc.


Book Cover - Lord of the Flies

I also stop to check for comprehension, particularly when I am reading more complex books such as William Golding ’s novel, Lord of the Flies. For example, my son initially needed help with phrases such as “the leaves chattered.” We talked about how the sound of the leaves in the wind would sound just like chattering. Every time the phrasing was complex or when meaning was implied rather than stated, I stopped to check for comprehension (asked him to explain what was happening), and if he wasn’t sure, I would show him how to break down the sentence or paragraph.

In other words, I didn’t simply summarize the meaning. Rather, I helped him understand the meaning of the phrases, language and literary devices, and how the author was using language to communicate things. I always keep in mind that my goal is not for him to understand this book, but rather that he learn how to comprehend complex, sophisticated writing. This will be very valuable to help comprehend more advanced/complex books in higher grades.


This is where Dyslexics excel!! As you know, Dyslexics may be weak at detailed thinking such as spelling, handwriting, grammar and decoding, but in return they tend to be stronger than their non-dyslexic peers in big-picture, analytical thinking, making connections, problem-solving and innovative, creative thinking. This explains why so many dyslexics become scientists, entrepreneurs, innovators, creative professionals, inventors, and why Silicon Valley is full of dyslexics!

You can use your reading sessions to help your child develop these skills. These analytical thinking skills will help them compensate for their weaknesses, develop their self-confidence, and help them excel in the classroom, particularly as they proceed to middle and high school, where analytical thinking schools become a premium. You can teach your child how to analyze, identify symbolic reason and underlying allegorical meaning, identify patterns and themes, and make connections from text to life.

I find that the most effective way of doing this is by modeling this type of thinking. They have never seen/heard/done it before, so of course they need to see examples. I use the “I do, We do, You do” method.

daughter sharing book with father

So for example, when I started reading Lord of the Flies to my son, he had no clue that characters and story could have deeper underlying symbolism. So at first, I didn’t even try to ask him questions about symbolism, which might have confused him or made him feel stupid. Instead, I explained that like the movie Black Panther, many novels and films have underlying meaning– it’s like there are two (or more) parallel stories: the obvious physical/superficial storyline, plus one or more underlying “invisible” allegorical themes. “For example…” and I told him what various characters and objects in the book represented. I also identified the overall question the novel was trying to answer: “Without government or societal control/regulation, what would people do?” “What is the essential nature of man?” He was intrigued, and over the next days, he played with and processed the ideas, and gave his own thoughts on what he thought was the answer to the philosophical questions.

Then I transitioned to “We do“. For the rest of the book, I asked him leading questions about deeper meaning, and elaborated on his attempts to interpret meaning. For example, I asked him who or what he thought the parachuted man represented, encouraged his attempts at analysis, and added a lot more nuance and depth to his answers.

A week or two later we watched the films The Matrix and Planet of the Apes, because they are both fun and engaging for kids his age, and they are full of meaning to analyze. Of course, I helped him with the analysis, but I could see him getting better and better at it with more and more practice.

In fact, a few days later I found an animated Youtube video explanation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I asked my son to explain it to me, which he did very well, and I then asked him if it sounded familiar. He responded “Of course! It’s exactly the meaning of The Matrix!” Love that dyslexic brain!

Here is a list of novels and films I read to or watched with my 8-9 year old that were useful for helping him develop deeper and analytical thinking:

  • Lord of the Flies (I read the book to him and then we saw both movie versions)
  • The Matrix (movie)
  • Planet of the Apes (movie)
  • Harry Potter (I read all 7 books to him and then we saw the movies)
  • The Hunger Games (I read the book to him and then we saw the movie)
  • Black Panther (movie)
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (I read the book to him and then we saw the movie)
  • Twilight Zone episodes (DVD TV episodes)


Finally, when I read I am also modeling active reading to him, so that he will establish the habit and practice it automatically when he is in middle and high school, in college, and at his workplace. I am teaching him that what we’re doing in our reading session–stopping to check for comprehension, backtracking and repeating when we get confused, looking up unknown vocabulary, looking up the pronunciation of words we are not sure how to pronounce, connecting text to prior knowledge and the world, questioning or interrogating the text, making connections–is what all good readers do when they read a book or article. We don’t just “decode” the words mechanically and mindlessly from cover to cover. Rather, as we read we are constantly engaging in a conversation with ourselves and with the book, stopping, checking for comprehension, going back, thinking, and making connections.

This is the second of a two-part article. See Part 1 (Overview).