Have you ever tried to read something and realized after you’ve turned a couple pages, you have no idea what you’ve read? You were looking at the words but their meanings were not sinking in. If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Children and teens can also have a difficult time understanding what they’ve read. Whether they are new readers, are trying to comprehend text they are not interested in or have a learning difference, reading strategies help children who struggle.
I experience this disconnect between the words on the page and my ability to comprehend them when I try to quickly read through medical or tax documents. It also happens when a distracting thought takes my attention away from the text. Because I am not paying attention, I continue to flip the page. I look like I’m reading. Eventually, I realize what has happened and because I am an experienced reader I know if I want to understand what I was trying to read I have to re-focus, go back and re-read, maybe look up words or information, or look for context clues to help me understand a word’s meaning. If I don’t, I know I will not understand what I’ve read.
Struggling readers often experience a similar disconnect. They are looking at the words, flipping pages, maybe even reading the words out loud, but they are not understanding what they read. Struggling readers also don’t always know what to do (or that there are things to do) in order to access the information. They can get frustrated, hate reading and try to avoid it.
When teaching middle and high school English, I came across many students who had technically been reading for a while but didn’t understand a good amount of what they read. At the start of the year, if I asked how many ever read a chapter in their textbook or novel and realized afterward when they needed to answer questions, they had no idea what they read, the room filled with raised hands.
But if I asked if they could see a movie playing behind their eyelids while they read, only a few hands went up. Many of my students didn’t visualize when they were reading. They didn’t know how to pay attention to the inner dialogue readers have while reading. And they’d never found themselves in the reading zone- the place people who love to read get lost whenever they find a good book. They also didn’t know there were ways to help them become stronger readers. By the time they got to middle or high school, many felt like they would always struggle.
The key to helping struggling readers find success is encouraging reading but many also need good strategies so they understand what they are reading. Good reading strategies are practiced while the reader is reading a book they enjoy. They engage the reader and help them pause just long enough to check their comprehension without stifling the story.
Readers who understand the text they are reading do a few things they don’t even realize they do.
- Determine Importance
Good reading strategies create an internal dialogue in a reader’s head and allow readers to assess information so that when a word, sentence, or chunk of text doesn’t make sense (when they feel lost) they know what to do.
To help a reader use these strategies independently, begin by letting the reader choose a book they are interested in. When practicing with a group/class of students, choose a novel or piece of text that engages the students. Read the book to them or with them out loud and practice the strategies as you read. The strategies can be used and practiced in any order, but they are all necessary.
Helping Readers Practice Good Reading Strategies
Read a little, pause, use a good reading strategy. Repeat.
Use the questions below or come up with your own to guide readers through each reading strategy.
Does the character remind you of someone? Do you have similar interests to anyone in the story? Is the setting familiar? Does the plot remind them of another story?
Describe what has happened so far. Describe the setting, character, conflict.
Encourage the reader to tap into their curiosity while they are reading and listen for the internal voice that says, “Wait, what just happened?” Questioning can also look like, “Why did the character do that? What is going to happen to the character? Why did the character have to die?”
What is going to happen next?
Read between the lines. Why do you think the character said or did what they did? What clues are there to prove what we know or believe?
What do you like, dislike, think about a character, conflict, description, or something that has happened in the book?
What words, facts, options seem especially important? What do we need to remember or pay attention to?
Choose a passage with a lot of description. Have the reader close their eyes and picture everything in the text. Talk about the images, draw the images, invite readers to create a movie in their mind.
Struggling readers need to know there are concrete ways to help understand what they are reading. Reading strategies offer readers, no matter what text they are trying to access, opportunities to pause and engage in the reading. Help struggling readers to gently use these strategies, often and in short amounts of time. Once the strategies become familiar, they will use them, like proficient readers do, without even thinking about them.