Reading is a fundamental skill that we all use every single day.
We read newspapers, books, directions, text messages, recipes, emails, safety warnings…Reading is everywhere!
It’s no secret that developing proficient reading skills from a young age is essential not only for academic success, but for success in all areas and stages of life!
However, reading can be a challenging skill that many students struggle to master. And as teachers, we want nothing more than to help our students become comfortable and confident readers.
Guest post by Margot Carmichael from Carmichael’s Class
Growing up, I loved to read. It was my greatest passion and the perfect escape from reality. It came naturally to me and luckily, I never really struggled with it. But teaching in a school with an extremely high population of ELL students, I’ve spent years watching my kids struggle with learning how to read.
So, how can we better equip ourselves to help our students overcome their reading struggles?
Things like patience, dedication, and encouragement are certainly cornerstones of teaching reading to primary learners. But having an arsenal of effective reading strategies is also incredibly helpful.
Now, don’t get me wrong…I don’t think there’s one magic solution or perfect formula for teaching reading. All teachers and students are different and find success with different programs or techniques. After all, there’s so many factors to consider when teaching and learning reading – phonics, fluency, comprehension – the list goes on and on.
And if you teach reading, you already know all of this. And you probably already have a pretty solid arsenal of strategies in your back pocket. But in an effort to collectively boost literacy for all of our little learners, I’d like to share with you a few strategies that I’ve found useful in my own classroom!
1. Focus on Fluency and Phonics Simultaneously
Phonics and fluency truly go hand in hand – you can’t really have one without the other.
So, why not teach them together?
Merging subjects in school and teaching them simultaneously is pretty trendy right now in the world of education. And while phonics and fluency pretty closely aligned, you can easily dip your toe in this trend by teaching them at the same time.
Fluency can be defined as being able to decode text and read with accuracy, speed, and proper expression. Basically, it’s the ability to easily read through a text without stumbling over words or sounding choppy and awkward.
It’s pretty essential for kids to become fluent readers in order to focus on comprehension. When they’re struggling to pronounce or decode, words, they can’t give the necessary attention to understanding the text.
Phonics is often thought of as a precursor to fluency. It deals with beginning readers understanding the correspondence between letters and sounds. Fluent readers often rely on their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to decode words.
Without phonics, it’s pretty tough to become a fluent reader. By teaching phonics while working on fluency, your students have the opportunity to grow exponentially as readers.
There are a ton of products out there that can help you combine these two essential reading skills into your lessons but one of my favorites are these Reading Comprehension & Fluency Passages. This resource features 89 passages that focus on each phonics component while building fluency as well.
Multitasking is a skill that all teachers are masters at! Why not use your multitasking skills in your reading instruction by simultaneously teaching phonics and fluency?!
2. Explicitly Teach and Display Strategies
We all know that amazing feeling that comes with creating the perfectly decorated classroom. Everything is in its place and perfectly organized – until the kids get there, of course.
But when it comes to room décor, it shouldn’t just be pretty – it should be meaningful. You can make your classroom décor a powerful part of your reading curriculum by displaying strategies around the room.
Displaying and explicitly teaching strategies that your students can use while reading. By keeping useful strategies displayed, you allow your students an element of independence. They can take control of their own reading and help themselves get through tough words or pronunciation issues!
Plus, depending on what strategy posters you decide to use, you can add to the adorable-ness of your room! These Reading Strategy Posters are so useful to both teachers and kids! They offer your students purposeful and specific strategies with beautifully illustrated designs!
3. Graphic Organizers
When it comes to reading comprehension, graphic organizers are an incredibly useful strategy and tool to support this vital aspect of becoming proficient readers.
The students in your classroom are undoubtedly a diverse bunch with each of them learning and absorbing information in different ways. Using graphic organizers allows you to address a variety of learning modalities at once during reading instruction.
Graphic organizers let students process information both visually and spatially which encourages them to internalize the material. The very nature of graphic organizers enables students to quite literally see the connections in what they are reading.
There are a slew of graphic organizer products out there or you can even have your students create their own! Here are some of examples of how you can pair graphic organizers to any unit you teach! Find more close reading units with graphic organizers here!
4. Employ the 3-2-1 Strategy
A fun technique to use when teaching reading is something called the 3-2-1 strategy. This can be very helpful in ensuring and monitoring student engagement.
