Easy Tips for Teaching Challenging Reading Content Across the Curriculum: Part II

This is the second in a series of three posts providing tips for successfully teaching challenging reading content to a class of students with mixed reading abilities.

Summarizing is a great strategy that teachers can use to help students remember important vocabulary and content.  At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher recaps the key ideas from the the prior lesson.  For example, the teacher might say, “Yesterday we learned that the President of the United States is not elected by the popular vote of citizens during the general election in November. Raise your hand if you remember who casts the determining vote?”  The teacher can call on individual students or say, “On the count of three tell me the name of the group who elects the president. One, two, three…”  The teacher can then call on one or two students to explain what they remember, and then fill in any missing details before starting the new lesson.

Teacher Standing In Front Of Class Of Pupils

Summarizing can also be used to wrap up each day’s lesson. This can be done by either the teacher or student volunteers.

Another way to begin a reading lesson is to have students skim the entire selection.  They should be instructed to look for headings, charts, captions, and words that have been written in italics, bold, or highlighted. The list of focus text features can be written on the board to guide students’ independent work.  Next, students should be directed to read the first few words, or sentence, of each paragraph.  After a set amount of time, the teacher can allow students to interact with nearby classmates who will take turns making predictions about the content of the day’s lesson.

Text mapping is an independent, pre-reading strategy that helps students build their knowledge base before beginning whole-group instruction. Students are directed to underline all proper nouns, box all numbers and number words, and circle any words that are new to them, or words they think their classmates might find challenging.  Text mapping can also be assigned as homework to be completed independently before the next day’s class.Second post providing tips for successfully teaching challenging reading content to a class of students with mixed reading abilities.Whether text mapping is completed at home or during class, it helps if the teacher allows time for students to compare their work with peers seated nearby before beginning direct instruction.  The teacher can encourage students to add marks, if necessary. Before the teacher begins reading the text aloud, he or she may choose to allow a few student volunteers to share some of their marked terms or numbers.

When there’s a vocabulary word in bold, students can be directed to find the definition in the glossary or dictionary.  Or, they can be guided to use context clues to infer the word’s meaning.  The teacher might ask, “Who would like to read the definition aloud to the class?” or “Who thinks they can figure out the meaning of this word by looking for clues in the text?”  After a definition has been agreed upon, the teacher can follow up by asking a second child to tell the class what he or she thinks the new word means using “kid words.”  Finally, a third student is asked to restate the sentence in the text that contains the new word, only this time the student should insert “kid words” that help make the meaning even clearer.

Second post providing tips for successfully teaching challenging reading content to a class of students with mixed reading abilities.

Here’s an example.
     The text sentence is, “Using wire and electricity you can make your own magnet.”
     The teacher asks, “Who can find a definition of the word magnet?”
     A student finds the definition in the chapter, glossary, or dictionary.  He or she reads it aloud, “A magnet is a piece of iron, or an ore, alloy, or other material, that has its component atoms so ordered that the material exhibits properties of magnetism, such as attracting other iron-containing objects or aligning itself in an external magnetic field.”
     The teacher asks, “Can anyone put that in ‘kid words’?”
    A volunteer responds, “A magnet is something that attracts iron and some other metals.”student girl using kid words to define magnet image     The teacher asks, “Who can replace the challenging words with kid words to make the sentence easy to understand?”
     Another student responds, “Using wire and electricity you can make something that attracts certain metals, like iron.”

After every paragraph or so, it also helps to pose a whole-group question that can be answered by a show of hands or other signal.  Again, this encourages everyone to stay focused and participate.  Questions like, “Has anyone ever gone to the polls with an adult to vote?” or “How many of you think it would have been exciting to sail with Columbus?”

If there’s time, the teacher might call on one or two students to comment.  Or, the teacher could follow up with a targeted question for those students who did not raise their hands, such as, “Tyler, what do you think it was like to sail on one of Columbus’s ships?”  It’s best to avoid questions that can be answered yes or no when asking targeted, follow-up questions.Second post providing tips for successfully teaching challenging reading content to a class of students with mixed reading abilities.

