You’ve been reading, reading, reading to your little one. But as you read, you may be curious about whether you should be doing things differently. Ever wondered if there are certain questions you should be asking your child, or certain points you should be making to guide her? Ever wondered if there's some magic formula for transforming a casual bedtime story into an opportunity to rocket your kindergarten kid towards reading? The answer on all fronts, is yes. Reading to children is fantasic, no matter how you do it. But there are ways of reading aloud that make it even better.  From great questions to ask your child, to important points to emphasize in your daily read-alouds, here are five easy steps to help transform your sessions, and give your kid a major boost on the road to reading:

1.  Don’t Skip the Cover! Whether diving into a new story or an old favorite, we often go straight for the good stuff, and skip right over the cover. But the cover is actually a goldmine for teaching and reinforcing reading basics. Improve your child’s awareness of print concepts by showing her the title, and reading it aloud as you point to each word. Once your child understands where the title should be, ask her to show you where it is before you read it to her. Do the same with the author and illustrator, and quiz your child sporadically about what the jobs of the author and illustrator are. The skill of making predictions will be emphasized in kindergarten, so it's important to exercise your child’s ability to make guesses about what he is about to read. Guide your child in making predictions about the story, by using the title and illustrations on the cover. For example, if you show your child a book that has an illustration of a caterpillar on the front, and read him the title of The Very Hungary Caterpillar, he should be able to guess some of the elements of the story, based on that information. Praise your child for creative and in-depth predictions, but when he comes up with something that seemingly has nothing to do with the illustrations or text, explore further. Ask your child which clues led to his prediction. (Sometimes children articulate excellent reasons, even if the adult had no clue where they were going with it!) If a prediction really is off base or cannot be supported by reasonable cues in the cover illustrations and title, redirect your child toward a more logical prediction.       

2. Take a Picture Walk: When most parents think of reading aloud, they think of words. But sometimes, pictures can give as much context as text. You can teach your child to use illustrations to give him clues about the surrounding words, with a picture walk. On a picture walk, you and your child meander through the book looking at each picture before you read any text. As you look at the pictures, ask questions like, “Where do you think he’s going?” or “Why do you think the rabbit is sad?” Discussing each picture with your child will help him build a formula for getting information out of the illustrations and make predictions about what might happen next. Once your child gets to the point where she can read new text on her own, the picture walk has a new level of importance. Some of the words on a new page of text may be too difficult for your reader to decode (or sound out using knowledge of letter sounds,) so she will have to rely on the pictures for help. For example, if the text says, “The toad is big,” and your child can read the, is and big, but not toad, you can remind her to use the pictures as a guide.

3. Be a Model Reader: When you finish your picture walk and you are ready to read aloud to your child, model the skills you would him to use. For example, if you're working on matching spoken words to written words, be sure to point to every word as you read. If you're working on understanding punctuation, point out the uses of the punctuation marks on the page. If you're working on sight word recognition, make a verbal note when you’ve read one. Read expressively and use a consistent pace to model fluency. Discuss the predictions that you made together during the picture walk, and talk about how the text proves or dispels them. Ask for new predictions consistently throughout the story in order to check your child’s level of understanding.

4.  Get the Re-tell: For emerging readers, comprehension is just as important as being able to read the words on a page.   You can find out how well your child understood a story by asking her to retell it to you. Ask lots of questions to fill in the holes she leaves, and throw in vocabulary words such as character, setting, problem and solution. Then take it a step further by asking your child critical thinking questions about the story: “Do you think Goldilocks did the right thing by going into the three bears’ house without permission?” or “Why do you think the Grinch was so unhappy at the beginning of the story?” Not only will this aid her comprehension, but it will provoke critical thinking.

5.  Get the Review: To finish up, ask your child if he liked the story you just shared with him, and why. You'll be boosting his  comprehension skills, but it will also help you to choose stories that are sure to capture his attention next time. Try to coax more than a “yes” or “no” with more questions. For example, ask your child to show you his favorite page, and tell you all about it. Story time doesn’t always have to be chock-full of lessons, but having an awareness of the skills that can be taught while reading to your child comes in handy when those “teaching moments” pop up. When time is short, choose to focus on just one of the five steps. They don't need to be used together, and certainly not each and every time. Work that cover, walk through those pictures, model your reading skills, get the re-tell and the review, and you’ll be a lean, mean, storytime-teaching machine. And your kid won't be far behind...