If students are not fully engaged in their endeavor to learn how to read, their progress will occur at a much slower rate.
After students complete a passage, ask them to write down 3 things that they learned, 2 things that are interesting, and 1 question that they have.
By using this simple strategy, you not only boost their engagement but you allow them to purposefully improve their reading comprehension.
5. Decoding: Focus on Problem Sounds
Decoding is a common skill that students employ when learning to read. I like to think of it like a ‘word attack’ technique that helps my students translate printed words to speech.
While it is important to focus on decoding all words – from simple to challenging – placing a pointed focus on decoding problem sounds can do wonders for improving your student’s reading skills.
But focusing on problem sounds while decoding can be a difficult and tedious process. Finding ways to make this process fun can help keep your students engaged and making steady progress.
Using manipulatives to teach letter-sound relationships is a great technique. You can try counters, magnetic letters, or sound boxes.
Another fun idea is to ask students to identify when you make ‘on-purpose’ mistakes. Kids love catching errors that teachers make and using this technique when decoding problem sounds is very effective. When they identify an error, have them correct it as well!
There are a slew of products out there that can help make decoding problem sounds more fun for your students. One of my favorites is the Crowns Bundle. This bundle is a fun and purposeful way to introduce each alphabet sound, blend, trigraph, or diphthong.
6. Use Metacognition
Metacognition can be defined as “thinking about thinking”. What exactly does that mean when it comes to your reading instruction?
Basically, by using metacognition, you help get your students in the habit of thinking about their reading before, during, and after a text.
Before reading a text, you might ask your students to discuss their purpose for reading and preview the text.
During reading, you can guide students to continually monitor their understanding, adjust the speed they are reading to ensure that it aligns with the difficulty, or address any possible comprehension issues that they come across.
After reading, you can use various methods such as finger signs, sticky note questions, or round robin activities to check your students understanding of what they read.
When first using metacognition, you will likely have to offer quite a bit of support to your students and ‘train’ them to get in the habit of metacognition strategies. The goal is to scaffold until they can get into the habit of thinking about their reading on their own.
7. Make It Personal
By making text to life connections and activating prior knowledge, students become invested in their reading. This can be a powerful tool to keep them engaged and motivated when it comes to working on their reading skills.
Furthermore, connecting what your students are reading to their lives in addition to activating prior knowledge often helps students retain more of what they read.
Asking students questions like:
- Is this subject familiar? What do you know about this topic?
- Do these characters remind you of anyone from your own life?
- What event from your life does this text remind you of?
- How do the ideas in the text relate to your own life or experiences?
These are just a few of the many possible questions that you can ask to effectively activate prior knowledge and help students personally connect to a text. By doing this you keep your little readers actively engaged and involved in their reading. When students care about and connect with their reading, they tend to soar academically.
8. Word Walls
A word wall is often seen as simply a classroom decoration or fancy bulletin board, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Maintaining a word wall is a highly effective strategy for promoting literacy in your classroom.
Word walls are powerful tools to help students work on their spelling, vocabulary, and reading skills. They help promote a literacy-focused environment that’s rich in printed text. Students can refer to the word wall for
When creating your word wall, don’t feel as if it needs to be a static resource! They can be utilized daily by incorporating various activities and word wall lessons into your curriculum.
Word walls should be referred to on a daily basis. A few fun activities might include:
- Hot Seat: A student in the “hot seat” asks the other students questions to try and figure out the secret word.
- OOPS: Pass around a box filled with word wall cards and each student draws a card, shows the class, and reads the word. If they read it correctly, they keep it!
- Vocab Toss: Split the class into teams. Say a synonym or antonym of a word wall word, say a sentence missing the word wall word, or provide a definition of a word wall word. Student must guess the correct word. If correct, they get to make a basket using paper and the trashcan to double their score.
These are just a few of the countless ways that you can integrate word walls into your lessons!! Remember, word walls can be a beautiful addition to classroom decoration, but they can also be a useful strategy to employ in your reading curriculum.
9. More Than Just Books
Kids often associate reading with boring school textbooks or assigned chapter books that are of no interest to them. You can effectively change this association by allowing students to read the world around them!
When you open up your student’s eyes to new and exciting reading material, you help them see the world in a whole new literacy-rich way.
Allow your students time to explore nontraditional reading material that interests them. This will not only motivate them and keep them excited about reading, but it will offer reading challenges that typical texts may not.
