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High School Reading: Our Teens Are Struggling

Dr. Katherine McKnight


High School ReadingI am often asked about helping struggling and reluctant readers. They are tons of them out there in our classrooms. 


According to NAEP data, over 60% of our students are not proficient readers by the time that they start high school. These statistics are staggering since much of what we learn about content areas like social studies and science is through reading.


Additionally, the internet has a tremendous impact in our daily lives in the amount of text that we read each day through emails, texts, blogs, and other web based texts.


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The bottom line is that students need to read a wide variety of texts that are on the same level as their current reading level. As students’ reading levels improve, the texts that they are reading must also change. 


Here’s a list of suggestions to help your struggling teen readers (this list is by no means comprehensive):

Ditch Your One-Size-Fits All Text Book

Since our classes are made up of students with a wide variety of reading levels, we need to provide a variety of reading materials. This means that you will probably need to ditch the textbook since it is written on one level and will meet the reading demands of only a small portion of your students.

Span Texts from 3 Years Below to 2 Years Above Reading Level

Provide reading materials that are accessible for the reading levels of your students. Oftentimes, teachers inform me that reading scores usually fall into four groups:

  • the highest level students are usually a couple of years above grade level
  • the next group is about grade level,
  • the next group (usually the bulk of the students) 1-2 years below level, or
  • another group of students that are at least 2-3 years below grade level in reading.

Therefore, when you select reading materials for your class, you will need texts that meet the demands of these four levels.


[TeachHUB Recommendation: Have author Katie McKnight come to your school for reading instruction professional development.

How to Find This Wide Range of Texts?

How do I meet the student’s reading levels with the texts that I provide? You absolutely must scour the internet for reading materials that can be adapted to the different reading levels.


You may also want to check out Daniels and Stenieke’s, Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Reading. This volume contains great examples and strategies to create “one-pagers” which are texts that can meet the demands of diverse readers.

Engage Reading Across Content Areas

Students must read in every single class, not just the English language arts course. I cannot stress this enough.


Supporting our students to reading and developing their literacy skills is part of being an effective content area teacher. If you lack knowledge in adolescent reading strategies to support the teaching of your content area, than I encourage you to develop your knowledge.  My website has resources and I also suggest


There has never been such a demand on student’s reading skills than in the 21st century. We need to support our students to be the most effective readers that they can be in order to be career and college ready. 


Share your tips for teaching reading and literacy to high schoolers in the comments section!


If you need additional training in reading and literacy instruction, author Katie McKnight is available for in-service workshops and other training opportunities.

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