In Sync with Kids

Parenting & Teaching Today’s Kids

Active Reading

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

The term “word callers” refers to readers who decode words mindlessly as they navigate text.  Without paying attention to meaning, these readers simply say the words aloud.  Very often, in Indian schools, these children pass off as proficient readers.  But reading involves a lot more than simply pronouncing words in a text.  In order to be a ‘reader’ in the true sense of the word, a child has to engage actively and deeply with a text. 

Both parents and teachers may encourage active reading by emphasizing comprehension.  In our school system, comprehension exercises entail answering a set of questions based on a passage.  Children are trained on how to ‘find’ the right answers.  However, we do not necessarily instruct them on how to engage actively with the passage.

According to Harvey and Goudvis, adults may model active reading by thinking aloud while reading texts along with children.  Good readers not only answer questions but they also ask questions as they read.  They also make connections while reading.  These could involve linking thoughts and ideas from the passage to their own lives, to what they know about the world or to what they have read earlier.  We can also ask children to predict what the author might say next before reading on.

All forms of print from storybooks to textbooks are candidates for active reading.  Once children learn the art of reading for meaning, they are likely to remember content better and enjoy the act of reading.

Reference:Harvey, S. & Goudvis, A., (2000).  Strategies that Work.  Ontario: Stenhouse Publisher

Learning Made Fun

Kushal Talgeri

Eight-year old Rahul comes home.  He throws his bag on the sofa and switches on the television.  While he snacks on his sandwich, his mother opens his school-bag, rummaging the contents to find his notebooks.  She skims through them and frowns to herself, “So much has been covered!”  In a tense voice, she asks him to switch off the television and get to his books to revise what was taught in school.  A defiant Rahul refuses and soon a verbal battle ensues.  This scene takes place in many households.  One mother describes it as, “It is almost as if he does not even want to look at his books once he’s out of school.”

How do we avoid these verbal tirades?  How do we get children to learn what was taught in school?  One of the misconceptions of learning is more is always better.  The more the child practices, the better she will be.  By asking children to read and write what was taught in school, we expect that they will learn it better.  But this kind of “learning” has many disadvantages.  Besides being monotonous for the child, it also promotes rote learning rather than understanding what was taught.  Instead it would be more fun for the child if we could think of innovative and creative ways to reinforce what was learnt in school.  This would be a win-win situation as parents would also find it easier to gain the child’s compliance.  While this may seem challenging at first, it soon becomes an enjoyable task as it provides an opportunity for parents to exercise their creativity. 

However, I also understand that the child has to practice writing as tests and exams are in the written format.  Set mini-tests covering topics taught through the week.  The child may solve these over the weekend.  Older children may be taught to test themselves. 

Here are a few tips to make learning fun for your child.  Use them depending on the age of your child. 

  • To teach alphabet recognition, make colourful cut-outs of individual letters and stick them around your house.  Then engage the child in a game of ‘treasure hunt’ and ask him to find the letters, naming them as he does.  After he finds all letters he may exchange them for the ‘treasure’.
  • Using colour pencils or crayons instead of a pencil makes written tasks more pleasurable for a child.
  • To teach sight words and multiplication tables, memory games are useful.
  • If you want to test your child on how much she remembers of a lesson, take on the role of a student and ask your child to be a teacher.  She may use a board to teach.  Dramatise by asking questions.
  • To reinforce concepts of addition and subtraction, you may use your child’s toys or items in the kitchen. 
  • To explain the concept of money, let your child accompany you to a shop and engage in a transaction with the shopkeeper.
  • Games like crosswords, Scrabble, Boggle and word-building are enjoyable ways to reinforce spelling.
  • For older children, instead of asking them to merely read through their lessons, teach them, through demonstration, the skill of ‘active reading’.  This involves a dynamic interaction with the text by making connections between information given in the text and information the child already knows, using mnemonics, making comments, drawing diagrams and noting down difficult spellings. 
  • Have family discussions on topics the child learns at school.  For example, relate a geography or history lesson to a family trip.
  • Use encyclopaedias and documentaries so that your child gets more background information on topics.  This would not only help the child remember his lessons but would also teach him that learning entails looking for information beyond textbooks.
  • For teaching math concepts, practical examples are most beneficial.  For example, while teaching concepts related to banking show your child your passbook, explain entries made, take her to the bank, etc.
  • Instead of asking your child to write difficult spellings three or five times, he may be taught to break up the word, using different colours for each part.  For example, ‘condensation’ as con+den+sa+tion

This list is definitely not exhaustive.  All it takes is stepping into your child’s shoes and using your imagination so that she enjoys the process of learning.   

