Hot Tips & Topics

We are dedicated to providing you with a comprehensive collection of relevant and up-to-date K-12 education news and editorials. For teachers, by teachers.

Get Students to Interact with Difficult Texts for Every Subject

Meghan Mathis


Teaching Texts for Reluctant ReadersGetting some students to read anything (an article, a chapter, a section of your textbook, etc.) just one time can be a challenge.  When you know that the text is one that is going to require multiple readings, finding ways to convince reluctant readers to re-read can seem like an impossible feat. 


With that in mind, I was thrilled to discover this simple strategy that “tricks” readers into transacting with a text not once, not twice, but three times in a way that won’t leave them wanting to throw their papers at you.


Related Articles
High school students exiting the school throwing papers in the air.
With the school year coming to a close, providing closure for students is...
Young girl smiling and wearing headphones while using a laptop.
Delivering quality education to students through eLearning can be difficult....
Young girl writing notes while looking at a laptop with open books around her.
With the move to eLearning, educators must find creative ways to keep student...
Two young boys reading a book together in their elementary classroom.
Differentiated literacy instruction is vital in elementary classrooms to reach...
Young boy working at a table listening to a video lesson with his teacher and classmates.
Remote learning can make assessment of student learning more difficult but not...

If you are not an English teacher or reading teacher, don’t worry - this strategy is great for you too! 


Our students need to learn that the way a proficient reader approaches an article about a historic event or a chapter from their math book is very different from how they interact with a novel or a poem.  It is up to us as teachers to give our students the tools to read successfully in our subject areas.    


Give this strategy a try this week – I know you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the responses you get back.

Choose a High-Interest Text

Look for an article, a passage from a text you are using in class, etc.  Make sure that it is something that you would normally work through with your students, not something that is so simple they could easily read it on their own and absorb all the key information. 


If possible, print off enough copies for your students to be able to each have their own copy that they can write on.  Have a copy ready for you to use as an example, either on an overhead projector or on a whiteboard/smartboard. 


Note:  The first time you do this, you might want to choose a high-interest article that is unrelated to what you are covering in class. That way, the students learn the procedure without having the additional pressure of needing to master the subject matter too.

First Reading:  Teacher Read Aloud

Read the text aloud to your class.  Emphasize to the students that while you are reading, you expect them to be following along on their own copy of the article. 


By doing this, you’ve ensured that every student has read the text at least once regardless of their reading ability.  This simple action will greatly increase the comfort and confidence level of your students because now they all have the same level of information going into the next task. 


Additionally, you have cut out any problems caused by students who claim to have read the text but who really just stared at the paper for five minutes without reading a thing.

Second Reading:  Create a Secret Code

Proficient readers ask questions, make predictions, and react to or make connections with the text while reading.  Ask your students to help you come up with a “secret code” that they can use to show these interactions quickly while reading. 


For example, my classes this year came up with the following code:


? = things we don’t understand or have a question about

! = something that excites us or we feel strongly about

:) = something we liked, thought was funny, or agreed with

:( = something we dislike, disagree with, thought was wrong

* = something we thought was really important


Have your class write your secret code down the side of their paper.  Then have them watch as you model your thinking as you read the text. 


Read it aloud again, but this time pause frequently and talk through a question you had while reading, something you agreed/disagreed with, or something you felt was important. 


You might sound something like this: 

Ok, when I read this part I stopped at this word – ‘integral,’ because I wasn’t sure what it meant. I’m going to put a question mark next to it because it kind of threw me for a minute, I didn’t know what the author was saying. I knew that I needed to figure that out before I could know what the writer meant. Ok, I’m going to keep reading even though I have that question because I can’t just stop every time I come across a word I’m unfamiliar with and it’s a good thing I did because here the author writes, “the most important thing,” after integral, I’m going to underline that because I know now that ‘integral’ means ‘the most important thing.’

By doing this, you’re letting the students see that even teachers have moments of not understanding everything they read and showing them that reading is an active process, they’re brains should be working the entire time. 


Now it’s their turn. Depending upon the reading level of your class, either read the text aloud again – but this time instruct students to make at least 5 “codes” on their papers or ask them to read through the text again silently and write down their 5+ “codes.” After students have been allowed time to finish, ask for several students to share their interactions with the class and add them to the example article. 


Note:  You may want to require 2 “codes,” in the beginning, 2 in the middle, and 2 at the end of the text in order to assure that your students don’t just transact with the beginning of the text and ignore the middle and end.

Third ReadingIncrease Writing Stamina

By now, your students have heard the text at least twice, if not three times.  They have read through it two or three times and they have begun to think critically about what is going on in their heads while reading unfamiliar material. 


The first few times I utilized this strategy, I was amazed at how much deeper I had helped my students go compared to other lessons where I had simply said, “Take five minutes and read this article with your partner.” or “Read this chapter for homework.”   Better yet, I was amazed at how painless getting them to this deeper level of comprehension had been! 


This stage is the crucial final step because we are going to ask the students to take their thoughts about the reading and make that all-important step - putting it into writing.  Ask students to return to the text to find what they felt were the most important parts/issues discussed.  Choose a manageable number of sentences or lines for your students based on their ability levels and ask them to write three or five sentences or lines (or more, if your class can do more) that sums up what the text was trying to say and what they, the student, thought about the text. 


Give your class five minutes or so to do this, and then call on volunteers to share their responses. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how in-depth and thought-provoking your students’ writing has become now that they have read and interacted with the text several times.


A lesson like this can often take a full 45-55 minute class period, especially the first time you introduce it and/or if you have chosen a challenging text.  What makes it worthwhile, however, is the end result – students of all ability levels, transacting with texts in all subject areas in much deeper and more meaningful ways than they ever did before.  I hope you’ll give it a try sometime soon!


How do you help readers interact with texts in your classroom? Share in the comments section!


Image source: Denver Post via Newscred

Today's Poll

Which types of articles would you like to see from us in 2020?
Classroom Management
Classroom Activities/Games
Teaching Strategies
Technology in the Classroom
Professional Development
Total votes: 257