No matter your area expertise, chances are you are going to read with a student to help her improve. Here are some strategies to help students become better at content area reading.
7 Ways to Improve Content Area Literacy
Activate Prior Knowledge
Students are more likely to remember new information when they are able to make connections to old information. You can ask students what they already know about a topic or what they think the text will be about. Once these predictions are made, your student’s brain will be more ready to receive the new information because there will be more for the new information to latch onto.
Preview the Text
First, look at the text features with your student. Help him predict what they will be reading about, and have him create questions that will guide their reading based on the headings the text provides. This is a good strategy to help students prepare for reading that day, but it is also a good skill for students to develop as they are progressing through their careers as learners and educated adults.
Chunk the Text
Depending on the level of independence of your students, you can ask students how they want to chunk the text (by heading? by page? by paragraph?) to check understanding and learning, or you can suggest how they should chunk it.
Then, at the end of each chunked section, ask students checks for understanding.
- Can they repeat back basic information?
- Do they have new questions?
- Have they identified a new vocabulary word?
Create a Graphic Organizer
I tend to love Cornell Notes to help students understanding comprehension. These combine the first two strategies here–students will create questions and then write down answers as they read. It also provides a great study tool later when students go to study as students will already have questions to use to quiz themselves and will have the answers ready to check their progress.
However, there are many other great tools that can be used to support student reading comprehension and tutors should choose the organizers that they are most comfortable with.
A different strategy to use with students while they read is annotation–having students mark the text while they read. I always caution against this with struggling readers, however. Unless you have a really clear purpose for reading, students tend to make meaningless marks all over the paper in an attempt to complete a task, instead of increasing comprehension. Be very intentional about using annotation while you read, and be sure to regularly check for understanding to ensure that it is working.
Determining the Meaning of New Words
When a student crosses a word she does not know, it is really important that you stop and first ensure that the student can pronounce it. This will help her remember it in the long run.
Then, do not just provide the student with the definition. Help the student identify information around the word that will help her to identify its meaning. Then, work together to infer the meaning of the unknown word.
Writing for Learning
When students have read something new, it is really important to give students the opportunity to write about it in their own words. This gives students the opportunity to practice the new information in a way that is safe and comfortable, while processing it in their natural voice, which will make it more likely that students will remember and understand it later on.
Because this is a tutorial session, I encourage you to be creative in the writing for learning assignments. Try to make connections to the subjects and styles your student is interested in. For example, if your student loves theater, and you are working in science, think about how your student can make a short play to demonstrate learning.
Don’t worry if reading is not your specialty! These simple steps can turn an overwhelming process into something much more manageable. Just remember to chunk the reading with your student to make it accessible, to frequently check for his understanding, and to make sure that you build in parts that he enjoys!
Reading in sessions can be something that you both enjoy!
Natalie Mangrum is the founder and CEO of Maryland Teacher Tutors. She is a reading specialist with a bachelors in elementary education and masters in education. As a parent to two young adults, and prior teacher, Natalie knows all too well the benefits of one-on-one tutoring and coaching for students. Her mission is to ensure that every aspect of MTT is done in a spirit of excellence! She enjoys alleviating the concerns of parents so they can breathe easy knowing their children are in good hands!