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12 Ways to Improve Reading Skills

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.

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.

This Post Has 74 Comments

  1. Tracey Martin

    Reading is so important in everything we do. Thank you for taking the time to point out some easy ways to help improve reading skills. These are things everyone can do to help their child or student!

    1. Marie

      Absolutely true, Tracey! Thanks for weighing in. 🙂

  2. Nyxinked

    I always take notes and highlight when I’m reading. Even when I’m reading for fun!

  3. Cristina Petrini

    Absolutely. Reading helps in many things. It is as beautiful as it is important.

  4. Amber Myers

    Great ideas! I’ve always loved to read, and I always hoped my kids would be amazing readers.

  5. These are all such great ideas, I’ll share these with my brother. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

  6. Katie Beck

    All of these are great ideas I can incorporate at home for my kids too. I struggle with getting them interested in independent reading. I love the idea of including all the senses – I would hav enever thought of using a scent or food to coincide with something they are reading. Great tips!

    1. Marie

      Yes! These ideas are good for any kids anywhere! The senses are powerful. Anything that you tie to the senses will allow the kids to remember for a long time to come if not for life. 🙂 Thank you for the kind comment!

  7. Passion Piece

    I used to highlight fragments of the text when I was a student, now when I’m an adult I feel I don’t really need to do that any longer. Maybe that’s because now I usually read novels. 🙂

  8. Chad

    These are amazing tips and they apply to adults as well! Thank you so much for the awesome insights.

  9. AMY

    This is awesome! You have a very nice point of view. Reading is my habit. even I grow old. Because it made my mind refresh every time. Thanks!

  10. Mommy Sigrid

    Great tips! Thankfully, our kids enjoy reading so much. They would read anything, including signs and labels. haha

    1. Marie

      That’s awesome, Mommy Sigrid! I was the same way and about half of my kids are. The other half still like to read but not quite as much.

  11. Shruti and Delta

    Reading is a way to develop the mind and build character. I love reading. I have gained so much knowledge by reading.

  12. crisshex88

    Effective tips to give young people one of the most magical and important skills!

  13. Julia Hess

    I used to love reading when I was younger. Now, I wish I had more time to read. I enjoy reading books to my little guys. So, excited for them to learn to read and hopefully have the same love for books.

    1. Marie

      I hope they do, Julia! And I have a huge stack of books waiting for me to find the time. 🙂

  14. Jessica Collazo

    these reading tips are wonderful they can even work Wonders on auto people love this tips

  15. Passion Piece

    Reading is a very important part of our lives. We should try everything to improve our kids’ reading skills. Great tips! 🙂

  16. Holidiaries

    I have always had a low attention span and would easily sleep off while reading! Great tips for my nephews and nieces!

  17. Chad

    Amazing list!!! From a personal experience, taking notes helped me a lot as a kid. I still do it btw.

    1. Marie

      Me too, Chad!

  18. Candace Hampton

    I think that parents struggle to help their children with reading sometimes. This is a great list to help them get creative! I’ve seen it get so frustrating for parents and children. This is a great list!

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Candace! I hope a lot of people can be helped with this.

  19. Cristina Ioana

    This is a great post! I am an ESL teacher and I know how difficult it is to motivate students to read. We play a lot of games and generally I try to make reading as pleasant and attractive as possible. The only thing that i haven’t tried is linking the reading tasks to more senses. I know that smell is a powerful memory trigger. So, I will definitely try this. Thank you for the idea

    1. Marie

      I taught ESL for several years, too, Cristina. And yes, the more substantive stuff I could tie the lesson to, the better they learned! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  20. Hollie

    For me, taking notes has always been key. If I don’t write it down, I forget. 100% of the time!

    1. Marie

      Yep, I still have to take notes or I forget too. And I always have to take notes for audio or I won’t be able to stay focused.

  21. What a great post. My oldest son had such a hard time with reading when he was younger. I used to take him to a Kumon reading program. I love your last way of letting your child choose. Once he began picking material that was of interest to him, he began to love to read. He loved it so much that he wasn’t able to fall asleep at night until he had some quiet reading time first. 🙂 These are all great tips. I’m actually learning Spanish now and doing a lot of these things myself. LOL

  22. Natalie

    Great tips. My kid is so into reading but has problems with understanding the text. These tips will def help.

    1. Marie

      I hope they are helpful for you all, Natalie.

  23. aisasami

    As a ESL teacher who teaches reading, I do a lot of things techniques above. Reading is more than the words in the book.

