The Five Basic Tenets for Teaching Reading

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Teachers put a lot of time into designing lessons to teach the many skills involved in reading. This lesson outlines the five tenets followed when teaching reading.

Reading Teachers

Reading teachers have quite the challenge. Reading is not just a simple ability, but a wide variety of skills that intertwine in order to form a proficient reader. Doing so takes time and dedication, on the part of teachers and students alike.

The collective skills needed to learn reading mostly focus on reading comprehension, which is being able to understand the meaning of a written text. True comprehension requires an in-depth education. In order to properly teach reading, you have to cover the five basic tenets of reading.

Build the Meaning

The first tenet is the reader constructing meaning from the text. In order to understand this concept, think about the purpose of the written word. The human species is unique in our vast abilities to communicate. We have not only developed a complex verbal language, but also a written one.

Thus, the ultimate purpose behind reading is to communicate. Each of us has to be able to glean the meaning from a text. To work on constructing meaning from a text, students begin with recall, which is recollecting specific details from a text. Another focus is summarizing, or outlining the main points of a text.

There are many classroom activities that put these reconstruction skills on display. One example is to create a comic strip. Not only will students have to recreate the main points, they will also work on the sequence of events, both of which deal with recall and summarizing.

Prior Knowledge

The second tenet focuses on the role of prior knowledge, which consists of any information one already knows before reading the text.

For instance, most students have already been exposed to fairy tales throughout their childhoods. So by high school age, they bring concepts they have already seen to any new fairy tale. We all have preconceived notions about princesses, princes, fairy godmothers, or evil witches that will affect how we approach a new story.

In fact, if you were to try to write a fairy tale right now, chances are you would begin your story with ''Once upon a time'' and end it with ''happily ever after.'' These examples of prior knowledge are so well-known that we assume every fairy tale must include these phrases.

A visual of our prior knowledge about characters in fairy tales.
fairy tale

The biggest part of using prior knowledge in teaching reading skills is to make students aware of it. Do so by using anticipation guides, journal entries, or surveys before the reading of a text.


The third tenet of teaching reading centers on metacognition, which is knowing how you think. Are you aware of your own thinking process? Do you need a visual? Or to touch and feel something to understand how it works? Or maybe you have to write everything down?

In reality, metacognition applies to every facet of learning, not just reading. Understanding one's own way of thinking will help that person learn pretty much anything at all. For reading, students need to be able to apply strategies to help themselves.

For instance, if a child is more visual learning-oriented, he or she can draw a character based on the descriptions in the story. You can even take it a step further and make puppets out of every character. Then students can recreate the plot with a puppet show. Teachers can provide a number of options to allow students to choose activities that suit their learning style.

Reading and Writing

The fourth tenet is using the close relationship between reading and writing to enhance comprehension.

Overall, the more a student reads, the more his or her writing skills will improve and vice versa. Being exposed to various types of texts and trying your hand at various types of writing will enhance your skills in both.

In terms of teaching, provide samples before asking your students to write. For example, if they have never seen a script, provide one before asking them to write their own. Seeing the format and flow of a real script will help students learn how to write one.

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