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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 4, March 2004

Teachers' tips
Components of an excellent reading program

by Steve Naylor

Reading is essential to success in school. All of us teach reading, be it showing students what their teachers are reading or showing students how to read the content selections in the course. Here are some techniques for building an excellent school reading program.

Read aloud

Reading aloud to students is always effective. The more students hear the selections read carefully and correctly, the more they will benefit. Having some selections read aloud in all subjects encourages understanding.

Create a literacy-rich environment
Have many types of reading materials in your classroom. Students are always impressed to see that teachers are readers. Discuss the books you are reading when students show interest. Teachers of all subjects can have their personal reading favourites on their classroom shelves.

Encourage reading for pleasure
Some schools have a program of sustained silent reading. Other schools have book fairs, reading weeks, and the like. Encourage students to read material other than their course readings. If students read for pleasure, their understanding of content reading will likely improve.

Promote home/school partnerships
Encourage parents to ask questions about the students’ reading. At meet-the-teacher events explain the importance of reading and help parents understand that reading is the basis of learning.

Integrate language activities
Explain to students how to read the material you expect them to understand. Have students write what they understand about their content reading. Use exit slips and entrance slips as ways to show students you are interested in what they understand about their reading.

Accommodate students’ interests and backgrounds
When students are permitted to read material in which they are interested, they become engaged. Students who are engaged appreciate the opportunity to learn and will likely be more attentive in class.

Use systematic, varied strategies
Show students a variety of reading techniques such as SQ3R, formulating their own questions, and summarizing. Photocopy a page of the textbook, and allow students to highlight or underline the main points. Remember that you probably did the same in your university texts.

Use a variety of reading methods
Explain to students that reading poetry is different from reading a science text. Explain that slowing reading down and asking questions while reading are two ways to adjust reading to fit the text.

Activate students’ prior knowledge
Students need to connect new learning to what they already know. Find out what students already know about a topic, then introduce the reading assignment. Help students connect the new material to what they already know.

Provide authentic purposes, materials, and audiences
Students need to know that school is part of the real world. As often as possible, connect school assignments with the world outside the classroom. Have students write about their subjects to audiences other than the teacher. By using newspapers, show students that the material they are studying is also important to other people.

Construct, examine, and extend meaning
Building understanding means connecting learning to the students’ experiences. Start with what the students know or where their interests lie. Discuss their understanding, and challenge students to explore new or diverse opinions. Students need to know that there is not always a right answer.

Use meaning-driven reading activities
Tell the students what they are going to be reading. Give them a framework on which to build their new understandings. Giving a set of questions before the students start reading is often better than giving questions after they have read.

Model reading strategies
Show students how you read. Put a selection on the overhead, and read it aloud. Underline as you read, make notes in the margins, and talk as you read. Students will appreciate knowing that you make meaning as you read. Reading is not a secret skill that only the teacher knows.

Allow students to work in a variety of groupings
Have students read and then explain their understanding of their reading to partners. Have students meet in small groups and summarize their understanding of a reading selection. Talking and writing about their reading helps students solidify their understanding.

Steve Naylor teaches at Salmon Arm Senior Secondary School, Salmon Arm.

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