Students might also respond with a thumbs up, down, or sideways.  For example, the teacher might ask, “Using your thumb, how many of you think you would be able to use rocks to grind your own corn flour?”  Students who don’t vote can be encouraged to participate by asking, “John, Sateen, and Kris, I missed your vote.  What do you think?”

When working with challenging reading content, students need  to practice summarizing, skimming, text mapping, and making meaning from new vocabulary. With a little help and motivation, students can learn to independently tackle even the most information-dense material!


Looking for useful tools to help your students write better?  Check out these easy-to-use resources!

Second post providing tips for successfully teaching challenging reading content to a class of students with mixed reading abilities.Whether you love it or hate it, writing can be difficult to teach. This presentation introduces the basics of writing a paragraph. Students can easily follow this organized, step-by-step approach to writing as they are introduced to key writing vocabulary and important writing concepts with examples.

The 63-slide PowerPoint helps students learn how to: 1) decode prompts, 2) use prewriting activities to generate ideas, 3) create a draft with organized ideas and supporting details, 4) revise writing for clarity and fluency, 5) edit writing for accuracy, and 6) publish writing that is attractive and easy-to-read. Second post providing tips for successfully teaching challenging reading content to a class of students with mixed reading abilities.This NO PREP activity packet contains eighteen (18) ready-to-use printables. Just copy and go!  The scrambled paragraphs in this unit are similar to those in Scrambled Paragraphs Mini Unit: Early Elementary Edition. The two products can be used together to differentiate instruction.

Scrambled paragraphs have eight (8) sentences that can be put together only one way. Students practice using transitions and inferential clues to assemble these organized, logical paragraphs.

Students love these activities, and teachers love how quickly students begin to write their own well-organized paragraphs!

Easy Tips for Teaching Challenging Reading Content Across the Curriculum

How can content-area teachers successfully teach a class of students with mixed reading abilities?

In areas such as social studies or science, students are often asked to read content written at, or above, grade level.  Even good readers may struggle with the text.  Teachers have less planning time, and there’s even less time to help struggling students.  How can teachers help their students succeed when there’s so much at stake, and so few resources?

Here are some helpful strategies that are easy to try!

It’s important for students to independently read the text, but preferably not during whole class instruction. It helps students to hear challenging content read with fluency.  It’s most beneficial to students if the teacher reads the text aloud as the class silently follows along.

There are many ways to keep students actively engaged in the lesson.  First, as the teacher reads, he or she can occasionally pause to prompt the entire class to read the next word, or words, of the sentence aloud as a group.

The teacher might say, “The process of photosynthesis can be broken down into…” and then pause.  The class would then read the remainder of the sentence aloud, “…two stages.”The teacher can move closer to students who may be having difficulty participating.  This makes it easier to offer visual cues to help students find their place.  Once students are familiar with this procedure, right before the pause, the teacher can call on random students to read the next word or words aloud– by row, by color of clothing, or individually.

Students can also be asked to track the text using a pencil tip, finger, or book mark. By glancing around the classroom while reading aloud, the teacher can easily see who is on track and who needs redirection.

It helps if students are allowed to write directly on the text.  If the instructional materials allow for this, as the teacher reads aloud, he or she can model text mapping.  To do this, from time to time the teacher can direct students to underline proper nouns or key phrases, put a box around important dates, or circle words that might be unfamiliar to them.By looking ahead at questions that the students may be asked to independently answer, the teacher can reinforce key portions of the text that students may later need. These marks create a “map” for students to use when completing work on their own.

Another easy way to make sure everyone is on track and able to participate, is to ask students to point to a specific word, picture, or section of the text.  Then, using a neutral tone the teacher might say, “If you’re having trouble finding your place please show me a quick hand.”  Students who quickly raise and lower their hands will be spotted by other neighboring children.  Students enjoy being helpful.  The teacher would then ask the class as a whole, “If your neighbors need help, could you please show them where we are in the text?”  Pausing only as long as needed, the teacher would then resume reading aloud.Some students may be hesitant to admit they have lost their place.  It helps if the teacher moves closer and is ready to show them the correct location in the text the next time there is a pause.  A quiet bit of encouragement can help build confidence.  It can be as simple as, “Sometimes it’s hard to follow along, but with practice you’ll get better at it.”

