Reading for everyone!

Instructional Strategies and Differentiation

Teachers unite!

We want all of our diverse students to be successful readers in our classroom!

Who do we worry about

There are many different kinds of students in our classrooms with different levels of success and engagement in reading. Three groups of students that are under the government's microscope are boys literacy scores on tests, culturally diverse groups, and English language learners.

Boys Literacy

Once upon a time, boys were schooled in how to read and girls were discouraged. It seems now, according to standardized testing, that boys are less successful in reading than before. Why?

Why might boys be having trouble

According to a wonderful website geared towards boys literacy, Guys Read, there are many reasons for why boys are struggling more than girls with reading:

  • Biologically, boys are slower to develop than girls and often struggle with reading and writing skills early on.
  • The action-oriented, competitive learning style of many boys works against them learning to read and write
  • Many books boys are asked to read don’t appeal to them. They aren’t motivated to want to read.
  • As a society, we teach boys to suppress feelings. Boys aren’t practiced and often don’t feel comfortable exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction.
  • Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.
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What can we do?

There are many things that can be done to help boys get more involved in reading! Some ideas include:

  • give boys more choice in the choice of reading materials
  • text rich classroom environments
  • classroom library with a variety of texts including non-fiction, graphic novels, and other topics that are of interest to boys, ex. lego books
  • involving more movement into the checking understanding or as they are reading
  • find male role models for them to connect with - Real Men Read
  • and more!

For more ideas, you can check out some amazing Ontario government resources Me Read? No Way! and Me Read? And How! as well as some amazing blogs, Guys Read is all about boys reading, and here you can find a blog post of a father commenting on boys reading that is really insightful!

English Language Learners

Students who come from a home where a language other than English is spoken are considered to be English language learners or ELLs. They might speak languages that are similar to English or very different. Regardless, these students have much harder to work to catch up and keep up with students from English speaking homes.

What can we do?

It can be hard to win a race when the runner starts behind all the others, and when it comes to learning how to read English, ELLs start behind all the others.

One strategy comes to mind on how to best reach these students and help them be successful, differentiation.

Just like this monk has spent his life learning with scrolls, switching to something completely new, the book is a difficult process and required patience, explaining new vocabulary, using simple phrases to express new ideas, modelling and checking for understanding.

Monk needs help opening a book

Culture in the classroom

It is rare to see a classroom full of students sharing identical cultural and religious backgrounds. Often students don't care to read things that they cannot make personal connections to. Students will hesitate and drag their feet when it comes to reading books.

How can we reach everyone?

Providing a diverse collection of books can definitely help reach all of your students! I work with a school board that serves, is close to, and surrounded by First Nations communities. It is important to have books they can make connections to within your classroom library. Ask your community librarian for ideas (I was very pleasantly surprised to see the huge selection of books in an Ottawa library!) of books aimed at First Nations, Métis, Inuit students. The same is true for any cultures that are present in your classrooms!

Asking your students and parents to recommend some favourite books can also help you build your classroom library with books for everyone to read!



It is a big word. I know. It is a really big, powerful and amazing word! Differentiation! What does it mean? Differentiate is to know there is a difference. There is a difference in learning styles for each and every student in our classrooms. We can teach students the content, or we can help them learn, in many different ways, the purpose and process of the new skills. There are, after all, more than just one way to skin a cat, as the old saying goes.
In this webcast, there are 2 videos that break down differentiation, and the importance of it.

The woman, Elizabeth Coelho, makes many links to ELL students and explains the importance of differentiating our instruction, by breaking down tasks, using simple and consistent vocabulary, and a text rich classroom to help them as well as everyone else in the classroom succeed.

The man, Jeffrey Wilhelm, demonstrates how to model strategies using a think aloud. He also explains the importance of going through a task with the students, teaching them how to do something, before just assigning the work using the story of an experience he had with a teacher candidate.

For more information about differentiation, check out this article entitled Differentiating the Learning Environment which includes the following flow chart:

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Book ideas