I always try to look for ways to improve reading skills for my students. What I found early on was that most of those ways needed to involve less work. Most of the students are already feeling daunted by the thought of learning to read or improving their reading skills. And it equates to less work for the teacher, who already maintains so many other things on his/her plate.
I recently read a very informative article that speaks to the dangers of students not becoming fluent in reading. It talks about the value of just adding minutes of active reading a day. You can read about the statistics in the article right here.
So I did some research, and these are the top ideas I found for implementing ways to improve reading skills. I think you will enjoy most of them. And as always, I welcome any additional feedback.
Table of Contents
1. More Senses = More Memory
We all remember times when we heard, smelled, tasted, or felt something that instantly brought us back to some past event. The senses are incredibly powerful. Of course, we generally already know that. But sometimes we fail to use them proactively, instead of in hindsight.
So what if we could harness those senses in ways that help the students to not only remember, but practically never forget?
There are some great ways to do this. You can reinforce your lesson with food, drink, smells, special props brought in that came from the material you are teaching, special readings, interviews with experts in the field you are discussing, clothes that hearken back to the period discussed. The list goes on.
2. Taking Notes
Encourage your students to keep a small notebook on hand. In most cases, you don’t want students writing in their books, unless they are personally owned and not needing to be shared with future students.
Display a poster or a list on the board of the items they would need to put into their notebooks. Focus with them on these things:
- unfamiliar words
- unfamiliar processes (how do you actually _______?)
- questions they have about the text
- things they want to talk about later
- things that they can personally apply to themselves
They will quickly get well-adjusted to their notebooks. And they will find even more ways to use them to improve their reading/comprehension.
3. Problem Solving in the Classroom
The vast majority of students like classroom discussion time. They tire of listening to us drone on. And the more they get to participate, the more they feel like their thoughts and learning are valued. So to do this we talk about the problems that are presented in the text. See how many of the students are able to pick up on those problems on their own. And then see how they would solve those problems. Literature allows those problems to get solved in many ways. The solution that the book provides may or may not be the best solution. That is another great topic for you to work on with your students. Allowing them to come up with their own solutions helps to build their confidence. And that prepares them for the world that awaits them.
4. Discuss Themes Throughout the Book
Recognizing themes throughout books constitutes a great comprehension ability. So building this skill in the classroom is extremely important. This point also falls within the classroom discussion category. Guiding the students to draw their own conclusions in book themes allows them to develop a skill that will set them apart from most of their peers. And it will encourage growth in so many other areas: comprehension, application, creativity in future endeavors, ability to write better, and many more areas.
5. Smaller Pieces
Just like smaller meals make us less uncomfortable than eating a Thanksgiving-sized dinner every day, getting your reading in smaller sized portions helps students to focus on the important things they need to learn.
Thus, keeping their reading in smaller portions will help them to retain what they need to learn better and faster. And it will also help them to grasp more complex ideas when they are able to latch onto them a little bit at a time.
Seeing their satisfaction upon looking back and seeing all that they did learn is a great reward for a well done job of teaching literature.
6. Pique their Interest
We all learn better when what we are learning interests us. This is especially true with younger kids. They have short attention spans. So they need something that will hold their attention. A great way to do this is to give your students a survey at the beginning of the year. That way you can know for sure how to cater to the majority of your students. And for the ones that may not be as interested in a particular topic that the rest are, you can find ways to slip things in that do interest them. You can make your own survey. But here is a good one to get you started (or you can just use this one the way it is): Survey from Pinterest.
7. Play Games!
While school means learning, and kids know that is what they are there for, the more you try to make things interesting and fun the better response you will get. Kids love to play games. But they also love to see what they learned in hindsight when they thought they were just having fun. Consequently, these game suggestions will allow you to implement reading and comprehension into your program:
- Jeopardy game
- Concentration (or Memory) for spelling words
- Word of the Day (vocabulary)–have it on the board and see which students can use it correctly the most throughout the day.
- “Would you rather” game, using conflicting incidents in your story to help them think through the problems as well as the solution(s).
- Multiple solutions–encourage the students to come up with 3 different solutions to a problem in the story. In order to do this well, they would need a good understanding of the problem presented.
There are tons of games you can come up with on the fly. Just take notes as you think of them as they happen.
8. Have a Q & A Session.
Do this once a week for a few minutes to improve reading skills. Although once the kids get going, they can talk you into the next class period! Encourage them to write down any questions they have in their reading. Then you will probably have more material than you have time.
A great suggestion for this time is to have students answer questions with their own thoughts. This is a great way to encourage problem solving in real life scenarios. Just make sure you gently guide any thinking that goes off track. And make sure you encourage well thought-out solutions. After a few of these sessions, you will see students improve their reading skills. And you will also see them beef up valuable life skills.
9. Student-led Vocabulary
This idea works for the students to learn vocabulary that they actually need to learn, rather than going through lists of words that they already mostly know. As the week progresses, instruct the students to write down any words they are struggling with–meaning, unusual spelling, whatever makes it difficult for them. Then, on Friday, make a special class spelling session. Let the kids actually come up and put x number of words on the board. Then see what other kids help them out with whatever it is they need to know about that word. It could be spelling rule, definition, context.
This improves reading skills in a great way because the students will love the classroom participation. Just make sure all of the students are encouraging. Don’t allow any belittling or discouraging comments.
10. Draw a Picture
Drawing pictures allows great ways to improve reading skills. If the students know they are about to draw a picture related to what they are reading, they will pay more attention to details. And this leads to better comprehension because they are purposefully looking for more details. It addresses creativity since they have to take the information they are given and evaluate the picture that forms in their head. Then they transfer it to the paper in a way that is relevant to the story. Or at least their interpretation of the story.
Make sure to encourage students about what their pictures contain and how they interpret what they are learning.
11. Diary Assignments
Give the students assignments that put them directly in the story. Instruct them to write a couple of paragraphs about what they would have done if they were a certain character in a certain situation. Or instruct them to be an advisor to the character in the story. Ask them to describe how they would have advised the character and if the outcome would have been different based on the advice they chose to give.
These are great ways to make them think outside of the box. Their creativity skills will broaden. And you will be able to put that to great use as the year goes on.
12. Let the Students Choose
This may be the best way to encourage improvement of reading skills. When the students get to choose what they are going to study, they are automatically more engaged.
You won’t be able to please everybody. You would need to do this further into the year, when you have had a chance to learn what things appeal to a large number of your students.
Make sure you give your students a verified list of books that you are willing to work through. That way there are no surprises. Choose 3 to 5 of the top books on your list. Then make a ballot for them to vote with. You could get as elaborate as voting booths for the kids for added fun. And it’s a perfect opportunity to put in a mini-lesson and plug for voting. Put the results on the board. Then you can finish the books in the order voted on, or start a new list later. If there are books that very few people voted on, you may want to drop those off the list.
So this is my list of 12 ways to improve reading skills. There are infinitely more ways to do this productively. But this is a great start. And as always, I would love to hear about the one thing that worked perfectly in your class!
For more ideas on how to promote various activities in the classroom, follow this link to a Sample Chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.