Teaching Methods to Promote Reading Skills in Adults

Instructor: Monica Gragg

Monica has taught college-level courses in Tourism, HR and Adult Education. She has a Master's in Education and is three years into a PhD.

This is a detailed lesson on the five basic principles used to promote reading skills in adults. We will break down reading comprehension and what type of instructional strategies are needed to engage adult non-readers.

Illiteracy in America

Reading is a basic skill needed in many aspects of life. It makes a person able to participate more easily in society, gain access to health care, and obtain gainful employment.

It may seem unusual to know an adult that cannot read, especially in the U.S. But 14 percent of our population are considered adult non-readers. 21 percent of adults read below a 5th grade level. The numbers may seem small, but when you compare them to crime they're quite extreme. 75 percent of state prison inmates in the U.S. have the reading level of a fourth grader. In an effort to curb these numbers, adult literacy programs use multiple teaching strategies to help adults not only to read but to comprehend what they are reading.

Teaching Methods

Adult literacy educators will use five basic reading instructional areas according to the National Reading Association: Alphabetics, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and assessment. This lesson explains each area in detail.

Teaching Alphabetics

We as readers use phonemes, which are basic sounds of spoken language. Graphemes are the written letters we use to represent those sounds. We use word analysis to connect phonemes (basic sounds) with graphemes (written letters) or letter combination. This process is called alphabetics. Phonemic awareness and word analysis are two big problems in adult non-readers. They struggle with applying letter-sound knowledge to understand new or unfamiliar words.

Alphabetics is taught using different oral exercises. For example, asking the adult to identify the common sounds in the words, 'grill,' 'gone,' and 'gate', or what the word 'bring' would be without the 'b'? (ring). Teaching alphabetics helps adult non-readers to master phonemic awareness and word analysis so they can manipulate phonemes (basic sounds) to form syllables, blends, and words.

Teaching Fluency

Fluency is being able to read quickly while understanding the meaning of what you are reading. Less fluent readers spend a lot of time decoding words and sentences, which is why it is difficult to understand the overall text. The best teaching practice for fluency is repeated reading aloud with immediate feedback from the instructor. The instructor may comment on the speed and accuracy levels and help with difficult words.

Teaching Vocabulary

We use only about 10,000 words in spoken English, while in writing we use at least a million! If an adult non-reader comes across vocabulary (words in a language), that they don't know the meaning of, their comprehension of the text will be interrupted. Even if they can sound out the word correctly, they will have trouble putting the surrounding words together into meaningful sentences.

A problem for adult non-readers is that they have a higher speaking vocabulary than a written one. Learning additional vocabulary helps for word recognition and reading comprehension.

Let's go back to alphabetics. When an adult non-reader is able to sound out the word, and then recognize it, they can make a connection to the meaning. Reading aloud is a strong teaching method for vocabulary, as well as applied activities where students can relate words to real life.

Teaching Reading Comprehension

When we read a text, we are able to comprehend, or interpret the meaning or message without speaking to the writer. Unconsciously or sometimes purposefully, we use comprehension strategies as a critical thinking tool.

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