Effective Reading Strategies in the classroom
This year in every English classroom across the land, classes will be ploughing their way through a class reader. The potential learning is immense. Tackled in the right way, students will be employing the full range of their mental or cognitive processes, developing their attention span, their recall and memory function, their visual, auditory, and linguistic processes. So what is the best way to unlock this potential?
1 Book Choice
This is the most important part of the class reader process. It is, of course, dependant on stock, but I’m betting that there are a multitude of wonderful texts in your cupboards. Recent research presented in ‘Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools’ dispels the myth that we need to make book choices based upon what we think boys (or any other groups) will like or dislike. Such reasons behind the choice make huge assumptions about the learners.
The choice you make must be based around what you think your readers’ needs are and this must be based upon an aspirational model. If learners aren’t exposed to the Dickensian world, to the word anthropology, or to a sentence that contain six clauses, then how will they know they exist and how will they replicate this in their writing. After all, the class reader you present them with will be viewed by them as a model for writing. They trust you as their teacher to choose something worthy – so don’t disappoint them!
It’s worth doing your research. Consider students’ reading ages; ask other teachers what has worked in the past with their classes and why; look at current trends on social media; and consider the local context and the students own cultural experiences.
2 Planning the Tasks
Text chosen, the next step is planning. Two core considerations are:
- accessing the content and context
- developing skills in decoding and comprehension
Think about where the students are starting from. Do they need support with decoding (which will in turn support their spelling)? Do they have particular issues with inference? Is their grammar in context knowledge poor? Is there a deficit in their contextual understanding? This will help determine what pages you will spend longer studying and what tasks you need to include. The age-old National Literacy Strategy approach of word/sentence/text level exploration is a winning formula. Whilst effective to move this formula forward, learners need to connect the mechanics of writing with the writer’s intentions. This is critical in all exploratory text talk. The tendency – particularly at primary and with less confident readers – has been to limit discussion to the ‘what and how’, yet activating the ‘why’ will support learners to understand how everything on the page is a writer’s deliberate choice. And thus support them in their deliberate choices as a writer.
3 Accessing the Texts
The most important moments are ‘the points of contact with the text’. The management of this is critical in engaging your learners. In ‘Teach Like a Champion’, Doug Lemov suggests using the strategy ‘control the game’ when reading a text with the class. Learners are given a number at the start of the reading lesson (or block of lessons). The teacher then chooses a reader to read the text by calling out their number. The beauty of this is that unlike ‘Popcorn reading’, where learners chose when they stop by calling someone else’s number out, the teacher is in control. They are able to gauge the reading length of each reader and stop after just a short phrase if needed. Having used this technique frequently in my classroom, it is the most supportive way to engage the class with the reading as the levels of fluency and confidence can be carefully monitored with each reader and their reading time adjusted as you see fit. Gradually, students can build up the time they read.
One more thing…
If this seems too difficult for some classes, another effective strategy is for learners to read in pairs, reading in unison and/or alternating reading. It is most helpful when the learners are at a similar level of reading. Paired reading can also support a weaker reader if reading with peers proves too much.
Beginning with these three steps, should ensure that you are able to unlock the power of the text choice you have made by supporting learners to develop the knowledge, skills and experience that your class reader can provide.
Lemov, Doug. Teach like a Champion. (2014: San Francisco)
Pinkett, Matt and Roberts, Mark. Boys Don’t Try: Rethinking Masculinity in Schools. (2019: Oxon)
Woolf, Maryanne. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. (2008: Cambridge)
Want to read more from Rebecca?
- Grammar Fun
- A vision of literacy across the curriculum writing utopia
- I am not a slow reader
- Let ‘the Literacy’ be your leader
Rebecca Geoghegan is a secondary English teacher and former whole school Literacy Lead with 15 years experience of teaching KS3, GCSE and A Level. She is also part of the team behind the Get It Right: Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar series.