How to Implement a Content Area Reading Program

The goal of reading comprehension programs is to help students learn from what they read. Reading strategies are important for digging the meaning out of text passages. But learning the strategies is not the goal – the goal is deeper comprehension.
The Reading Toolkit has two types of strategies, ones that students need to learn to use independently, and ones that can be used in whole class or small group activities. The strategies that students need to learn to use independently are listed on our bookmark:
  • Listen to your inner voice. Know when your comprehension is fading.
  • Mark the text.
  • Summarize often.
  • Re-read.
  • Write or Draw a picture.
  • Listen for the big ideas while someone else reads.

Students learn these strategies through direct instruction, where the teacher models the strategies, explaining her thinking about why and when to use certain strategies, and provides guided practice with clear feedback. Remember that you are the best reader in your classroom, so you need to explain to students what you are thinking as you read and guide them as they learn, gradually releasing responsibility to them for using the strategies on their own.
Students learn the strategies one at a time, but they become flexible in how they are used and often use more than one for the same reading passage when they become strategic readers.
The strategies that can be used as a whole class are intended to prompt discussion about the meaning and interpretation of the reading passages. Some are “before reading” strategies, where students generate questions about the reading based on prior knowledge and make predictions. Some are “after reading” strategies, where students summarize, make connections and inferences. In all cases, a good deal of class discussion occurs.
The teacher is critical to these whole class activities because she or he knows the content well and can pose the right questions to move discussion in productive ways. The key to discussions where everyone is learning is to get everyone involved.
Students need many meaningful opportunities for using the strategies, across as many of their classes as possible. The entire school needs to take on reading comprehension as a school-wide goal, reinforcing the use of comprehension strategies, increasing the amount and quality of open, sustained discussions, and building academic and “life-word” vocabulary throughout the year. A key to helping students become better readers is to keep them motivated and engaged by using interesting reading material and giving them choices in texts and assignments.
In summary:
  • Some of the strategies in the toolkit are whole-class activities that teach useful skills, like summarizing, making inferences, making connections, etc.
  • Other strategies in the toolkit are ones that students learn to use independently, like monitoring one’s comprehension, marking the text, writing or drawing for clarity, etc.
  • Strategies should be taught one at a time, but they are often used in clusters.
  • Strategies are taught explicitly. The teacher models the strategy, explaining his or her thinking, then guides students with constructive feedback as they practice independently.
  • Strategies should be used in all classes, for consistency.
  • Small group and whole class discussions of the reading passages increase engagement and foster deeper thinking about the content.
  • “Life words” (vocabulary that occurs often in everyday reading) should be pre-taught before students read a selection. Academic vocabulary is developed as concepts are learned, both through the reading and through other classroom activities.