Selecting Texts for Reading Comprehension

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll go over strategies for selecting texts for your students. We'll cover pre-reading strategies, as well as during-reading strategies and post-reading activities that can help reinforce reading comprehension.

Reading Comprehension in the Classroom

Picture your classroom on the first day of school. Thirty smiling faces are ready to learn and excited to be back at school. After your initial assessment, it's time to analyze their reading levels and start choosing texts for your first unit. After looking at the data, it's clear you have some advanced students, several behind grade level, some English language learners and a few students with reading disabilities. How will you choose something that fits everyone's needs? Today, we'll be looking at strategies to select a text for a diverse classroom, as well as activities you can use to reinforce reading comprehension. The first step after analyzing your population is to select a text.

Selecting Texts

Texts need to be developmentally appropriate and interesting for students. The more students can relate to the information, the more likely they are to engage. You can start with a survey in the beginning of the unit about student interests and try to pair their interests with standards based on topics you need to cover.

You'll also want to choose a text in their zone of proximal development. This area of difficulty is the sweet spot of learning. You don't want to choose a level that they are already comfortable with, as this won't provide opportunities for growth. But, a text that is far above their reading level will only end in frustration and disengagement.

The zone of proximal development is the perfect area of difficulty
zone of proximal development

A text in the zone of proximal development is something that is a little more challenging than what they can already do, but still in their reach to comprehend with support. As mentioned earlier, it's important to look at data to decide on the zone of proximal development for your students.

Each student may have a different zone as well. Some tools are available to teachers to choose the same reading, but select different grade levels. The difficulty of the text and vocabulary goes down, but your students are still getting the same information. Another choice is to use the same reading for all students, but provide scaffolding, a technique used to support students while giving them the same difficulty of work. This might be bolding vocabulary words, providing a vocabulary list, giving checklists for reading strategies, or modeling annotation.

Pre-Reading Strategies

Getting students excited before you start reading increases engagement when students actually need to read. Start by getting students involved by accessing their prior knowledge. You can ask them what they already know about a topic, or show them a video clip about the topic to get them excited. For example, a scientific text on ecosystems might be challenging, but an opening clip of carnivorous grasshoppers might help them buy in.

Pre-teaching vocabulary is another important strategy. What challenging words are students likely to encounter upon reading? Can you go over some of them beforehand and then reinforce the definition with the reading? Students can also make their own vocabulary lists as they read to take ownership of their learning.

Word walls are a great way to showcase new vocabulary for a reading
word wall

Developing essential questions for your unit, or an overarching theme is important. Give your students a lens through which to view the reading. Are they focusing on the interactions between animals, practicing reading strategies, learning new vocabulary or a combination? Giving students some focus can help keep your lesson on track.

During Reading

You might think of reading as just sitting quietly, and well, reading. However, students need structure, especially if they are behind grade level. Consider reading as a class and modeling internal reading strategies. After reading a paragraph, ask students what you might ask yourself in your head. What was this paragraph about? Have them write these things down to teach annotation. In addition to modeling as a class, you can provide scaffolded areas to write notes on the reading. Having the lines to write something in reminds kids they should be taking notes.

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