Reading in the Content Areas:
Strategies for Success
Eavesdrop on a group of educators discussing
failing or struggling students and phrases such as "nonreader" abound.
How often have you heard secondary teachers
attribute student failure to poor reading habits?
It is common knowledge among secondary teachers
that an increasing number of students are ill-equipped to read and comprehend
the textbooks designed for proficient secondary readers.
What may not be so widely accepted, however, is the idea that content teachers can assist struggling readers. This premise does not mean that content teachers should become reading teachers; rather, content teachers can structure lessons to assist struggling readers, boosting them to proficient performance when reading content-based material.
Proficient Readers vs.
Different teachers apply different benchmarks
to pinpoint struggling readers. A reading teacher, for example, will administer
a battery of informal reading inventories to determine deficiencies in
reading rate, fluency, word recognition, and comprehension. While such
testing allows a reading teacher to tailor an improvement plan to meet
a reader's need, it is not practical or necessary for content teachers
to adopt a reading teacher's approach to reading instruction.
Rather, content teachers should understand
that the difference between successful and unsuccessful readers is the
ability to effectively apply strategies to difficult texts, which is a
very relative term.
A reader who holds a Ph.D. in history may
find a manual on building a car engine to be a "difficult text." However,
one can assume that a Ph.D. is a viable reader who will apply internalized
reading strategies repetitively in order to attain comprehension. Such
a reader rereads, paraphrases, considers context, infers, questions, reflects,
and perhaps even consults other materials without conscious decision.
The application of reading skills to a difficult text is automatic for
a proficient reader.
A struggling reader, on the other hand, either
holds no intrinsic repertoire of reading strategies, or applies such strategies
only to texts with which he is comfortable. Thus, simple reading strategies
built into a content lesson can provide a struggling reader with the scaffolding
necessary to meet success.
Content Teachers Meet
Do content teachers have to deal with
the issue of reading? If your students are expected to read in your class,
the answer is probably yes.
While English teachers spend considerable time
addressing reading skills in their classes, their primary text type at
the secondary level is literature. It is difficult to cover every type
of text a student will encounter outside of their classrooms.
Reading instruction is a responsibility shared
by all teachers, regardless of level or content. Educators who accept
this idea are already a step ahead - but for teachers unversed in basic
reading instruction, the task is daunting.
You can help your students decode the types of text
they encounter in your classes, whether they are from the hard sciences,
social sciences, or mathematics.
in Content Classrooms
Incorporation of reading instruction
into the content classroom is not as daunting as one might believe. Any reading assignment can be broken down into
three comprehension-building steps:
Step One: Before Reading
This step activates a knowledge base
upon which students can build and establishes a purpose for reading.
Step Two: During Reading
Step Three: After Reading
This step allows students to measure
comprehension, clarify, visualize, and build connections.
This step expands prior knowledge,
builds connections, and deepens understanding.
Apply any of the following simple reading strategies
to aid students during each portion of the reading assignment.
Before Reading Strategiesbrainstorm · predict · skim · assess
prior knowledge · preview headings · learn crucial vocabulary
During Reading Strategies
reread · infer · question · support predictions · summarize
After Reading Strategies
reread · confirm predictions · summarize · synthesize · reflect · question
Incorporating learning aids such as graphic organizers
and reading anticipation guides into reading assignments can also help students
visually organize content.
Sample Introductory Science Reading Using Reading
Let us assume a Science teacher discovers that several
students in her heterogeneously grouped class are having difficulty reading
the passages about atoms in their science textbook. What reading strategies
might she employ to aid these students?
- Provide background information about atoms,
explaining that atoms make up every known object.
- Explain that while scientists have never
seen an atom, they have collected sufficient information to create a
model of an atom.
- Establish a purpose for reading by stating
that the students will see labeled diagrams of atoms to help them learn
about the parts and characteristics of an atom.
- After reading in small groups, pairs or
individually for several minutes, pause and ask students to pair and
take turns explaining what they have learned thus far about atoms and
- Using individual two-column learning logs,
pause at intervals during reading and ask students to phrase a question
about the passage just read, then pair, exchange logs and allow the
partner to write a question in the second column.
- Have students work in groups to identify
parts of the atom on a diagram, identifying the charges for each as
Another activity is the KWL
chart. Before reading, students complete the first column of the chart,
what I know about atoms, and the second column, what I want to learn about
atoms. After reading, the third column, what I learned about atoms would
With either introductory activity, the content
focus is atoms, but students have been engaged in a purpose for reading.
Educators owe struggling
readers content reading instruction. Confident, proficient readers will
not magically emerge from the door of an English classroom; rather, skilled
readers emerge from classrooms where effective reading strategies are
taught and practiced regularly.
Learn More About Reading in the Content
Teaching Today Reading in the Content Areas Archive.
Teaching Today offers a host of ready-to-use teaching tips and free downloads
to help you improve your students' reading skills.
Teaching Reading in Middle School
by Laura Robb
ISBN: 0590685600/352 pages/2000
This work presents a variety of before, during, and after reading strategies that are easily applicable to content classrooms.
Understanding and Creating Middle School Readers
edited by Kylene Beers and Barabara G. Samuels
ISBN: 0926842641/ pages/1996
This volume is filled with everything a teacher wants and needs to know about middle school readers. It includes ideas for content area teachers to incorporate reading improvement skills into their classrooms.
Words, Words, Words:
Teaching Vocabulary in Grades 4-12
by Joan Allen, Ed.D
ISBN: 1571100857/160 pages/1999
Allen translates research into effective teaching practice as she outlines
strategies for vocabulary instruction.