Not sure when to introduce your students to chapter books? From the child’s point of view it can seem a bit daunting to read independently, but listening to a chapter book is beneficial, too! Children comprehend books that are a few levels above their own reading level when the stories are read aloud. Your expression and manner will help children figure out words that are new to them.
When children hear James and the Giant Peach read to them, they love imagining the horrendous escaped rhino and the mischievous Weather Men that lived in the clouds. They don't have to worry about stumbling over words they don't know. They can snuggle up every night and listen to James’ adventure while their imaginations paint the pictures for them. This encourages children to try more books, because they know that they can understand new words from their context -- even words they've never seen in print.
Letting your child choose his or her own chapter book to read without getting frustrated is made considerably easier with this useful tip from Esmé Codell. The Rule of Thumb goes like this:
Have a child choose a page in the middle of the book with a lot of text, and make a fist. Explain to the child that she should not use the fist to punch anyone in the nose. Instead, read the page silently, and if you come to a word you don’t know and can’t guess, put up your thumb. If you find another word, put up another finger, and so on. If you reach the end of the page and between three and five are up, that means the book will be a challenge. The child can decide if she is motivated enough to try to read it anyway (you can offer help), or she can choose to save it for the future. A pleasure read should have 0-2 fingers up.
This technique is great because it provides a quantifiable method for the child to apply. Nothing is more disheartening than getting excited to read a certain book, borrowing it from the library and taking it home, only to find out it’s too difficult to read independently at that time. Esmé Codell's suggestion allows children to gauge on their own what books will be appropriate for them.
If you’re looking for a chapter book to read to a group, imagine the youngest age the author intended the book for. If the story is captivating, your more advanced readers will enjoy the book nonetheless.
Codell, Esmé Raji. How to Get Your Child to Love Reading. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2003.