(Kushal Talgeri is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Sight Words

R. Saraswathi

Sight words are phonologically irregular and have to be read as whole units instead of being sounded out letter by letter.  ‘Ache’, ‘brought’, ‘the’ and ‘cough’ are examples of sight words.  The only way to learn sight words is to have repeated exposure to them.  As children see them over and over again, they begin to recognize them effortlessly.  But merely asking children to read and write them repeatedly can feel tedious.  Here are some enticing methods that parents and teachers can use to make sight word instruction more fun and appealing to children.

  1. Give children a mix of regular and sight words.  Make a board with a picture of an ear (to represent phonologically regular words that can be sounded out) and an eye (to represent sight words that must be recognized as whole units visually).  Get children to sort words based on whether they are to be sounded out or visually perceived as one component.  By repeating this procedure for different lists, children learn sight words implicitly. 
  2. Children may also play a memory game with these words.  Write each sight word on two cards and have children find pairs of matching words.
  3. Create a game similar to ‘Bingo’ or ‘Housie’ with sight words. 
  4. Give children a paragraph from a book to read and ask them to circle all the sight words. 
  5. A challenging and fun activity is to ask children to frame sentences using as many sight words as possible.  An example is, “The teacher taught her how to write.”  Every word in this sentence is a sight word.
  6. Encourage children to create their own sight word dictionaries. 
  7. Help children create mnemonics for sight words.  For example, “SolDIErs DIE in battle.”  Children then know that the word ‘die’ is embedded in ‘soldiers’.  Parents, children and teachers can brainstorm for ideas to create mnemonics. 
  8. You may also have a Sight Word of the Day or Week put on in a prominent place in the child’s room or classroom.
  9. Give children a list of incorrectly spelled sight words and ask them to correct the errors.
  10. On the lines of a treasure hunt, you can create a sight word hunt at home or in the classroom.


You may visit the For Kids page on our website for a list of elementary and intermediate level sight words.  

(R. Saraswathi is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Trouble with Tables

Shilpa Jacob

Teaching multiplication tables to children has always been a challenge to parents and teachers.  How do you get a young child to memorize twelve or fifteen long lists of numbers?  While tables of two, five and ten are more easily memorized, tables of higher numbers like seven, nine and twelve are always a struggle.  How can practice and revision be made more fun for children?

Mastering multiplication tables involves rote learning.  The dullness of this task makes it a never ending ordeal for the child; especially for a child with an attention issue.  Before making the child memorize tables, it is important that your child understands the concept of multiplication as repeated addition.  After a child understands the concept, memorizing tables is an unavoidable task as it lays the foundation for higher math concepts such as division, fractions and algebra.  Knowing tables at the tip of your fingers saves time and energy while performing higher order concepts.

At PRAYATNA, we have developed games and worksheets to familiarize and provide practice with multiplication tables for children of different ages.  Parents and teachers can also come up with strategies to help children memorize tables.  Flashcards and memory games are good ways to get them to remember.  Children who respond well to rhythm may find learning tables easier if they are recited rhythmically.  Playing memory games as a family also helps ease the boredom of learning tables alone.  Setting timers while the child recites or writes a table is also a good way to encourage them to memorize the table thoroughly.  You may reward the child when she breaks her record. 

In order to make the task less tiring, it is better to work on not more than one or two tables a week.  Make sure your child has memorized a particular table before moving on to the next.  Some children may take several days until they are able to recite a particular table without hesitation.  The important thing is to make learning as enjoyable as possible and to make sure that the child does not develop an aversion to tables. 

(Shilpa Jacob is a special educator at PRAYATNA.)

