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13th November 2023 - What should I do if a pupil adds extra words when reading?

The following question came up on Catch Up® Literacy training: What should I do if a pupil adds extra words when reading?

Do you have pupils who do that? It’s almost as if the printed words are just a hint about what should be read! These pupils often add in extra words or change the order of the words. If we can pinpoint why they are doing it, then we can help them to kick the habit.

Could it be visual stress?
One thing to check out is whether the pupil has some minor eye imbalance? Maybe they’re finding it hard to focus on the printed word on the page. Some pupils find black font on a white background creates visual stress. Try placing a coloured overlay on the page and see if this improves the accuracy of matching reading to print.

Try to identify the effect of the ‘extra’ words.
Do the additional words embellish the text but do not essentially change the meaning?
For example, the text says: She was putting on her socks.
The learner reads: She was putting her socks on her feet.

On the plus side, this is a good indication that the pupil is reading for meaning, but there are occasions where accurate reading of the words on the page is crucial for comprehension, particularly when reading non-fiction.

Alternatively, are the additional words just random and change the meaning?
For example, the text says: She was putting on her socks.
The learner reads: She was putting over here her socks.

In both cases, we need to guide the pupil to read only the printed words.

Tips for helping pupils read what is written on the page

  1. In the prepared reading, match your oral summary with accurate pointing so that the pupil’s eyes are drawn to the words on the page.

  2. After the prepared reading, just before the pupil starts reading to you, say: “Do your very best to only read the words that are on the page.”

  3. If the additional words make sense, then it might be enough to say to the learner, “Just read that again, pointing at each word as you say it.” Or say, “You said the word ‘feet’. Can you see the word ‘feet’? Remember to just read the words that are on the page.”

  4. If the additional words affect the meaning, read back to the learner what they have said and try to draw out the fact that it doesn’t make sense, i.e. “You said, ‘She was putting over here her socks.’ Does that sound right? Go back and see if you can make it make sense.” (These sorts of prompts are scaffolding learning, rather than just pointing out to the learner what was wrong.)

  5. You could ask the pupil what they think would help them to read only the words on the page.

  6. Make ‘accurate reading’ a target on the Catch Up® Literacy targets sheet and add a comment in the Comments box or Follow up box on the individual session record sheet. The idea is to make it a joint challenge for you and the pupil.

  7. Use the Classroom Liaison sheet to discuss this tendency with the class teacher, and suggest that in a small group setting, pupils with this problem follow text which is read by an adult, where the adult adds in some extra words which are not printed on the page. The challenge is for the learners to note the differences between what they hear and what they see.

  8. You might also try a Reading Recovery technique, which is to make ‘masking cards’ with windows of various sizes to expose sentences of one line or one line plus return sweep. These can be used to draw the learner back to look exclusively at

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