Suggest material like newspapers, magazines, recipes, comic-books, blogs, or song lyrics! Keep it fresh and fun and your students will be dying to read more!
10. Voice and Choice
Kids are opinionated – about EVERYTHING! What they read is no different. The voice and choice strategy is an effective way to get kids wanting to read.
If you were forced to read a book about a topic that was of no interest to you, would you be excited? Would you put forth your best effort?
But if you were allowed to choose what book you wanted to read, chances are that you would be much more motivated and engaged.
Start by having a conversation with your students about what their interests are or what they would like to know more about.
Discuss your students hobbies, fears, curiosities.
Based on these conversations, you can select a variety of different content for your student’s to choose from that will help them stay excited about learning to read.
11. Integrate Technology
We all know that kids tend to excel at the things that they are interested in or care about. And I haven’t come across a child today that doesn’t love all things technology.
Technology is the perfect way to not only get your kids excited about reading, but offer them the opportunity to work on a variety of reading skills. Aside from the obvious use of reading on a kindle or other e-reader device, there are countless apps and programs out there that help build fluency and comprehension in engaging ways.
Try allowing your students to play around with one of these apps or websites:
- ABC Spy App: actively helps kids learn letters and pronunciations
- Bookster App: storytelling app that reads to kids and allows them to record their voice to the story as well
- Seuss’s ABC App: kids have the option to read the book or have it read to them; words are highlighted for easy follow along
- MeeGenius App: audio playback; personalization where child can substitute their name in the book; toddler to young teen
- readtomelv.com: celebrities reading books aloud; Common Core aligned activities and discussion questions accompany each book
- Pbskids.org has a wide variety of different reading based games with characters that kids know and love.
- roythezebra.com offers different interactive reading games that focus on rhyming, word stops, capital letters, and much more.
- suessville.com brings Dr. Suess books to life with fun and interactive games that kids can play after reading Dr. Suess books online.
- randomhousekids.com offers two reading games that focus on matching and drawing to bring a creative element to reading.
- http://www.thepixiepit.co.uk/games_menu.htm for slightly older kids, this website offers TONS of different word and letter games that help with a multitude of reading related skills.
The innate understanding that kids today have with technology makes it an amazing strategy for boosting learning and engagement during your reading instruction.
12. Write to Read
It’s common knowledge that great readers often produce great writers, and vice versa. Reading and writing go hand in hand, both skills work together to improve each other.
When students are engaged in writing, they end up working on their reading skills at the same time! Using writing as a strategy to improve reading skills is a sneaky way to disguise practicing things like fluency, comprehension, and phonics.
One fun way to use writing as a reading strategy is by asking students to become authors! They can write a mini-book, picture book, or even try their hand at a chapter book or comic-book.
In order to write a book, students will need to rely on their knowledge of reading conventions such as creating a cover, illustrations, text, chapter titles, and back cover description.
Plus, when kids are reviewing their stories, they unknowingly edit and proofread their work. All of these skills help to improve reading skills in your classroom!
13. Make It A Game!
Everyone loves games! They offer healthy competition, the possibility to win, and the opportunity to be engaged in something fun! Adding games to your reading instruction is a great strategy to improve literacy skills.
There are a ton of simple ways that you can turn reading into game…
…or you can use reading inspired games to help increase literacy skills!
For creative students, you might let them brainstorm some ideas for reading games in order to give them some control and a chance to flex their creative muscles! You might be surprised with what they come up with!
If you want a bit more control over the types of reading game you play, try suggesting some of the following:
- Each of you can take turns guessing what is going to happen next in the story based on the pictures – then discuss who was more accurate.
- Implement a word hunt where your reader has to shout out a pre-determined ‘buzz’ word (any adjectives or verbs or main character’s name). If shouting is outside your zone, perhaps they have to touch their nose or clap their hands when they come across a ‘buzz’ word.
- Try finding little words inside bigger words or asking your child to replace one word on each page with a synonym or antonym.
- Ask your reader to read a page in the text to themselves. Then, let them act out what happened and you have to guess, or vice versa.
14. Avoid Over-Correcting
As teachers, it’s second nature to want to correct your students when they make a mistake. This urge to correct or jump in and help a struggling student simply comes love and wanting to help them learn and improve.
