Teaching Student to Read Content Materials

Teachers in grades 4-12 frequently complain that their students cannot read the content materials their districts have provided for them to use in content instruction. In addition to this problem, many teachers also say that while they were well trained in their content, they did not receive adequate preparation in teaching reading or helping struggling readers to master content texts. Thus, they feel torn between helping students become well prepared in the content material, they also know that students must receive better instruction in how to read the content materials as well.

In order to help students succeed in content instruction, we must help students activate what they already know about a subject and help them make connections between new knowledge and what they already know on the topic. We must stimulate their thinking and develop a motivation to read to find out specific information. We must help students establish preview the text and set a purpose for their reading so readers know what they will be expected to do with the text. By helping students make predictions about what they will learn from the text, we can also increase motivation and foster interest. By spending a significant amount of time “front-loading” our units, we can help students make better connections with the information they will learn. Anticipation guides, study guides or graphic organizers are a great way of helping students think about what they already know on a topic and then verifying their predictions and connections as a reading follow up. We must also take care to help students clarify and understand new vocabulary that may be important in the text and develop the concepts to connect the meaning to their existing concept bank.

While many content teachers have used Round Robin reading in the classroom, we know that this is not the best way to get students involved in reading. We need to identify collaborative ways that students can share in the reading and presentation of information within the class. Break up chapters by topic and have each group read a section, clarify their understandings and then make a presentation either in jigsaw “expert” groups or as a whole class presentation. Students will be more engaged and will retain more as a result of a more in depth reading of the assigned material. Game formats such as Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire are fun and can be used on a classroom Smart board or computer. Many versions of these fun and engaging games can be found on the internet.

Writing is also a great follow up activity for content learning teachers. Students can use writing to document their learning in academic journals or learning logs, to create reports, or to do more creative things such as create a reader’s theater, poem, or diary that relates back to the content material being learned. Even writing children’s books on content topics is a fun and helpful strategy to use to get students thinking about and clarifying their content understandings. You will find many more outstanding ways to help students develop comprehension and higher order thinking skills in Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading.

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