Write Right

Kushal Talgeri

When I asked ten-year old Rhea to write an essay, she whined, “But how long should it be?”  Her tone clearly expressed her dislike for the activity.  Like Rhea, many children find written expression a Herculean task.  However, like reading, it is an important skill for a child to develop.  Besides the obvious benefit of being able to “write well”, writing essays, articles, stories, etc. helps the child develop other essential skills like:

  • Communicating effectively:  Often, when children are questioned about what they wrote, they say, “I didn’t mean to say that.”  Promoting written expression can teach the child to express his thoughts clearly in a way that the reader does not misunderstand them.  This is an important life skill and can also help the child in his day-to-day communication with friends, parents, teachers, etc.
  • Lateral thinking:  When a child has to write on a particular topic it encourages her to think of that topic from various perspectives.  For example, when asked to write on, “If I had wings...” the child could imagine herself as a fairy, bird or a scientist who has built mechanical wings.  Thus, it encourages her to exercise her creativity and develops her problem-solving ability. 
  • Organisational skills:  From the numerous ideas that a child generates topic, he has to sift the relevant ones to fit the word-limit and then organise them into a clear introduction, body and conclusion.  This is an excellent exercise for helping him organise his otherwise jumbled thoughts.
  • Perspective-taking:  If a child has to write on a topic like ‘Pollution’, she has to keep in mind who the reader will be-a teacher, younger kids or her classmates- and accordingly craft her essay in a way that the reader comprehends it.  She may have to use relevant examples, words, etc. keeping the particular reader in mind.  For this, the child will have to step into the shoes of the reader.

In a nutshell, written expression has numerous benefits for a child.  So, how do you go about teaching your child this skill?  First, while writing an essay, ask him to brainstorm for ideas.  He may write anything that comes to his mind.  Next, ask him to evaluate each idea he came up with and pick those that are most relevant to the topic.  Then, he may organize the ideas he has chosen into an introduction, body and conclusion.  Finally, he may write the essay based on the plan he has developed, using a variety of sentence structures.  After he writes, encourage him to check his work for spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors.  You may then give him feedback on his essay.

(Kushal Talgeri is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Do you understand?

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First published in Education Plus, THE HINDU, 27 October 14

Many articles on education, including previous ones in this column, urge students and teachers to place a premium on understanding as opposed to rote learning. Instead of merely regurgitating the text in exams, students are encouraged to understand the content. At the same time, educators are being asked to test for understanding. Thus, in addition to straightforward questions, most exam papers nowadays have a few HOT (higher order thinking) questions that are meant to stimulate and promote students’ grasp of material. But as a student, how do you know whether you have understood a chapter or lesson?

The concept: First, you need to remember that understanding is a process rather than a fixed end state. No matter how basic a concept is, our understanding of it evolves and gets more refined with age and experience. Look back to a rudimentary arithmetic concept that you learnt in primary school. Most children are introduced to the idea that division is repeated subtraction, around class II. Then they learn the procedures for short and long division. As children get more practice performing division in classes III and IV, they gain a deeper understanding of terms like ‘quotient’ and ‘remainder.’ Children also realize that some numbers are exactly divisible by others, while others are not. Once they have acquired a hold of division of whole numbers, children’s understanding of division becomes even more layered as they are exposed to fractional numbers. With whole numbers, a child knows that you end up with a smaller number when you divide it. How does the child make sense of the fact that when you divide three-quarters by a quarter, you get three? The concept of division gets more nuanced as children are introduced to decimal numbers and the world of rational and irrational numbers.

Thus, as the child progresses through higher grades, his/her understanding of division gets more complex. Likewise, if you are studying the structure of carbon or polynomials or the relationship between inflation and interest rates, your understanding of these concepts will be rudimentary at first but will grow more refined as you encounter it in different chapters and study related concepts. So, while understanding is never an end-state, you may still improve your current understanding by using the following techniques.

When you read a chapter from your chemistry or economics textbook, ask yourself if most of it makes sense to you. If you understand the meaning behind what you read, then you should be able to state it in your own words. You may realise that you comprehend the gist of the chapter but are confused by certain details. A second reading often helps clear up confusions. In order to make sure that you understand and remember factual and supporting details, you may read and summarize one subsection at a time.
Another effective way to bolster your grasp of the material is to ask questions as you read the text. If you are able to frame questions, your ability to answer them will also improve. Moreover, see if you can devise different types of questions including some that require higher-order thinking. Typically, these questions cannot be answered directly from the material given in the text. Rather, the student has to apply what is described in another context or make an inference that is not explicitly stated.

One of the most effective methods to improve your understanding is to teach the material to someone else. You may either study with a friend and explain sections to each other, or you may just pretend that you are teaching someone else. As you try to explain a concept to another person, even an imaginary one, you may notice gaps in your own understanding, which you can then fill by asking your friends or teachers relevant questions.

Further, for some subjects and concepts, you can only gain understanding by doing. Maths is a prime example where you learn primarily by working out sums. Passively reading the examples in your text or notebook is simply not enough. Likewise, you have to balance equations in chemistry, and solve physics problems on your own.

