What is the #1, Can’t-Live-Without Reading Strategy?

So, here you have it folks – after all this time, all this reading, all this study, all this data, all this research, I’m here to tell you what you’ve all been waiting for: the silver bullet, the answer of all answers!

What is the #1, Can’t-Live-Without Reading Strategy?  Stamina.

Huh?  That’s all you got for us, Jackson?  I can hear you saying that already!

Let me explain.

There are a lot of experts, programs and studies that will tell you that particular strategies trump all others and that if you would only teach this particular strategy, you’ll solve the world’s problems…or at least your students’ problems.

What I know after reading all those studies and working in thousands of classrooms in hundreds of schools is that the students who perform well on each and every task that calls them to comprehend text are those students who have the ability to ‘hang in there’ during reading.  Even when it’s difficult. 


So……..I bet you’re thinking…….how do I build stamina in my readers?  What reading strategy do I teach?  What reading strategies will get the best results?

I have 3 Easy-To-Implement Techniques for YOU

Technique #1:  Give kids lots of difficult text to work through

Students will learn to do difficult things by doing difficult things.  The cool by-product of doing difficult things?  Confidence! 

What does this look like in the classroom?  Lots of varied text – beef up your informational/expository text and daily teach and practice how to navigate the features of that informational text. It’s pretty common that kids get lots of practice with narrative text, so they tend to be better at navigating it.  So get them caught up by doubling up on text that informs and is factual. 

Don’t shy away from challenging your students with above grade level material.  Tell them, “This is going to be a challenge for us, but we are going to work through it together and the more we practice, the better we’ll get!”  Then do just that!

Technique #2:  Make sure you pre-talk the reading to give students ideas as to how to manage the text

Prior to reading through any text, walk-through with the students how you, as a reader, manage that text.  You might say things like, “Hmm…right here is where I KNOW I’ll have to reread because I see lots of bigger words that I’m unfamiliar with” or “Guys right away I know that I’m going to have to take notes through this part of the text because there’s lots going on and I don’t want to get confused, so I’ll set up my reading journal right now”. 

We empower kids by not teaching them a million strategies for reading, but teaching them a few powerful techniques that will span content areas and grade levels. 

SHOW THEM how you hang in there when you’re really confused in a piece of text – make it informal so that they can relate…don’t be robotic here!

Technique #3:  Reread text to find different information

This is a widely under-modeled reading strategy in the classrooms that I visit.  Think about how automatic it is for you to read something once and think to yourself, “Um, I have no idea what I just read!” or “Geesh, I need to read that paragraph, I was really distracted.”  We so automatically and unashamedly go back and reread and reread and reread until we better understand. 

The cool thing about rereading is that it also builds fluency!  So, we’re getting better at decoding swiftly while we’re actually becoming better comprehenders.  That’s so cool!

The bottom line?  Stamina (or the ability to hang in there when the going gets rough) is a skill that should be taught and PRACTICED, PRACTICED, PRACTICED.

My question to you is, are you shying away from difficult text or text that requires high comprehension because you don’t want your students to struggle too much?  Do you get frustrated when they struggle a bit through text, so you change the task or text for them?

If so, consider at least 1 time per week that you will present some tricky reading or a challenging passage to your kids and then HELP THEM THROUGH IT.

Not only will the stamina be solidified, but you’ll have a bunch of confident readers on your hands.

And that’s an awesome thing in a reading strategy!

The MUST HAVE Reading Strategies List for EVERY Teacher


I get quite a few questions about how to teach kids to read – a very common question is “What reading strategies list should I use as I teach my students to read?”

My response is usually something like this: Let’s think about how, in any field, if we want to get really good at something, we copy the masters or the greats in the field.  The masters/greats have figured it out and it behooves us to copy and steal a bit from them!

There is lots of confusion about which during reading strategies or before reading strategies are used, what they’re called, how often kids should use them and what it will look like when they’re using them perfectly.

Well.  I’m here to tell you this – reading strategies are designed to help facilitate comprehension.  End of article. End of series.  End of conversation! 

