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

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

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Pairs or Small Group Work:


Students’ reading comprehension improves with repeated exposure to challenging content.  One way to make time for every student to read aloud is to have them work in small groups or pairs.  By assigning each student a role, the teacher can be sure  that everyone in the pair or group is actively participating.

Schoolgirl Reading Book In Classroom

Students can also take turns reading directions and questions aloud.  Student A reads the first question and Student B answers it.  Student B then reads the second question, and Student A answers it.  This keeps both students on task during each portion of the shared lesson.


Depending on the goal of the lesson, the teacher may want students to mark the location of each answer in the text and/or fill in responses.  Another strategy is to have students work with a partner or group, but without pens or pencils.  At a designated time, students return to their individual seats and do the work independently.  Knowing they will have to complete the written work on their own, students are more likely to pay attention to other group members during the shared work time.

no pencils clear

While working together, students who disagree with an answer should be encouraged to locate details in the text to defend the disputed content. However, each student should take responsibility for answering in the manner he or she believes is correct.  If a student is asked by the teacher why he or she answered a certain way, the child needs to be able to show details from the text to support the answer.  No one should be permitted to respond, “Well, that’s what my partner said.”

Another benefit of having students work together without pens or pencils is that it provides an opportunity for students with emerging skills to ask their peers questions they might otherwise be reluctant to ask in a whole-class situation.

Students in class reading with teacher in background selective focus


Cooperative grouping is also effective for correcting class work or homework.  Students can take turns reading and answering questions, as described above.  Answers that cannot be agreed upon during paired or small group work sessions can be marked by group members for later discussion.  Once the entire class has come back together, the teacher can ask students if there are any questions. Often, the questions from one group will resolve confusion in several groups.  This focuses whole-class instruction on the most challenging content of the lesson.

Independent Work:

Many students thrive on independent work, while others find it difficult to stay focused and on task.

Schoolboy Studying In Classroom


Independent workers sometimes miss the mark or rush through their work. After carefully going over the directions with the whole class, the teacher can announce a set time for beginning independent work– usually 5 to 10 minutes– depending on the age of the students and the difficulty of the assignment.  During this time students may not ask for help, get out of their seats, or hand in their work.  This forces students to build their frustration muscle— to make repeated attempts on their own before seeking help.

frustration muscle with brain image free use

After the allotted time, students may raise their hands to get help.  Students who feel confident may hand in their work once it’s completed.  Early finishers’ work can be spot checked as it is handed in.  Messy, incomplete, or incorrectly finished papers can be immediately returned for revision.


Once students begin independent work, the teacher is better able to find time to walk around the classroom and provide 1:1 help as needed.  After five or ten minutes, the teacher may want to announce, “Who feels they might be happier working on this assignment at the front table with me?”  Usually, students who are doing well will be happy to finish on their own so they can self-select other appropriate activities.   However, students who are struggling will be relieved to have the support of the teacher and their peers during guided instruction.

Little kid studying.


Students who successfully complete their work ahead of other classmates should have clear directions about what self-selected activities are required or permitted.  It helps students make better choices if the teacher puts a list of acceptable activities on the board, or if students have specific anchor activities that are always appropriate, such as completing homework, responding to a writing prompt, or reading silently.

The teacher may want to call upon one or two student volunteers who have completed their work to act as classroom helpers. This peer-assistance approach is especially effective when one or more students who usually struggle are among the first to successfully complete an assignment.  Being given the role of peer-tutor builds confidence and self-esteem.

The Bottom Line

The take home message is this:  Everyone who teaches, teaches reading.

free teacher on pixabay image

We all have our own, personal reading strategies that we use on a regular basis such as rereading or making predictions.  By simply sharing those processes aloud with the class, it’s easy for teachers to model different approaches to challenging text.  Some teachers may feel more comfortable asking questions, requiring students to locate details in the text, or having students read aloud with a peer.  Whatever works.

The key to teaching reading in other content areas is adopting strategies that are a good fit for each individual teacher.  By incorporating a variety of instructional approaches that feel natural and organic, the teacher will best be able to improve student comprehension.

What other tips do YOU have for helping struggling readers in your class?  I’d love to hear from you here in the comments section, or at Lessons4Now@gmail.com.


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!

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