Let's Read!

Encouraging Reluctant Readers in Our Classrooms

What Unifies Us

No matter our individual subject areas, teachers in the Summit program share a common understanding: our students need to be competent critical readers in order to master the self-directed, individualized learning plans we promote through our work in an online platform that offers self-paced learning, skill-based projects, goal-setting, and mentors. If students aren't reading the resource materials on their own, whether due to low skill, low will, or a combination of the two, we're sunk.

So the question is: how do we encourage our students from various skill sets to read, comprehend, and apply understanding on their own? Better yet, how do we reignite enthusiasm for reading, or foster an overall love for reading? Big dreams must begin somewhere, and we can easily begin with a foundation--let's encourage our students to simply CHOOSE to read. Let's help them discover the advantage of choosing a chapter review resource over a YouTube video.

We can all agree now is not the time to adopt another new program. At FHS, we're finally feeling comfortable and competent after a complete shift in educational strategies with the implementation of our on-trend project-based learning platform. What we CAN do is follow some quick and easy strategies to encourage thoughtful readers in our classrooms, while using the materials we already have.

Five Simple Reading Strategies for Success

  • Preview and Review: 5 Facts in 5 Minutes
  • Asking "HOUSE" Questions: Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions
  • Read to Discover--Giving Students CHOICE
  • Time It: Reading Comprehension in Short Bursts
  • Get Them Moving

Five Simple Reading Strategies for Success

Preview and Review: 5 Facts in 5 Minutes

Ready to introduce a new Focus Area or Project? Or are your students preparing to study before taking an Assessment? Try this quick and simple strategy with the materials you already have in the classroom.

During my intervention reading sessions with sophomores early in the year, I realized one of the biggest challenges I faced was encouraging reluctant students to do ANYthing. I discovered that this strategy (along with the occasional bribe of candy), gained trust and cooperation within minutes.

  • Equally divide your students into small groups; 3-5 students per group is ideal, but this worked in larger groups as well.

  • Hand out scrap paper (or Cornell Notes-explanation provided in the next session) and pens/pencils to students.

  • Time students 5 minutes, and explain that they have this much time to gather at LEAST five new facts (or important key concepts if they are reviewing). Students jot down their 5 facts in notes; this part of the activity is individual.

Here's where your content area drives the reading material: a posted introductory chapter resource, relevant article, page from a textbook or source, a magazine, or anything relevant to your purpose. We experienced success with Student CHOICE magazine, which every RISE mentor receives in sets each month. Sometimes, I selected the particular article for students; other times, I allowed them to choose their reading, which of course expanded the discussion material.

  • When the 5 minute timer goes off, allow students a few seconds to finish their final notes.

  • Next, ask students to go one at a time and share ONE of their facts. If the next student has the same note, they will cross this off from their list and move on to the next new piece of information to share with the group. Continue until each new fact has been shared, and skip students if they have already shared all 5 facts, or their facts have been repeated (this encourages high-level engagement since it requires active listening).Often, I use this opportunity as a contest to see which student is the last one to share new information to the group.

Asking "HOUSE" Questions: Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions

Teaching students how to become active readers by identifying key ideas and anticipating test questions while they read will show them how to "Work Smarter; Not Harder," and will ultimately boost their confidence and results during tests.

  • As an introduction to Costa's Levels of Inquiry, provide students a copy of the "House" worksheet and a blank copy of Cornell notes.

  • I walk students through the three house levels, starting with Level 1. Ask for observations about these types of questions (simple, short questions that require simple, sometimes one-word (and only one possible correct) answers. I usually challenge students to write their own Level 1 question in the margin about a provided topic, and pair/share, class discuss. Repeat for Levels 2-3. Students, when prompted, often recognize where they often see Level 1 and 2 questions (Content Assessments) and Level 3 questions (Projects).

  • After students have a grasp of the Levels, move to reading material for your content. Using the Cornell Notes worksheet, challenge students to ask and answer their own Level 1, 2, and 3 question based on the reading. Depending on your class, this can be accomplished as whole class, small groups, partners, or individually.

During the first weeks (and possibly months of your course), you may wish to facilitate these notes with the class. Eventually, your goal is to observe students creating and answering a higher amount of Level 2 and 3 critical-reading questions. Enough practice and review should lead your students to read for understanding; they will anticipate test questions and identify key information while reading.

About Cornell Notes: I risk sounding "old-school," but I still require written notes from students, even while using our computerized Personal Learning Plans. How many times have we witnessed a student passively watching a screen and reply that they are "taking notes" or "studying?" We can save time and increase passing rates from first-attempt Common Assessments by requiring our students to write down (and later review the same) information. Plus, the Cornell Notes format keeps students organized by recording subject, topic, teacher, and date for each set of notes.