So, as we teach them to kids, we want to make sure that we’re not obsessing over the perfect use or memorizing the definition of each strategy (which, by the way, I see too much of).  Instead, we should be focusing on HOW THE STRATEGIES FACILITATE COMPREHENSION AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE TEXT!

Say I’m using a strategy like “monitoring comprehension”, for example.  That might look like this: I’m reading through a new text and I realize that a new character is popping up and I don’t know who the character is and maybe I missed something.  And so I recognize that I don’t know who this character is, so I better go back and look through the text and find where the character’s name cropped up for the first time and reread that section so that I can go back to my point of confusion and continue to read – and understand!

Using a reading strategies list is not a science – it’s part science and part art!  And we need to look at what good readers do and how they use strategies and teach reading strategies in the same way to our students!

Here is a good, solid list for you to reference as you teach and then model, model, model and model even more how good readers use strategies during reading to make sense of the text:

  • Making connections
  • Questioning
  • Visualizing
  • Making inferences
  • Synthesizing information

So, where do you start?  Start by figuring out where in the text the strategies above might come into good use – and apply the teach, model, practice, apply model to teaching that strategy.  Start small and do it right and watch comprehension soar!


What Are Reading Strategies and Why Are They So Important for All Kids?

I remember when I first started teaching I fantasized that I would have a gaggle of kids sitting at my feet while I read books aloud to them and we would marvel at the literature (of Kindergarten???) and have deep conversations about the meaning of the literature and connect the text to the world and basically just live out every English teacher’s fantasy (or at least THIS English minor’s teaching fantasy!)

And then my students showed up.

And I cried.

And my mom had to come and help me.

Like moms do.

And then I pulled it together!

So what do I mean by “pulled it together”?

I got real about what my students needed and what I would have to do to provide it to them.  Gone were the sitting at the teacher’s feet for hours on end, discussing the deeper meaning of Goodnight Moon and onto really teaching these kids WHAT good readers do and HOW to do what good readers do.

I came to understand much more clearly what reading strategies are for and why I needed to start teaching them – especially in Kindergarten!

So, here’s what I’ve learned and incorporated into my practices in Kindergarten and upper elementary, middle school and high school classrooms – these are ideas that work in REAL LIFE classrooms!

  1. Reading strategies (like compare and contrast, prediction and inference, summarizing, etc.) are solely for the purpose of boosting comprehension of the text.
  2. Reading strategies are super important to teach because by teaching them we show students how good readers think.  This is so important because learning to read is NOT a natural process.  If it were, we wouldn’t have such high illiteracy rates!
  3. Reading strategies need to be modeled, modeled, modeled to kids of all ages before they become automatic.  Just like you wouldn’t give a car to a 15 year old learning to drive, you don’t hand over comprehension of text to students without lots of hand holding!
  4. Reading strategies are a process, not a check on a checklist.  Prior to reading ANY text, you should model and think aloud for students how you, as a successful reader, approach and attack the text.  Things like “Hmm…this has me thinking that I’m a little confused, let me use my reading comprehension strategy of re-reading to see if I can make more sense of this.” Think-alouds like this give kids permission to ask questions about the text.
  5. Reading strategies give kids TOOLS to figure out difficult text – this is the whole point!  Teaching reading comprehension shouldn’t been a shot in the dark – we need to ARM kids with the big guns (proven reading comprehension strategies) to be able to take on new text with lots of new vocabulary and lots of new content knowledge. 
  6. Reading strategies give kids confidence.  Have you ever seen a strong, confident reader cower at the thought of difficult text?  Probably not!  They go rip-roarin’ into the text because they’re thinking, “I’ve got this!” – and what you see is them regularly and appropriately applying reading comprehension strategies!

So, what are reading strategies?

Reading strategies are flexible tools designed to help facilitate text comprehension.

And why are they so important for all kids?

Reading strategies are critical to develop in order to boost comprehension, confidence and clarity while reading text.

So, where do you start with all of this?  Start by reflecting on your lessons from last year – did you make assumptions that kids already knew/had the reading strategies?  Were there multiple opportunities each day in different kinds of text where you modeled the strategies?  Where do you see obvious opportunities to model next year?

Now, I’ve got to go and get back to prepping my Proust lesson for my kindergarten demo tomorrow.  *wink wink*