If you’re a middle school teacher, you know that reading comprehension can be a challenge for some of your students. Even if your students can decode text fluently, they may not be understanding what they read. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help your students who struggle with reading comprehension. Here are five simple strategies that you can use in the classroom.
Build Background Knowledge
Make sure your students have the background knowledge they need to understand the text they’re reading. One way to build background knowledge for middle school readers is to teach them the necessary vocabulary words in advance. This can be done by providing a list of key terms and having students define each one before reading the text. You can also provide additional information about the topic beforehand so that students have some context for understanding the text. Additionally, it might be helpful to show students visuals, such as diagrams or pictures, so that they have a better understanding of the concept. Finally, you can ask students questions before reading to activate their prior knowledge and help them make connections with what they already know. By taking these steps, you will ensure your students have the background knowledge necessary for successful comprehension.
Provide Text Structure Support
Explicitly teach your students about different text structures, such as cause and effect, compare and contrast, problem and solution, etc. This will help them identify important information in the text and make connections between ideas. You can also break the text into manageable pieces, providing a “scaffold” so that students can solve problems and comprehend what they read more easily. It might also be helpful to provide visual organizers that will enable your students to make sense of the information in the text.
Having students summarize what they have read after every couple of paragraphs or pages will let you know if students are actually comprehending the text. A Stop ‘n Jot is a great way to accomplish this. A Stop ‘n Jot is simply stopping what you are reading and writing down your thoughts – this can be a summary, a question, or a connection. For some students, it may even be a quick sketch of something they have read. It can be done on a formal worksheet but can be less formal and written out on notebook paper. This is a great activity for INBs (Interactive Notebooks).
To ensure that students are really comprehending the text and not just repeating back what they have read verbatim, ask follow-up questions about their Stop ‘n Jot such as, “What made you choose those particular events to include in your summary? What do you think is the most important thing that happened in the chapter? Why?”
Model Comprehension Strategies
As you are reading aloud, model the comprehension strategies you want your students to use. For example, if you’re noticing that a student isn’t asking questions about the text, stop and model how to generate questions. Provide students with question stems that will help them understand the types of questions you want them to ask as they are reading.
Similarly, if a student isn’t making connections, stop and model how to make textual, personal, and/or global connections. For example, if you are reading about the human body you can point to your arm, leg, or head to help make a connection for your students.
Throughout the reading process, encourage students to ask themselves questions about the text. For example, after reading a section or chapter, have them turn to a neighbor and answer the following questions: “What did you just read? What are you wondering? What are your predictions?” By constantly questioning themselves, students will develop a habit of questioning the text, which will lead to deeper understanding.
If you notice that a student isn’t able to answer the questions, pause and have the student go back and reread the text and formulate their own questions. This will ensure that students are comprehending the text and not just repeating words from the text.
Encourage the Use of Reading Strategies
Struggling readers often benefit from using specific reading strategies such as graphic organizers, note-taking, and highlighting/underlining key points in the text. By modeling these strategies yourself and providing opportunities for students to practice them, you can help them become better readers.
Teach your students to create their own organizers in their own INBs or on a piece of notebook paper so they can use the strategies you have taught them.
Promote Academic discussion
After students have read a section or chapter, promote discussion by asking them open-ended questions about the text. For example, “What was your favorite part of the chapter? Why? What happened in the story that surprised you? Why do you think the author chose to include that event?” These types of discussion questions require students to go beyond recalling information and instead analyze and interpret the text.
Try using these done-for-you questions that will help promote academic discussions in class. These questions could also be used as reader-response questions to promote independent thinking.
Reading comprehension is an essential skill that all students need to be successful in the classroom and beyond. By thinking about and utilizing some of the ideas in this blog post, teachers can support students in becoming better, more independent readers. With practice and guidance, students can become readers who are able to interpret texts and make connections between themselves and the world around them.