Explore: According to educationists, Tina Blythe and David Perkins, “understanding is a matter of being able to do a variety of thought-provoking things with a topic, such as explaining, finding evidence in examples, generalising, applying, making analogies and representing the topic in new ways.”

Thus, you can enhance your comprehension of a subject by looking at it from various angles and performing different exercises that allow you to penetrate it at varying depths.

Further, as you fathom a topic at increasingly deeper levels, you may find that your curiosity about it also increases. You will then realise that understanding is an eternal journey filled with hurdles but laden with umpteen surprises.

The author is Director, Prayatna. Email:

Reading Refined

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

Published in Education Plus, THE HINDU, 3 February 14

The countdown to your exams has begun.  Three weeks to go but every time you glance at the textbooks on your desk, you feel a knot in your stomach.  How are you going to plod through the pile of pages?  The task seems so daunting that you procrastinate by cleaning your room, returning long-lost phone calls, checking your email or updating your status on Facebook.

Possibly, a reason you find studying so challenging is that you dislike reading.  In the primary classes, you were taught how to read by “sounding out” words or recognizing them by sight.  Formal reading instruction in most schools typically tapers off when students start reading aloud accurately.  Even though ‘reading’ per se in not taught in higher classes, older students can benefit from knowing how to wade through diverse, dense and demanding texts.  Finally, skilled readers have to learn how to evaluate texts and make discerning choices. 

In an increasingly digital and interconnected world, the ability to read and glean meaning is increasingly becoming an essential skill.  But many students do not become proficient readers as they have a skewed understanding of what it entails.  Right from school, reading is equated with regurgitating information from the text.  You view your mind as a passive receptacle that has to be filled with facts and factoids from a dull and dreary text.  Students tend to perceive reading as a relatively passive act compared to speaking or writing.  Typically, listening and reading are construed as receptive forms of communication where you receive what is either told or printed.  However, in a classic book on reading, educators Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren argue that for you to gain maximally from reading, you have to change your perception of it.  Reading is an active and engaging act provided you do it the right way.

Even though you do ‘receive’ information while reading, you should not be a mindless recipient.  Instead, Adler and Van Doren compare a reader to a “catcher in a game of baseball.”  Whether or not you get the message of a book depends not only on the author, but also on how you activate and use your mental toolkit.  Reading experts Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis provide suggestions on how to enhance your comprehension.

First and foremost, word calling is not reading.  Merely decoding print does not constitute reading.  Unless you read to understand, your reading will remain shallow and superficial.  But what do you do when you are confronted with a difficult chapter in your Chemistry textbook that you don’t quite understand?  Adler and Van Doren advocate that you simply continue reading and complete the chapter even if you do not grasp the meaning of every word.  On your second reading, you will find that your comprehension increases. 

After getting the gist of a chapter or book, you have to turn on all your mental faculties.  Active reading involves effort—don’t expect to breeze through texts.  One of the key roles of a reader is to ask questions.  You may mistakenly believe that as a student it is more important to answer questions, but learning actually involves more asking.  As you read, ask yourself and the text questions, some of which may be answered as you read along.  Harvey and Goudvis believe that “Questioning is the strategy that propels readers forward.”  Some questions may be directly answered in the text while others may have to be inferred.  Further, if you ask questions that are not addressed in the chapter, do not despair.  You have only tweaked your own curiosity to seek further.  Finally, you may even question the veracity of what you are reading.  Just because something is printed, it does not necessarily make it accurate or true.  This is especially pertinent as the Internet is a vast repository of information; however, not all sites post valid or accurate material.  Thus, you have to ask whether the author provides evidence to support his position.  Does she masquerade opinions as facts?  At the collegiate level, you may discern that the author presents only a point of view; you as a reader are entitled to critique it.

In addition to questioning, Harvey and Goudvis encourage readers to make connections, wherever possible between the text and themselves, other texts or the world.  For texts that lend themselves to visualization, try and picture what you read as vividly as possible.  For descriptive material, you may even draw what you read.

Often, writers leave it to the reader to infer a message or theme.  As you read, you have to sift through information to determine what the main concept is and distinguish supporting details from broader ideas.  After you read a section, you may pause to summarize what you have read.  Stating the content of a section or chapter in your own words is an excellent way to test if you have understood it.  If you can integrate what you have read with something you have learnt earlier or you are able to synthesize information from multiple texts, you are reading analytically and deeply. 