    1. Marie

      Yes! I was an ESL teacher for many years too and used most of these myself. 🙂

  24. Susan1375

    Reading opens up a whole new world and the tools you suggest are great ways to help enable this

  25. Rupal Srivastava

    This post is so helpful! I am trying to teach my little daughter to read and these tips will come in super handy!

    1. Marie

      I hope they help her out, Rupal!

  26. I grew up reading. My love for writing came from my love for literature. And growing up I would devour all kinds of books like they were food. I don’t remember how my interest for reading develop. But my mom would bring home a new book every week and always I was excited for that.

    1. Marie

      It sounds like we grew up very similarly. I could never put a book down.

  27. toastycritic

    I think playing games always helps. Putting something to song helps me grapple with things as well. I just wish I were better at the note taking part.

    1. Marie

      I couldn’t survive without the note-taking and filing system i have developed over the years! And interestingly enough, both my oldest daughter and youngest son put everything to music to remember stuff.

  28. Colleen

    These are fantastic tips! I love that most of these relate back in some way to keeping the kids engaged. Kids HAVE to be engaged or they won’t learn anything. They’ll just look at the clock and wait for the bell.

  29. Matt Taylor

    Those are all wonderful ways to develop reading skills. For me, taking notes, was always huge, it helped me remember things, I didn’t want to forget.

  30. Emily Fata

    With so much extra time due to COVID, people will have a lot more time to delve into their favourite books. Hopefully, this added time will help improve reading skills! 🙂

  31. Lyosha

    Great tips! I really want to make my reading better, I joined a book club for it

  32. Cristina Petrini

    I struggled as a child to be able to approach and improve myself in reading, I would have liked a teacher who like you with these tips had helped me.

  33. Drawing a picture, most certainly, helps. I have tried it before and it always gets us giggling endlessly as we all share into what each of us drew.

  34. Gervin Khan

    This is very informative, I have this friend who’s having trouble in reading fluently because she hates reading maybe these tips will help her boost her interest in books.

  35. Gervin Khan

    These are great tips! Me, personally, using a highlighter on marking those important notes and also writing those news words for me and search for the meaning of it after reading.

  36. brandy toenges

    I love everything you listed! I know for me personally taking notes always helped me to retain what I was reading. Thanks for sharing.

  37. the joyous living

    you have some very clever ideas. love them. the idea of kid led vocabulary is especially interesting to me.

  38. Lyanna Soria

    Very informative! I’ll definitely gonna try this. Thanks for sharing!

  39. Bright snow Loveland

    What a great idea on reading. I just have to follow your tips well. Will soon be writing IELTS, and your tips are very helpful. Thanks for sharing

  40. Marysa

    These are great ways to work on reading skills. For my kids, I try to keep them interested, and let them choose a variety of reading material, like magazines and so on.

  41. Bright snow Loveland

    This is a great educative post. Thanks for sharing

  42. Minakshi Bajpai

    Reading is most magical and important skills! Thanks for sharing.This is very informative post..

  43. Monidipa

    I always take notes and do q n a session. Its helps!

  44. Heidi

    These are all great tips! Thanks for sharing!

  45. Rosey

    That’s a good idea to have them write what they would do if they were in the story. It’s a good discussion piece too.

  46. Razena

    Every time I read another article on this blog, I wish you were my teacher when I was in school. So many interesting ways to learn and making learning an exciting adventure!

  47. Mindspeaks

    Such a great article to improve reading skills. If only had I found this article earlier, but its never too late. Thanks a lot.

  48. Rosy

    These are great for people who have kids in school! Reading is a very important skill to

  49. tweenselmom

    Reading is a hobby of mine and I find these tips really helpful! Thanks for sharing these with us!

  50. rachel

    I’m going to try some of these with my 7 year old this school year and see if it helps!

  51. joanna

    Taking notes is always a great way to remember things better. Also, raising the curiosity of children in class will definitely lead to them reading more at home.

  52. Emily

    Ive recently joined a book club, so i think these skills would be very useful

  53. jackline A

    These are great suggestions. Especially, teaching reading through games.

  54. Sushmita

    Few of the points are actually helpful for adults too – while reading! Love this post.

  55. katrina Kroeplin

    this is great. my youngest has amazing reading skills but not the comprehension part. i love this.

  56. Renata Feyen

    It is so very important for kids to be able to read well – if not they can become the laughing stock 😮

  57. Emman Damian

    Taking notes really help! Also, insert some fun games. It also aids in learning!

  58. Kathy Kenny Ngo

    I need to get my son to read this. He loves reading already but we could all use some improvement.

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