Growing Reader

The Super Simple Way to Help Your Kids Become Stronger Readers

by Alysa Stewart

Photo credit: Liam Norris, Taxi Collection/Getty Images

I studied early literacy for several semesters in college, but there are still more methods for teaching reading than I can name. In my own experiences as a mother and a reading tutor, one method stands out from the rest: dyad reading. However, most parents I talk to have never even heard of dyad reading.

The basic idea of dyad reading is this: you and your child read the same book out loud at the same time. You both point to each word as you say it, and you read naturally. Don’t stop to sound words out. Done right, dyad reading is almost like dancing together. You lead and your child follows. Then, when you can see they’re ready, you let them take the lead for a little bit.

Why does it work? Your child will see the word, say the word, hear the word, and touch the word all at the same time. Because they’re also experiencing the word in context, in the flow of the book, it becomes something meaningful in their brain. So many senses are involved in dyad reading that I like to compare it to Annie Sullivan teaching Helen Keller. All the possible inputs are working together and new connections are inevitable.

How’s it done?

1.  Let the child pick the book. They should pick something interesting to them, regardless of whether or not it seems too hard. A scientific study showed that all students who participated in dyad reading of a book made gains. Those who participated with a book that was 2-4 grade levels above their reading level made even bigger gains than those with a book at their level.

2.  Sit together. I often hold my kids on my lap, but sitting side-by-side works, too. You’ll need a free hand to point with, so I don’t recommend lying back so far that you have to hold the book up and open.

3.  Tell the child to read along with you. Read the title out loud together and practice it a few times, so that they know you want them to read along with you. Maybe the first time, you’re reading it and they’re listening to you and repeating the words. The second time through, their repeating gets a little faster. The third time through, they’re taking the lead. This is the same pattern you’ll follow as you read the whole book, though you don’t need to read it all in one go, and you don’t need to repeat a sentence unless you want to.

4.  Take the lead and set the pace. You should read slightly ahead of your child, as you are the lead reader. If there’s a tricky passage, or the child is getting distracted, you can go back and reread. If there’s a simple passage or a word they know, you can let them lead for a while. Then take the lead back seamlessly when they hit a snag. As long as you’re both saying the words, seeing the words, and hearing the words, you’re doing it right.

5.  Read smoothly. Read expressively, pausing at commas and periods. If you need to slow down a bit so that your child can keep up, take care that your reading is still natural. Don’t. Chop. Each. Word. Show them how a good reader reads. Enjoy it!

One benefit of dyad reading that I love is that it takes the pressure off the child. No sounding out, no prompting them to try and remember a word. Because you’re leading and they’re following, reading becomes a learning process and not a test. It becomes fun again.

It’s important to note that dyad reading isn’t a perfect method for all purposes. If you want to test a child’s reading level, dyad reading is not the way to go. If your child doesn’t know how to sound words out, you’ll want to turn to phonics and decoding rather than dyad reading. But if you want to grow the number of sight words your child can recognize (and you’ve grown tired of drilling flashcards), dyad reading can be super effective. If you want to increase your child’s reading fluency, dyad reading allows her to observe and practice at the same time.

Now you know the basics of one simple, fun way to boost your child’s reading. What questions do you have about the dyad method?