Taking notes while reading can also enhance your involvement.  While it may be too time-consuming too jot down points on a separate piece of paper, you may circle key words, put an asterisk near important sections, number a sequence of points and make short notes in the margins.  But be wary of highlighting sections mindlessly.  You should also vary your reading speed for different portions of the text.  Read denser sections more slowly to digest the content. 


Mature readers make informed decisions on what to read.  It is probably not worth your while to spend time over a low quality book or websites that lack credibility.  You as the reader have to choose material that extends your understanding.  Adler and Van Doren write that reading is a “kind of conversation” that you have with the author, but most importantly, “the reader is the one who has the last word.”

The author is Director, Prayatna. Email:

Testing Times

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First published in THE HINDU, Education Plus, 31 Mar 14

Most of us associate the word ‘testing’ with examinations that are imposed on us by schools and colleges.  We believe that they are a rite of passage that we need to undergo in order to satisfy graduation requirements of educational institutions.  Further, tests are also paired with marks and ranks, as a gauge of our performance relative to others.  But testing need not necessarily be limited to externally mandated requirements or competitive purposes.  In fact, self-testing, wherein we test our own abilities or knowledge, can be a very powerful tool for learning that promotes understanding at a deeper and more sophisticated level.

In fact, creating a test itself can enhance your grasp of a particular subject.  As a student, you typically prepare yourself to answer questions, but very often posing questions can aid comprehension as you might see connections you didn’t notice before or come up with fresh insights or inferences.  Further, generating a variety of types of questions in varying formats can help you see the material from new angles.  Thus, your questions may require direct, inferential, analytical and open-ended responses.  By framing exercises involving short-answers, extended essays, multiple-choice options, match the following or fill-in-the-blank activities, you will find that you can penetrate a text at multiple levels.

After creating your ‘test,’ you may want to take a break before you actually take it.  If time permits, you can do the test under exam like conditions where you seclude and time yourself.  But if you are pressed for time, you must at least try to answer the questions orally.  When in doubt, refer to the text.  If you still cannot answer a question, then you should probably consult your peers or professors. 

Of course, it might be worthwhile to challenge yourself with one or two questions that you cannot answer readily.  Even if you are not able to answer the questions, the very act of asking it will probably change the way you view the concept you are studying.  Some questions may even pique your curiosity to seek further.  In addition to asking your teachers for advice, you may be motivated to read beyond the confines of your text.

Further, psychologists have documented an intriguing phenomenon called the “testing effect.”  Professors Henry Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke have found that the act of testing improves subjects’ delayed recall of material.  Interestingly, testing was found to be superior at aiding students’ long-term retention compared to simply restudying content.  In a paper published in Psychological Science, Roediger and Karpicke write, “Testing is a powerful means of improving learning, not just assessing it.”  In another study, published in Science, Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell Blunt found that students who took a test were better at long-term recall than a group that engaged in concept mapping.  Thus, once you have mastered a few chapters, it might be more prudent to test yourself instead of merely restudying the material.  For reasons that are not entirely clear to psychologists, the act of retrieving information helps it stick better in your memory.

After you take your test, you will also have a better grip on how effectively you have studied.  Were you able to answer most questions smoothly?  If you were stymied by most of them, then you need to review the lesson again or probably even alter the way you study.  Perhaps, you read the lesson in a very cursory fashion without processing the content at a deeper level.  Or were you daydreaming of your upcoming graduation party instead of focusing on alkanes, alkenes and alkynes?

Self-testing can be an effective gauge of your study habits and can sharpen your metacognitive awareness which is a personal reflection of how your inner faculties operate.  You will realize whether you have been an attentive reader or if your mind has been drifting during some sections.  You may find that it is not enough for you to revise the content a couple of times; memorizing dates in History may take longer and require more effort on your part.  As you begin to fathom under what conditions you learn and remember best, and what you need to do in order to understand a concept deeply, you will be able to optimize your study habits.

While testing can be a solitary activity, you may also find it useful to exchange test questions with your peers.  In fact, a whole class of test-makers will be a formidable challenge for any professor to beat.  When you have forty minds devising tricky or complex questions, you are bound to have a valuable question bank at your disposal.

Students sometimes attempt question papers from previous years when studying.  While old question papers can definitely be used to test yourself, don’t deny yourself the opportunity of being a test-creator.  Finally, you must remember that the goal of education is not to crack tests but to learn and extend yourself.

The author is Director, Prayatna. Email: