Easy Tips for Teaching Challenging Reading Content Across the Curriculum: PART ONE

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!easy tips challenging reading graphic image part 1READING THE TEXT ALOUD
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!