All grade and age levels need to concretely learn and practice active reading strategies. Just because reading comprehension strategies are more explicitly taught and focused on in primary grades doesn’t mean that middle and high school level teachers shouldn’t be teaching and reinforcing, too! Actually, as the content gets harder (around 5th to 7th grade) it becomes more critical that kids and young adults become stronger at utilizing active reading strategies on their own for continued success.
While there are many ways you can teach and reinforce reading strategies, one of the easiest methods includes think-alouds and sticky notes. It’s really that easy. The teacher should model reading a text aloud (which can be on ANY subject). As the teacher reads, he or she should stop and “think aloud” while using reading strategies. You might stop and say, “This part lets me really picture how water evaporates from the ground and becomes a gas” when reading a text on evaporation. You might stop and question, “I wonder why the Nile was such a valuable land for the early settlers” when exploring a text about early Nile civilizations. Besides just saying your thought, though, stop and actually make a sticky note. Then, add it to your text. Have your students practice the same.
Once your students understand how to use sticky notes while reading a text, have them do the same in partners, groups, and eventually independently. The ultimate goal is that learners are reading and stopping to think about what they are reading. It is helpful to have a foundational understanding of all the specific reading strategies, such as visualizing, making connections, questioning, and so on. This is especially true for struggling readers who need more concrete and explicit instruction. However, it’s more important that teachers expose their students to “stopping, thinking, and writing” than it is to wait until all reading strategies have been taught and mastered.
Some of the best specific reading strategies to teach include: monitoring comprehension, activating prior knowledge, making connections, visualizing, questioning, getting the gist, making inferences, determining importance, and synthesizing. Here is what each of those reading strategies really mean:
- Monitoring comprehension is the first and most important strategy. It is teaching yourself to think about what you are reading. You might stop and highlight when parts are interesting or identify when you have no clue what you really read. It’s the most important strategy since it is the basis for all other reading strategies.
- Activating prior knowledge means thinking about the topic of a text and considering everything you know about that topic. This is helpful for readers because it helps set the stage in your mind for further learning. Give a set amount of time for students to brainstorm what they known about a topic prior to reading about it. Then, give time for students to share out.
- Making connections means relating what is read to things in real life or in other texts or movies. Making connections can be especially helpful when learning challenging science or math topics. Once you can relate a new concept to something else, it becomes much easier to generalize and concretely understand.
- Visualizing is using the words in the text to create a picture in your mind. I often tell kids that it is like making a movie in your head using the text itself. This is also one of my favorite strategies to teach because you can use drawing or role playing to show how you visualize a text. A student might write, “I can picture when…” or “I can visualize this part in my head by seeing…”.
- Questioning is coming up with questions about a text before, during, and after reading. This can also be a really fun strategy to teach, since it inspires students to engage in research and continued learning. Let students start with some stems such as “I wonder…” and “This part makes me question why…”.
- Getting the gist means to put the “gist” or main idea of a passage in just a few words. This is the essential “did I really get that?” strategy, and a great tool for kids to use to make sure they are understanding what they are reading.
- Making inferences is finding clues in the text to figure things out that aren’t explicitly stated. While this strategy is important in many texts, it is critical with higher level language and challenging novels. This can also be fun to teach when using news articles. Students might use this strategy starting off with “I can tell…” or “One thing I can infer is…”.
- Determining importance is exactly what it sounds like: finding the most important parts in a text. While it sounds simple, it is often more challenging for students to learn. By forcing kids to identify what the three most important parts in a text are, they must really look critically at the text and use higher order thinking skills. Students might write, “I can tell this part is important because…”.
- Synthesizing means being able to change your thinking after reading a text. It is putting different texts or media together to have a new understanding on a topic.
So get a few stacks of sticky notes and practice reading strategies in your classroom today! Note that it can be fun to have a variety of different sticky note sizes and colors so that your students can choose their own.
If you are looking to get started right away, consider for the full reading comprehension lessons guide. It includes lessons for teaching: monitoring comprehension, activating prior knowledge, making connections, visualizing, questioning, getting the gist, making inferences, determining importance, summarizing, and synthesizing.
If you find yourself needing more than lessons, the Reading Comprehension Bundle includes 27 lessons, task cards, posters, journal prompts, a bulletin board, and more!