To encourage off-task students to join in, the teacher can offer the whole class a challenge.  After students complete a sentence aloud, the teacher might say, “I noticed that the students by the windows read well with clear voices.  Nice job!  Let’s see what the other side of the room can do, next time!”

As the teacher reads aloud, he or she can model reading comprehension strategies such as summarizing, sequencing, inferring, comparing and contrasting, drawing conclusions, self-questioning, problem-solving, and relating background knowledge.This doesn’t require any specific preparation.  In fact, sometimes it’s best done by teachers when they are reading the material aloud for the first time.

For example, when the teacher reads a word or phrase that might be challenging for students, the teacher can pause and ask, “It says that these groups of people were hunters and gatherers.  What do you think that means?” 

Students will offer ideas, and the teacher can respond to each idea with a short comment such as “thank you, interesting, I hadn’t thought of that, or good inference.”  The teacher can then say, “Let’s read more and see if we can find out what it means.”

Students also benefit from hearing the teacher reflect on the content.  To encourage students who might feel overwhelmed by the reading content, a fourth grade teacher might say, “This section looks like something you’d learn in fifth grade.  It may be challenging, but I think we can do it!”  Or, to set a purpose for the whole class, the teacher could say, “Looking at the words in bold on this page, I think we’re going to be learning about the way plants grow. Let’s find out!”

The more teachers pay attention to their own internal dialog during reading, the easier it is model good reading strategies.  

When working with information-dense reading content, students need practice tracking the text, identifying important details, and asking clarifying questions. With a little help and motivation, students can learn to independently tackle even the most information-dense material!

Check out the free supplement included with the resource Election Unit: Electing the President Print-and-Go!


Back-to-School Pencil Topper

Want something quick and easy to welcome students back at the beginning of a new school year?  Check out the free download of these colorful pencil toppers.  One side has a cute poem, and the other side says, “WELCOME BACK!”

These toppers can be printed on 1″ X 4″ labels and wrapped around the pencil.  Or, do what I did.  Use plain paper, cut out the rectangles, and then use clear tape to keep the pencil topper in place.

pencil topper with logoI found this versatile idea on Pinterest.  This same design could be used to welcome students back to school after New Year’s Day.  Or, using PowerPoint you could create your own design and personalize the message to include your name– Welcome Back to Mrs. Smith’s Class!

Has anyone else made pencil toppers?  I’d love to see your designs!

Students Who Don’t Celebrate Holidays

Each year, children enter our classrooms with learning disabilities or cognitive delays. Other students deal with challenges that are less obvious. Some are socially awkward, have food allergies, or are dealing with the recent loss of a loved one.

As teachers, we’ve learned to accommodate a variety of students’ needs in our classrooms. We model inclusion which in turn helps our students be more accepting and compassionate.

But, what about the child who is not allowed to be participate in activities that most children take for granted?

when students do not celebrate holidays smaller pin

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Chalkboard Quotes

It’s good to be surrounded by words that inspire, encourage, and motivate.  These are a few of my favorite quotes.

Colored cover page snipCheck out the two free downloads, below.  Just click the link after each one.

Print this one out for your own classroom. Or, frame it as a gift for a friend’s desk or the wall of a home office.

Blog marked Object of teaching posterDownload your own copy here!

This one posted in the Teachers’ Lounge will help my colleagues remember the value of their contribution, even during challenging times.

Blog snipped low memory Teaching is not a lost artDownload your own copy here!

Here are three more of my favorite quotes.  The set of all five is available through my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Blog marked Seek opportunitiesClcik here to see this product at my TpT store!

Blog To know snip less memoryClcik here to see this product at my TpT store!

Blog marked Im more interested posterClcik here to see this product at my TpT store!

Do you have a favorite quote?  Please share it below.  Who knows, maybe it’ll end up as a freebie on a future blog post!

