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Research-Based Instructional Strategies for Reading

Instructor: David Raudenbush

David has been an educator for over 20 years. He holds a bachelor's degree in communications and journalism as well as a master's degree in education. He has taught English, language arts, and social studies to students from both middle and high school.

When teachers use research-based instructional strategies, students have the best chance to learn to read or improve their reading skills. Effective instructional strategies will include the key areas of word knowledge and comprehension.

Planning Reading Lessons

Let's pretend you are in your classroom. You have a story in front of you, maybe a classic tale like 'The Gift of the Magi' by O. Henry or something more recent like 'The Marble Champ' by Gary Soto. Your job is to build a reading lesson, or series of lessons, around the story. You need to decide on a set of instructional strategies that bolster your students reading skills, so they understand the story. Looking at research will help you pick the strategies that will best meet that goal.

A successful reading lesson utilizes research-based instruction.
Teacher and reader

Word Knowledge

Naturally, your students will struggle with any text if they have problems reading the words. In the primary grades, K-2, research points to phonics and phonemic awareness as keys to reading development.

Young readers need phonics to learn the connection between written letters and the sounds of spoken English. That's usually the starting point in a reader's schooling. Phonemic awareness is the ability to breakdown written words into their component sounds. As a teacher, when you ask your students to sound out a difficult word, that's phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness helps novice readers to separate words into syllables and meaningful sounds, known as phonemes. Research shows that phonemic awareness predicts how well students will succeed as readers. If they can't sound the words out, they will have problems.

Teaching word attack strategies will help students who struggle when they encounter new or unfamiliar words. The simplest and possibly most effective approach is to model chunking for your students. Show them how you break words down into smaller parts. Practice sounding out words with them. Teach them how to use familiar prefixes, roots and suffixes to figure out the meaning of words. You can use this word attack approach with any students, regardless of grade level, if they need them.

Teaching Comprehension

Once you establish that your students can handle the words, you may move on to teaching them how to comprehend the text. If you wanted to add some books on reading comprehension to your bookshelf, Mosaic of Thought by Susan Zimmermann and Elin Oliver Keene would be a good place to start. The book, published in 1997, revolutionized reading instruction by introducing a strategic approach to comprehension. Good readers, the authors said, possessed innate ways of understanding what they read. Teaching reading comprehension, they reasoned, requires teaching all students what good readers do naturally.

One skill that all readers need is the ability to visualize what they read. Good readers continually visualize the characters, settings and events they read about. You may need to teach some students how words can form pictures. To teach your kids how to do this, you can ask them to draw pictures of a character or scene based on the description in the text. Visualization isn't an exercise in free association, however. Students need to use specific details in the text to create their drawings. Emily Kissner, a teacher, author, and literacy consultant, believes teaching readers to pay close attention to details in a text is an essential reading skill.

Kissner also believes in teaching paraphrasing and summarizing as a means to help students monitor and improve their comprehension. When paraphrasing students rephrase a sentence or passage in their own words. Suppose your class is reading Edgar Allan Poe. The first sentence of 'A Tell-Tale Heart' reads, 'True!-- nervous-- very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?' The unusual structure of that sentence can trip up some readers. Learning to re-word such a sentence can support comprehension. A paraphrase might read, 'Yes, I am very nervous. I was nervous, and I still am. But what makes you say I am crazy?'

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