There will be words in the passage that your child won’t recognise and that’s deliberate. However, if they read widely this is less likely to happen. Don’t panic! Follow this tried and tested method to help them work out the meaning. Let’s have a look at this short section:

The moon slid behind a grey cloud. As Alfie walked into the dark forest, an owl hooted ominously. He shivered.”

The questions asks for the meaning of ‘ominously’. If they do not know what the word means,they need to read around it. In this case, the sentence before and after it offer helpful clues too. Get them to think about the situation. It is really dark. There’s not even any moonlight. Alfie is alone, in the dark, in a forest and after he hears the noise the owl makes, he shivers. How would they feel in his shoes? Frightened? Threatened? What word could they substitute for ‘ominously’? What would make sense here?  So we could say that here ‘ominously’ means threateningly.

The key is to have a go. Remind them not to  get stuck on just one word. They will lose time – and marks.
Reading a good selection of fiction and non-fiction will help your child develop wide a range of vocabulary. It’s an easy and foolproof way to improve their literacy across the board.


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