3 Easy Tips to Make Writing Instruction More Fun

Some kids love to write.  Some kids hate it.  How do you keep everyone engaged in the writing process?  Here are three quick ideas.

three easy tips writing fun1.  Editing Table:  Establish a table or area of the room that has at least two chairs.  During composition time, students who are ready to have their writing peer-edited may go and sit at the editing table.  As soon as another student is ready to peer edit, he or she will go over to the table to find a partner.  Each peer-editing pair leaves the editing table area once they are matched up.

With variations, I use this method in my classroom all the time.  If a lot of students are ready to peer-edit, I create the first pairs.  After that, students move to the editing table as they wrap up.  I usually ask that students peer-edit with at least three different people.

As soon as a pair approaches the editing table, the two students who are sitting there waiting to find a new partner MUST pair up and move away to begin work.  The editing table in not a work area and no more than two people should ever be there at any given time.jpg_Education-005-color2.  Peer-Editing Process:  Even reluctant writers enjoy reading their work aloud to a captive audience.  However, to make the most of peer-editing time it’s better for each partner to read the OTHER person’s writing aloud.  This gives the author a chance to hear how his or her words sound.

It can be very effective for a writer to see a classmate struggle over pronunciation due to the author’s spelling errors or awkward wording.  Also, children learn the language of writing during this process.  Nothing is more wonderful than hearing one student tell another, “You need a transition here.”   Also, student authors are less likely to be offended by a peer editor who asks “What do you mean here?”

If you require your students to use this shared reading process, remind them that the author has ultimate control over his or her words.  For example, if one student tells the other that a word doesn’t make sense, it’s the writer’s decision to change it or let it stand.  Partners suggest, but they are never to insist.  In the end, the writer earns the grade, not the peer editor.jpg_Education-001-color3.  Monitor Progress:  Provide a way for students to see how they are progressing.  When conferencing with students offer them two positive comments and one constructive criticism.  For example, a teacher might say, “Zack, you did a really good job with spelling and punctuation.  I also like the way you tied the topic sentence to the closing sentence.  Your personal challenge for next time is to avoid repeating any one word or phrase too often.  Did you notice that four of your sentences in this composition begin with, “He really likes…?”

Students also benefit from monitoring their own progress either along the writing process, or within a specific set of skills.  You can create a writing process monitoring chart and have students move move a clothespin up the chart from prewriting, to drafting, and so on, all the way to finishing the final draft.

Each student may also have his or her own goal chart with a list of three to five skills on which they will focus.  Students with introductory writing skills may focus on writing neatly, using complete sentences, and including a topic sentence.  Students with more sophisticated writing skills may focus on point of view, using specific language, and adding figurative language.  The key is setting small, reachable goals, and acknowledging each tiny improvement.  Click here, to download the assessment ladder of skills that could be used to develop student goals.  (See below.)

Asessment Ladder Glow edgesWriting can be fun for both teachers and students.  The best way to insure student success is to: (1) encourage students to write and rewrite until the meaning is clear, (2) provide ongoing opportunities for students to share their writing with their peers and interact, and (3) set clear, easy-to-meet goals for students still developing their skills.

What do you do in your class to make your writing lessons more interesting?  Please share your ideas below.  I’d love to hear from you!

DIY Posters

Looking for a quick and easy way to get your message across? Check out Recite, a fun way to “turn a quote into a masterpiece.”

It’s pretty easy.  Click “create” on the main screen.  Type in your quote.  Scroll through the different formats at the bottom of the screen.  Select one, and then post it to Pinterest, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, Facebook, or Twitter.  Or, simply download it to your computer.

Here are a few mini-posters I made using both an original idea and quotes I found on Brainy Quotes.nelson mendala

ben franklin4_4d7e306805f03902ee65b_c742-postmalcom forbes largerClick on the first three images to see the quotes displayed in the Piccsy gallery.  This is where Recite parks them once they’re created.

The final image was sent directly to my main Pinterest board, Lessons4Now Teach, Learn, and Have Fun, so I could immediately share it online.

I hope you’ll try making a masterpiece of your own, and then leave a link in the comment area to share your creation!