How to Win the Reticent-Reader Battle: Follow the Process

  • High School
Jennifer Pitharoulis

If you are like most teachers, you have experienced the pain of assigning reading, only to be met with groans or blank stares. One reason for lack of student motivation or apparent inability to engage with the text is treating reading as an act rather than a process. Unless we are having students practice on-demand writing skills, we do not expect them to crank out a quality essay in one brief sitting. The same applies to reading. We should provide a progression of scaffolds and activities to help students prepare for, interact with, and apply a text.

Before Reading

Reading-assignment design should begin with objectives. Why are you having the students read?

-Find evidence to they will use for a later project or essay?

-Understand a perspective that differs from their own?

-Become aware of a particular way of organizing information?

Begin the reading process by explaining to students how the chosen text and accompanying activities align to your content area’s learning standards. Visible Learning for Literacy by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie, expounds the “teacher clarity” effect size of 0.75:  “Every lesson, irrespective of whether it focuses on surface, deep, or transfer, needs to have clearly articulated learning intention and success criteria.”

In addition to helping students understand the purpose of that day’s reading to help create buy-in, it is also important to scaffold the reading with the following steps:

-Connect to students’ prior knowledge,

-Provide students an opportunity to connect what they about to read with themselves and/or with the world, and

-Let students make predictions about the text.

These connections can be implemented with strategies like KWL charts, quick-write prompts, class discussions, and analysis of images related to the text.

Know Wonder Learned Chart

Further, important for all learners, but specifically for English Language Learners and struggling readers, is pre-teaching difficult vocabulary words that students will encounter in the text. Previewing the vocabulary also provides a great opportunity to provide a lesson and reminders about using context clues. Following the SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol), including choosing text and using language appropriate for student-language proficiency and explicitly teaching learning strategies, will help all learners

During Reading

Students should have a tangible way to interact with texts during reading.

In her book I Read It, But I Don’t Get It, Chris Tovani describes the phenomenon of “fake reading,” wherein readers make the execute the physical elements of reading—moving eyes across words, turning pages—without actually comprehending what they read. One solution she describes to help students make sense of text is to model and share what effective readers do. This might include a think-aloud, visualization, or summarizing demonstration. Students should have a tangible way to interact with texts during reading. One technique that makes a lengthy piece less overwhelming and provides multiple processing opportunities is Say Something. Using this strategy, students stop at predetermined points in the text to discuss each reading chunk with a partner before moving on. Another strategy, which can be employed after teaching leveled questions, is having students  jot down questions that occur to them as they read. This helps them engage with the text and provides fodder for post-reading discussion.  A third tool, Metacognitive markers, are an efficient and simple way for students to record their reactions to a text as they read.  These can also help students contribute to or even facilitate discussion and easily find evidence in the text.


Depending on the complexity of the text or your purpose, you may want the students to re-read. However, just instructing them to go back and read it again is certain to provoke whining or even revolt!

When having students reread, give them a different during-reading activity than the one they just completed. It might be filling in the next column on a KWL chart, answering deeper-level questions than the comprehension-level questions they just answered, or finding evidence that supports ideas generated during the initial read. Again, make the purpose of the second reading explicit—it should tie back to the lesson objective as well as build to a stronger end-product or understanding.

This can also be an opportune time to switch the reading format. If students completed the first read independently, they might now work with a partner or small group, and vice-versa. This will not only make the task more interesting, but also help students process the information in a new way.

After Reading

The most comprehensive learning occurs when students apply the information learned or use that learning to construct new meaning.  Some post-reading methods for probing deeper on the Depth of Knowledge chart include participating in a class debate or Socratic Seminar, creating a controversial question and conducting responsive research, or synthesizing information from multiple texts and sources to write and publish an essay/article/blog/etc. Students should have a chance to use, build upon, and share their new learnings in meaningful and authentic ways. For a lengthy or complex text, this may consist of a group research presentation that includes evidence from the text as well as from a variety of other perspectives. For a short text, it might be as simple as conducting an online search to find a related text or source to share with the class.

Students need to apply their new learning in a post-reading activity, such as conducting research about the topic.

During a recent professional development session on The Reading Process in my district, attendees found value in the concluding activity. On our shared electronic platform, I asked each of them to find and post a resource that could be used during one or more phases in the reading process. They left the session with an impressive list of strategies and descriptors they could put to use in class the next day.

Please share a strategy you know and like for engaging students in reading!

  • Literacy
  • Reading
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