I’ve always struggled with this particular teaching strategy. I actually started wearing a rubber-band around my wrist as a painful reminder to not over-correct. When I get the urge to constantly correct or too-quickly help a struggling student, I snap the band to remind myself to pause and shut my big mouth!
Even though most over-correction truly does come from a place of kindness and an urge to help, these corrections can often feel like hurtful criticisms to young readers.
As teachers, it can be difficult to balance when it’s appropriate to correct a student’s mispronunciation or incorrect inflection while reading. It helps to always remind yourself that the goal is progress, not perfection. And part of progress is building confidence.
A few things to keep in mind and phrases to avoid when correcting your readers:
- As a general rule when a student is reading through a text for the first time, do not interrupt them. Ever. Let them get through it, mistakes and all. Before their second time reading through the text, discuss any unknown words or mistakes made. Then you can model the correct pronunciation for troublesome words or mistakes.
- Avoid saying, “Come on, hurry up!” or “Whoa, slow down!” Fluency can be a challenging skill to master and one that will take time and practice. Now, there’s no rule about saying “C’mon, hurry up”, in your head after hearing a student stumble through a text for the tenth time!
- Try not to say, “Stop. Reread that line correctly.” If the mistake did not interfere with the meaning, let it go and review it later rather than interrupting. This will help them focus on fluency and build confidence.
- Do. Not. Laugh. Never laugh. This is the most damaging thing that you can do when teaching reading. Now, if your student laughs at their mistake, it is okay to laugh together – but NEVER laugh at your reader. This seems like an obvious bit of advice…but you would be surprised how hysterical some word mispronunciations can be! Especially if the student unknowingly mispronounces something as an ‘adult word’. Regardless – don’t laugh!
The not over-correcting strategy is especially important with new readers. In the early stages of learning to read, building confidence is often the main objective. So, try to keep the corrections and comments to a minimum. Once you have a confident reader, you can focus more on improving accuracy, fluency, and pronunciation.
15. Offer Proper PRAISE!
Of all the strategies that have been discussed, praising your students is by far the most critical one to utilize when teaching reading.
You may think that this strategy is pretty self-explanatory…but all praise is actually not created equal. There’s a specific way in which you should deliver praise to your budding readers.
First and foremost, praise your student’s successes, no matter how big or small – and praise them often. It is important to offer praise for your student’s efforts, their dedication, and even their struggles.
It is inherently in a child’s nature to want to make their teachers proud. When they feel as if they have accomplished this, it has the ability to seriously motivate and encourage them to keep reading.
We all want to feel appreciated, especially when it comes to our jobs. For kids, learning to read is essentially part of their ‘job’ as students. When your students feel as if they’re failing at their ‘job’, or that their efforts are not being acknowledged, there’s a good chance that their intrinsic interest or motivation in reading will plummet.
When using praise as a strategy for teaching reading, it’s vital that you understand the most effective way to offer praise to your students.
A commonly used sentiment may sound something like, “You read that perfectly, you are so smart!” And while this sounds harmless, you’re actually inadvertently planting a seed in their mind telling them they’re only smart if they get something right.
The drawback to this type of statement is that it can end up discouraging them when they make mistakes.
Instead, offer your students praise for their efforts, perseverance, or progress made rather than their simply praising their perfection or intelligence. Praising specific efforts or pointing out accomplishments allows them to feel proud of what they have done, while still encouraging them to keep trying.
Practice celebrating the efforts or the strategies that your students employ while reading. This will teach them to utilize these skills again in the future.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Praise specific efforts: “You worked really hard using your context clues to figure out that word.”
- Encourage your reader regardless of what level they’re at. If your child is reading two grade levels below where they should be, praise their perseverance and hard work without mentioning their reading level.
- Be one-hundred percent sincere! Kids are EXTREMELY intuitive and they will sense false or empty praise when it’s offered, which will only discount their hard work.
Praise is one of the simplest strategies that you can utilize when teaching reading! If done correctly, it can seriously impact your student’s reading success!
Guest post by Margot Carmichael from Carmichael’s Class
“Teaching 4th grade for four years has helped shape me as a teacher who is passionate about creating a classroom that engages and inspires my students, integrates technology-driven learning, offers real-world experiences, and breeds creativity. I have taught highly diverse classes with high populations of ESL learners, Special Ed learners, and behavior challenges–granting me a deep understanding on the importance of personalizing learning for each and every student. As a teacher, I am constantly learning and evolving, but the one constant is always putting my students first!”