List of Reading Strategies

Use the suggested list of reading strategies, tips, and activities below to help foster and strengthen your students' experiences in reading in order to promote lifelong literacy.

There are many strategies that teachers can employ to help students increase their comprehension, as well as their engagement, while they are reading. These are often referred to as top-down reading strategies and are mainly associated with the whole language approach to reading instruction, because the focus is on the ultimate or top goal of reading: comprehension.

An important point to remember about helping students achieve the goal of comprehension is that students must have mastered the language and necessary foundational skills of phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding. When reading instruction focuses on these foundational skills, it is often referred to as a bottom-up approach to reading instruction known as phonics-based reading instruction.

The decoding skills that students develop from a phonics approach aid tremendously in the ability for students to develop self-efficacy and confidence in reading because students are able to understand most of the words encountered in text.

five pillars of reading

While a whole language or top-down approach to reading does help many students, it does not help the ones who struggle or may have a reading disability like dyslexia. Students who struggle in reading are in need of an explicit, systematic and sequential phonics method of reading instruction or a bottom-up approach. Ideally, teachers should utilize a balance of both bottom-up and top-down approaches during reading instruction as that is the most effective way to grow students’ reading abilities while making sure that the foundational skills have been mastered.

This is according to the National Reading Panel Report (2000), which describes the five essential components of effective reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies that should be present in all reading instruction.

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The goal is to build background knowledge and help students with challenging vocabulary.

Project Words

To help students develop automaticity with word recognition, flash one word at a time on the board or wall by quickly turning a projector on and off. Have students orally read each word as it comes up.

Sort Words

Have students sort words from a story or informational text into parts of speech.

Use Phonics

When teaching subject area words, don’t neglect phonics. For example, when introducing the word “atmosphere,” don’t begin by writing the word. Instead, pronounce the word, break it into spoken syllables, and then write it one syllable at a time. Finally, discuss the meanings of parts of the word (i.e., “atmos” is Greek for “vapor, steam,” and “sphere” is Greek for “globe, ball”).

Pre-Teach Vocabulary Meanings

Take a few minutes to introduce new or challenging vocabulary that students will encounter with new piece of text.

Brainstorm the Topic

To determine what is known about a topic that is being introduced in an upcoming text or unit of study, ask students what they know about the topic. Write everything down on the board. Then ask specific or general questions and see what responses are given. As the teacher, you can do two things here: (1) fix/repair knowledge that is incorrect; or (2) let students figure out whether information was correct or incorrect by creating a K-W-L chart. As students confirm information in the text, they can list it in the “Know” column.

Anticipation Guide

Create an anticipation guide of five to ten true-or-false questions and give it to the students to complete before reading. This is a helpful way to assess students’ prior knowledge as well as to get them thinking about the upcoming topic. It also increases students’ ability to stay on task while reading because they are motivated to learn whether or not they were correct in their initial responses.

The goal is to keep students engaged and active during their reading.

If it is a read aloud, have students follow along with their own copy of the text.

When students are “following along” as you read out loud, randomly stop in different places, and ask the students to chorally complete each sentence.

Plan for questions throughout the text; allow think time.

Use questioning strategies that promote discussion about the text and help the reader clarify and comprehend what he/she is reading. When asking a question, allow enough “think time” for students to generate an answer. Use “turn and talk” and have students turn to a partner and share their answers then choose a couple of students to share their answers.

Annotating the Text:

Marking important text or taking notes about information that is important will help students remember the essentials of a reading passage.

Author's Purpose:

Help students identify the author’s purpose or reason for writing the piece of text. Noticing what language/words the author uses and considering the information that is given about the subject is one strategy that helps readers figure out the author’s purpose for writing. Does the text contain facts, or information that could be proven true or false by written records, witnesses, or experiments that would give the same answer? Does the information have opinions that contain beliefs, feelings, or judgments with which not all persons agree? For opinions, look for words that show value or judgment like: should, ought, best, worse, great, or terrible.



To Inform
Information is factual and does not show author’s feelings about the topic.
To Persuade
Information tries to change beliefs or actions of the reading, language shows author’s feelings about the topic. This purpose is often used by a salesperson.
To Entertain
Information tries to be humorous; language and ideas may be funny in an effort to make readers feel like smiling or laughing, as in cartoons.
To Describe
Information is usually very detailed, with language creating a mental picture of the topic. Information is very detailed about where items are and how they look.

The goal is for students to be able to demonstrate their understanding of the text and to further advance their knowledge through summarization and elaboration.

Employ the 3-2-1 Strategy

Use the 3-2-1 strategy to measure student engagement. After students read a passage, have them write down three things they learned, two things that are interesting, and one question they may have about what they read.

Summarize the Text

Students also need to develop their higher-level thinking skills in inferencing, analyzing, and synthesizing. When introducing the skill, provide students with direct instruction that includes modeling, then follow up with guided and independent practice. Students will need to have many opportunities to practice these skills, as that is the only way that they will actually be able to own them and do them while reading independently. When students master and use these higher-level skills automatically, it is then that the highest level of understanding has been ascertained through text.

Use this five-step process to help students summarize (McKenna & Stahl, 2009).

  1. Read the headings/subheadings.
  2. List them on paper.
  3. Read the text.
  4. Complete each heading with a main idea sentence.
  5. Add two or three more supporting detail sentences.

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