Are you teaching a range of readers at the middle or high school level and looking for ways to scaffold comprehension of complex texts? In this post, you’ll find reading strategies that are imperative to support students’ metacognitive processes.
As I’ve spent time working with various levels of middle and high school learners, I’ve experimented with direct instruction of reading strategies. While there is a movement for schools to focus less on teaching reading skills and more on fostering a love for reading, I see the necessity for both.
In order for students to love reading, they need to feel confident with it. Even as I earned my master’s degree in reading as an adult, I learned more about what good readers do. When I am cognizant of the strategies I’m using to make meaning from the text, I feel empowered. We should want our students to feel that same sense of control, purpose, and accomplishment as they approach the reading process.
Do professional athletes achieve their skill level without practice? Do famous chefs become successful without honing their culinary skills for years? Of course not. In that same way, readers (especially striving readers) need to be taught how to tackle difficult texts. Students’ love for reading often emerges after they connect with a text that is relevant to their lives and that they can read independently and confidently.
What then, should teachers focus on when it comes to teaching students to master and monitor their own thought process? There are so many reading skills we could focus on with secondary students! The strategies that follow are the some of the ones I have found to directly impact basic comprehension of a text.
Help middle and high school readers prepare to approach the text by modeling how to preview. Tell students about text features, show them examples, explain their purposes, and talk about how readers should use text features to better navigate a the piece purposefully.
Strategy: Zoom In…Zoom Out
In my classroom, we practice identifying text features in fiction and nonfiction texts, in visual texts, and on the web. This process – zooming in, previewing the text features to gather information – is a critical first step in predicting.
Once you have previewed the text with students, zoom out! Guide them through the initial prediction process. At first, you may wish to provide your readers with a couple templates to fill in.
- Based upon ______________ (specific information gathered from text features), I predict ___________ (students’ specific prediction about what they will read).
- I predict ___________ because __________.
I teach my students that fictional text predictions should focus on plot, setting, characters, and theme. How do the clues in the peritext, chapter titles, and teaser lead us to predictions we can monitor as we read?
Nonfiction predictions should be centered around the main points and author’s purpose. Consider the text structure. Zoom out! When previewing, discuss how the author has intentionally built in text features to create meaning and organization.
When making predictions, identifying an author’s purpose for writing (to inform, persuade, argue, compare, entertain, etc.) also helps students to make more educated guesses about the content.
Strategy: Monitor It
The real benefit with predicting, however, is the part that often is forgotten. As students read, have them actively monitor their predictions. Pause to allow them to add to or alter their predictions as they reflect on new textual evidence.
Students can keep track of the reading strategies they are using with bookmarks. This bookmark set is differentiated so that students have choice and to keep them engaged!
Teachers need to anticipate places in complex texts where students will be confused if they don’t make inferences about the author’s intended meaning. During my reading strategies unit, I cover different types of inferences students can make. For instance, students can make inferences about actions, emotions, time periods, and settings. We study examples, and we practice inferring together.
Strategy: Combine It
Show students how to combine TEXT CLUES + BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE to infer. As scaffolding, we can give students inference stems, like…
The text states ______, and I know ________, so I think ______.
Because struggling readers can become confused and frustrated if they don’t make required inferences with complex texts, I don’t ask them to read inference-heavy texts on their own (Think: “Masque of the Red Death,” “The Scarlet Ibis,” Loser).
Strategy: But Why?
Reading texts like this together is an opportunity to teach students to re-read and ask, “But why?” Help them to dig into character motives.
On assessments and in conversation, use the word “infer” or “inference” in inference questions so that students begin to understand that’s what they are doing as they read between the lines. For instance, What can we infer about Doodle after reading that he cried at the beauty of Old Woman Swamp?
Train students to ask themselves whether they might be missing an inference when comprehension begins to falter and confusion settles in its place.
It’s helpful to introduce the concept of making inferences with visuals. This analyzing photographs lesson is a good entry point for practicing perspective.
Summarizing is my go-to reading skill for monitoring comprehension. When working with students who are reading a difficult text, it’s imperative. Using summarizing with struggling readers is even more important – if that’s possible.
When reading a text with your class, pause frequently to check for understanding. I rarely ask readers to read anything in their zone of frustration independently. As you read together, teach students to reflect on short segments of the text. Pose questions to get them thinking.
- Why did everyone think that Doodle was going to die?
- Tell me the three most important things that have happened so far in chronological order.
- Why did Doodle cry when trying to train with Brother?
Strategy: Condense It
Using physical or virtual post-it notes to jot brief summaries can remind students to prioritize them. Add a layer of fun by rolling virtual dice to select a random number – 1-24. The total number of dots represents the exact number of words students have to write their summary. Because of its concise nature, I love how this method emphasizes the value of each word.
After reading a fictional text, we reflect on the whole piece and write a five-finger summary – one sentence for each part of the plot. Students may find it easier to storyboard the plot first with quick sketches before writing the corresponding sentences.
Strategy: Report It
When summarizing nonfiction texts, I ask students to pretend like they are reporters. It gives them a specific process to follow, which reduces the guesswork and uncertainty.
Graphic organizers provide unique scaffolding opportunities with reading strategies. This reading comprehension graphic organizer set provides a low floor, high ceiling approach to a variety of important reading skills. Students can use them with any fiction or nonfiction text.
Questioning is a strategy that older readers don’t always buy into. When teachers pose questions, they can respond, but asking students to pose their own? It can be a tough sell at first.
It’s amazing how powerful student questions can be. Teach students how to ask questions about texts before, during, and after reading. What is happening? Is it fair? From whose perspective is the story being told? Is the point of view reliable? Questions make us truly stop, reflect, and process what we are reading.
I tell my students:
- When you feel your mind beginning to wander from the text, draw yourself back in by pausing and asking clarifying questions about what you just read.
- When you feel confused about what you are reading, ask questions out loud. Talk to a friend or to the teacher. If you are at home, write your questions down so that we can discuss them during class.
- When you think you understand the text, look for deeper layers of meaning. Ask yourself, What might the author be saying about theme, life, conflict, people, stereotypes, or culture?
Introduce your readers to thick and thin questions, to “right-there” and “think and search” questions. Teach them the difference between a basic comprehension question and a discussion question. Also, make sure students understand when and why to use each type.
But what about those kiddos who just don’t have any questions? When students can think of a question, have them write questions someone else might ask. What questions might a friend in class right now be wondering?
Strategy: Go Deep
This visual from Serravallo’s Reading Strategies Book is a powerful metaphor for asking questions. Encourage students to dig into texts to peel back layers of meaning.
Teaching reading in high school is a process of goal setting, reflecting, and growing. Teachers have to find what works best for their own students’ needs. In my experience, these four reading comprehension strategies are critical to scaffolding struggling readers’ comprehension. Teaching students to be engaged, active readers is one of the keys to successful reading instruction. We can do that by explicitly teaching reading strategies they can add to their reading tool belts. Reminding students to use them independently and conferring with them about their progress helps!
WHAT TO READ NEXT:
- How to Teach Students to Summarize Nonfiction
- Reading Sprints: A How-to Guide
- How to Address Reading Comprehension Gaps in High School
I like to use a variety of scaffolding materials when working with reading comprehension. The tools use similar wording and prompts, but the change in format keeps students from getting bored. These are two simple tools to use to encourage older students to read actively. They are great as formative assessments and can be graded quickly or simply used as discussion pieces.
This is a great reminder — and practical strategic advice — that even at the high school level, students need to be reminded to use these strategies.
Thanks for your thoughts, Michelle. I agree…just getting students to think about how they read is important.
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