Read to Discover--Giving Students CHOICE

We already provide an immense amount of student choice through our Personalized Learning Plans. Beyond our available Focus Area Resources, consider offering these other options:

Newsela-Free leveled news, primary sources, and more, with standards-aligned formative assessments. (https://newsela.com)

SSR-Require students to bring their own reading material for designated SSR days and times--reinforce with PAWS or participation grades

Teen Choice Magazine

Reading Plus-a research-based silent reading intervention that helps students gain proficiency by improving comprehension, reading rate, and vocabulary. (This one does cost money for a subscription) (https://www.readingplus.com)

No Red Ink- builds stronger writers through interest-based curriculum, adaptive exercises, and actionable data (https://www.noredink.com)

Content Area magazines-I bring in our old Sports Illustrated, Home Magazines and such to school after we finish them for open SSR or Critical Reading activities. Do you have subject-area magazines at home? Consider sending an all-call to parents for donations to build a classroom collection, or contact your local library to see if they donate older materials to make way for new releases.

Time It: Challenge Your Students to Increase Their Reading Comprehension in Short Bursts

This particular skill relates more specifically to testing such as EOC, MAP, and ACT. Since our Content Assessments do not have strict time restraints, strategically preparing for time management while testing doesn't need to be a priority. These skills can, however, prepare students for their important State assessments and ACT/SAT tests.

Very early in your classroom, familiarize your students to timed activities. Try some of these methods:

1. To begin, provide a practice passage or set of questions and ask students to TIME THEMSELVES how long they take to complete them.

  • Keep these short (under 30 minutes) when first starting. For ACT Reading practice, I begin with one reading passage and questions.
  • In the English classroom, I ask students to first time how long it takes them to read a passage, and then a second time for how long they spend answering the questions.
  • The next time, they continue to record their times to see if they take longer or shorter periods of time.

2. Amaze students with this MAGIC: For a different practice test set, show students JUST the questions and answer choices.

  • I set them loose for 3-5 minutes with pens and highlighters, and challenge students to discover as many CLUES possible about the reading passage/test content based SOLELY on the questions and answer possibilities. Often, students gain a highly accurate picture of the passage/test without even seeing it.

  • For the same or a future practice test, ask students to spend 3-5 minutes reading the questions and answer choices and to make educated guesses without looking at the passage. Make it a group or individual contest to see who scores the most correct answers. In our classroom, students thought it was fun to play against the teacher with a brand-new set of questions to see who scored the most.

Use class reflections and discussions over this last strategy to communicate the importance of using a reading test's questions and answers to guide students. Often, reading all of the questions before beginning the test helps their overall understanding of the content, and may even give a few clues away for answers. Also, this is a great lesson in educated guessing, which could be the reality for students taking the ACT Reading. Rather than simply bubbling random answers if they run short on time (which we hope won't happen after enough timed practice), students may skim the questions and make educated guesses.

Get Them Moving

If you find an opportunity for students to get up and moving from behind their computer screens, use it! Think of an activity which requires reading to discover, problem-solve, complete steps, or build solutions, and get moving!

Some ideas:

  • Walking Scavenger Hunts--use our wealth of local history to spur a walking scavenger hunt using our Historical Markers.

  • Bake Off--Mix things up in our downstairs kitchen lab by requiring students to find, read, and carry out specific instructions in the correct order. The winning team will have a sweet (or savory) finished product to enjoy!

  • Assemble Something-Provide instructions that must be sorted and carried out in the correct order (or by using accurate equations and formulas). Connect to your subject area in creative ways: models, objects from poems or novel units-the possibilities are endless.

  • Gallery Walks-
  1. At the classroom level, have students post their finished projects or work from the day around the room. Instruct the class to walk around and collect facts, lists, tally marks for their favorites, or questions.
  2. At the campus level, post student work in the halls and invite (or send your other periods) to observe and record specific information.
  3. For the local level, walk them to the Kentucky Historical Society (http://history.ky.gov), Kentucky Military History Museum (http://history.ky.gov/kentucky-military-history-museum), or the Old Governor's Mansion (http://historicproperties.ky.gov/hp/ogm/Pages/default.aspx) to do the same.

Sara Beth Boggs, English Teacher

As a child of an Air Force family and an Army wife, I have lived in six states and Aviano AFB, Italy. I received my Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English and Secondary Education, from Ohio Northern University in May 2001. I have spent the last 16 years teaching English in classrooms across the country, including Kings High School, OH, Killeen High School, Texas, LaRue County High School, KY, and Colerain High School, OH. My family--husband Evan, and daughters Kayli (18), Jaidyn (10), and Jocelyn (7)--resides in Georgetown, KY.

I currently teach English at Frankfort High School in Kentucky's capital city. I respect our academic mission statement, which includes developing students who are “life-long learners who are civic-minded, college/career ready and progressing to their full potential,” and my experience has prepared me to prepare our students in those areas, including my time with AVID, IB, and AP Literature and Composition classes. These courses encourage students to answer and ask their own higher-level thinking questions, while exposing them to rigorous critical thinking and writing skills. My goal is to foster environments where students learn to love thinking and exploring for themselves.

Frankfort High School


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