For many students, reading comes naturally. It’s possible your students probably don’t think about how they read—they just do it. So for those who speak and read English proficiently, taking extra time to teach them reading skills may seem redundant. However, all students of English—from those who grew up with the language to those who have acquired it as another–need the same skills to read effectively. All too often, these skills are either not established or not reviewed.
Let’s make sure we’re supporting all of our students by looking at three tips on how to integrate these reading skills into your lessons.
Teach Students to Notice Their Reading
When approaching a new text, most students read using two general skills: they rely on information exclusively in the text, or they draw on their own background knowledge. However, neglecting one in favor of the other results in students missing out on the full experience of the reading. Ideally, a student will be able to know when she needs to take information directly from the text or when she needs to rely on background knowledge to comprehend what she is reading.
For example, here are two exercises I’ve tried to help students notice their own reading:
First, I give my students a series of sentences to analyze, such as:
Marvin is an engineer, but he likes to paint and draw. He goes out walking, and finds a nice spot, and sits and paints all day. He sometimes meets his friend, Anna. She is a dog walker, and always has dogs with her while walking through the park.
There are several elements in the above sentences. While reading through them, I ask my students entirely text-based questions, focusing on pronouns and other grammatical markers:
- Who is he?
- What does he do?
- Who is she?
- What does she do?
While asking these questions, I remind my students that they are actively connecting these ideas in the text. Since they have understood what they’ve read, they can answer these questions. In the case that students don’t understand the sentences, give students a visual of the reading process on the whiteboard or through a projector.
For example, I usually circle pronouns and draw lines back to what the pronoun stands for, or underline actions and draw those back to the person making them. Tell your students to think about what connections they are making while reading.
Second, I find a short poem that has an ambiguous meaning. For instance, I like to use “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. Read out the poem to your students. From there, I begin with the reading comprehension questions above, and then I move into contextual knowledge-based questions like these:
- Who is the audience?
- What do you think the narrator means by…
- What is the overall lesson the narrator is trying to convey?
In order to answer these questions, students need to rely on information that is not distinctly present in the text. Make sure to research beforehand the author’s intent of the poem so you can compare and contrast student’s interpretations with the intended meaning.
It is very likely that you will get many different answers. When students give different interpretations of the poem, point out that they are using their own background knowledge to understand something.
Sometimes, a student may not interpret a poem or a reading correctly, because they lack information. Ask your students to pay attention to when they are placing their opinion and background knowledge onto a reading. This will help them understand when it’s time to do some extra research.
Teach Students to Use Reading Strategies
The life of a student is filled with huge amounts of reading material. Beyond reading for general comprehension, students often have to analyze, criticize, or memorize—or a mixture of all three! Your students likely know that they need to read a textbook differently from how they would read a magazine or a social media post. To build on this, I’ve shared some basic strategies with my students to help them become successful readers.
• Goal Setting
Make sure your students know why they are reading something and what they need to get from the reading. Before starting a reading, I have my students answer the why and what so they know what to expect.
• Strategic Highlighting
Highlighting while reading is a useful strategy—if students know what to highlight. Tell your students to only highlight important facts, keywords, and definitions. I tell them that I even do this myself; the goal is to be able to go back and find exactly what I need to know just by looking at the highlights.
There are other levels to highlighting and marking up a text, too. Have your students develop symbols and abbreviations to write in the sidelines to help them easily find things when looking back.
For example, I use a circle to show “an interesting fact,” an X to show “I don’t understand,” and “Def.” to point out the definition of a key term.
• Strategic Note-taking
Teach your students note-taking skills such as writing down the page number and paragraph an idea or definition was found in. You may have to battle their dislike of marking up books.
To help with this, emphasize how much it helps, and have your students develop their own shorthand, or abbreviations, for keywords that they can use when taking notes. I like to share my own shorthand so they can see how I’ve personally developed a system.
Create a Successful Reading Environment
Many of us face the challenge of teaching in front of 25, 30, or even larger numbers of students in our classrooms. We know that it’s difficult to not only make sure they are getting the best experience but also that they’re listening and reading well. How can we help them feel motivated and confident in their reading skills? When it comes to having students read (especially challenging texts), their interest and effort may wane.
To counter this, here are some strategies I’ve tried.
1. Establish a fun and relaxing reading atmosphere.
There are many ways to achieve this, but consider these:
- Establish an environment where mistakes while reading are OK. When your students feel comfortable making mistakes, they will be more willing to participate in class, read aloud, or share their answers.
- Make sure that students realize reading is not a race, especially after being given assignments or handouts.
- Keep tasks organized and clear; this allows your students to better set reading goals when they know exactly what you expect of them.
2. Encourage students to read through open-ended homework assignments.
Open-ended homework gives your students a chance to take charge of their own homework, manage their own topics, and read things that they have a personal interest in. When students can read things that they choose, their desire to read may increase.
For example, I typically assign tasks that allow students to conduct research on their own topic of choice. I use a prompt similar to this:
Think about a topic that you are interested in. Find three articles related to the topic, and write a short summary of your findings.
However, if your students need more help finding a topic, have a class discussion to brainstorm research topics beforehand. Another important support activity that I do is help my students establish research skills and a knowledge base of trustworthy online resources that they can draw from.
3. Observation of your student’s reading and comprehension
Observing your students’ quirks, issues, and successes with reading is an important skill. When you are able to see patterns with particular students or the whole class, you will better be able to help them succeed.
Look for how your students approach assignments, whether or not they take initiative, or if they seem to be struggling with reading certain things. Sometimes, the only thing a student may need when it comes to reading successfully is a pair of glasses!
It’s important to remember that our students are moving and changeable people. Understanding who they are and how they see themselves in relation to learning is a sure way towards giving them a good classroom experience. What’s more, teaching students how to monitor themselves and to create their own reading strategies gives them autonomy. After teaching these reading skills to my students, they felt more motivated and happy in class.