How to Guide Your Students to Better Reading Comprehension

Getting kids to read in class is often a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. One of the biggest obstacles may just be your approach–so let’s start with what not to do: 

Don’t: Round-Robin or Popcorn Read.  Beyond the primary grades, students should NEVER be asked to read aloud a text they haven’t read before. This practice has no benefit for students (or teachers) beyond 3rd grade; in fact, it is often detrimental to the students’ comprehension of the text.  

If you’re currently using this strategy, please try some of the reading strategies below instead.  Any of these will help you help your students!   

Do: Chunk your text!  Break it down into manageable pieces (paragraphs, sections) and only tackle one small section at a time. 

Do: Set a purpose for reading. Tell your students what to look for (e.g., causes of the revolution, the differences between innate and learned behavior) and you’ve already improved their understanding.    

Do: Encourage silent reading.  Real world reading (and standardized test reading) is silent reading.  Students need to develop their skills and stamina to read independently.

Do: Read aloud.  You (the teacher) should be the only one to read aloud a text for the first time.  Caution: make sure you preview the text before you read it–you want to set a good example!  If you prefer to use the audio support from the textbook (or other audio sources), keep your hand on the pause button for questioning and discussion–do not just let the audio play for the entire period!  

Do: Limit your reading (silently or aloud) to 10-15 minutes at a time.  Stop regularly to gauge understanding and answer questions.  (This is just my ballpark rule; depending on the text you may need to stop much more frequently, or you may possibly stretch it to 20 minutes; however, the longer you let them go, the further their attention is likely to stray.)  

Do: Revisit key understandings with questioning.  Use the questions in the TE (in the margins and at the end of the chapter) to make sure students understand.      

Do: Discuss words. Raise word consciousness by pointing out Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, or suffixes that give clues to a word’s meaning.  Explain how other words in the sentence provide context clues to the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Do: Ask for a volunteer to read aloud a single phrase or sentence (from the text that has already been read).  You can ask them to read the answer to a question; or they might read a section that caused them confusion, led them to make a prediction, or supported an inference.  

Do: Require students to follow along in the text if you’re reading (or listening to an audio version).  They need to SEE and HEAR the words to improve their word recognition skills and increase their comprehension.  Monitor their attention by walking around the room as you read.

Do: Think Aloud.  Let your students know what’s going on in your mind as you read a text. Identify the words that helped you to better understand the text and the places that caused you to stumble or have to re-read.  Modeling our own thought processes will help them to build confidence in their own reading and thinking.  

Do: Skip sections. It is perfectly fine to summarize sections for students–even whole chapters in a novel!  

Do: Have students read with a pen (or pencil) in hand.  Students can take notes during both the reading and discussion.  You can have them write responses or key words, draw visualizations, make predictions, and ask questions on paper that can be used to offer a participation grade or to study for tests.  

Do: Read everyday. This may not be feasible at first; start small and then add. Take a look at your plans for next week and make sure you’ve included 10 minutes of silent reading.  Then, keep building in more reading as you make your lesson plans and get more comfortable with guiding students through a text.  

And finally, 

Do: Ask for help!  Talk to your reading coach or a reading teacher at your school.  They can help you talk through a reading plan, model a reading activity in your class, or just be there for backup/moral support while you read with your students.  Most reading coaches would love an invitation to work with you and your students. 

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