I bet you can read this definition of a joule: “Tihs is a uint of wrok euaql to one nwteon-mteer.” Your child probably can, too, because, as Cambridge University researchers suggest, the oredr of the ltteers in a wrod deosn’t mttaer as lnog as the frist and lsat ltteer is in the rghit pclae. But recognizing words is only half of the reading story; the rest is all about understanding those clusters of letters. Otherwise, they remain empty symbols.

To get a handle on an assignment, a survey, or overview, of the chapter is a must. This entails glancing at graphics and their captions, and noting the first sentence–occasionally the last–of each paragraph for main ideas, as well as bold or italicized terms. Along the way, summaries, end-of-chapter questions, and review sections should also be jotted down. These steps establish a mind-set, a way of connecting with new information before in-depth reading begins. Now, too, your child determines how the material is presented: time-order, compare/contrast, problem/solution, and so on. First stage is now complete.

To get a handle on new ideas, kids must rely on what they already know about a topic under study. Family excursions to historical and recreational sites, frequent forays to libraries and museums, and a print-rich home all contribute to a broader understanding of the world, a framework onto which new information can be added. Familiarity enhances the understanding and learning of new concepts. Together with a clear purpose for reading—pleasure, research, discussion, or test-prep—prior knowledge forms the backbone of comprehension and dictates the reading pace of the material. Reading in advance of lectures is also advised.

As your child reads a particular selection, she should be asking, “Do I get this stuff?” Surveying doesn’t insure understanding. Sometimes it’s a matter of attending. To improve focus, photocopy the pages, so she can highlight pertinent facts and details; otherwise, a pack of small post-its can do the job, too. When confusion reigns, fix-up strategies can make all the difference, such as rereading the passage or reading ahead a bit for clarification. Talking it through also helps, as does checking out the Internet, a dictionary, or encyclopedia. And, when all else fails, the best bet is to ask you, a friend, or teacher to clear things up. Note-taking is helpful, too, as is summarizing, where, in her own words, your child jots down main ideas, crucial facts and details.

This can also be done with graphic organizers, visually portraying concepts and the relationships between ideas based on text patterns. Initially, create a three-columned KWL chart: “What I Know,” “What I Want to Know,” and “What I Learned” to be filled in along the way. There are other options, too. For time/order material, a time line is suitable, while for compare/contrast patterns a Venn diagram is best. Here, two ovals are drawn, overlapping in the middle. Differences are recorded on either side of the overlap; similarities go inside. In a concept map, the key word is written in the middle of the page with details emanating from it. For cause/effect, your child can list the causes on one side, drawing arrows to the corresponding effects. When it comes to problems and solutions, a similar map can be created.

Taken together, these strategies increase the likelihood that the text will be read actively, appreciated, and understood. Engagement is key here. Too often, kids think they’ve read a chapter when all they really accomplished was getting to its end. Answering questions then requires a hunting expedition through the very same pages—and forgetting is inevitable. The goal, after all, is owning the information; following these steps can help.