How to Teach Reading to High School Students

Children are expected to learn how to read early in their school careers. It is an important part of growing up and is vital to future success in life, yet millions of high school students have "slipped through the cracks" of the education system. These students are going through life without the skills needed to comprehend or apply what they read in everyday life. Because of the lack of basic skills, many are drop-outs doomed to struggle. These students cannot be taught to read using the same methods used to teach younger students. Teachers must be innovative in finding ways to teach them to succeed academically and socially.


  1. Strategies

    • 1

      Determine motivation to learn and improve reading skills. For most high school students, motivation is the key to learning to read successfully. Talk about purposes for reading, for instance, for information, entertainment, and to gain knowledge on a particular topic.

    • 2

      Pre-assess the student's reading ability to decode basic words. For example, Consonant-Vowel-Consonant and Consonant-Vowel-Vowel-Consonant word recognition must be mastered before continuing further instruction. Struggling with the mechanics of reading can interfere with the process. Reteaching of basic words may be necessary. Game formats work well with these students, instead of drill and practice.

    • 3

      Determine the reading level of the student and choose a text that is appropriate. Motivation is stronger when the material is not too difficult. Look for reading programs that are research-based.

    • 4

      Choose books and reading materials that are high-interest with a low vocabulary. Students will be more likely to read material that is relevant. They must be able to connect books and articles to the familiar aspects of their own lives. Newspaper articles and current affairs magazines are excellent sources. Magazines for teens also work well.

    • 5

      Teach the steps involved in reading for understanding. Model how to look for key words and phrases before reading. Discuss how to look for the main idea of the text. This is a teacher-directed activity.


    • 6

      Teach comprehension by focusing on concepts and vocabulary to express understanding. Discuss unknown vocabulary words before reading, and then reading for understanding will be easier.

    • 7

      Activate prior knowledge by talking about what the students already know about the subject of the text by asking questions and allowing discussions. Prior knowledge is key when determining what needs to be taught or retaught. If the students are not at all familiar with the subject at hand, more intensive teaching will be required.

    • 8

      Model good reading strategies by reading a classic story to the class and ask questions prior to, during, and after reading. Explain how to find the main idea and make predictions. Discuss summarizing as the way to find the main idea. Encourage predictions.

    • 9

      Use cooperative learning groups to encourage active participation in the reading process. In cooperative learning, students work together to accomplish a shared goal. This is a student-oriented activity rather than teacher-driven. Each student is assigned a particular role in the group and is responsible for his part of the assignment. Struggling readers should be assigned to groups made up of fluent readers as well as other struggling readers.

    • 10

      Reinforce reading concepts through the use of graphic organizers. Graphic organizers are concept maps used to structure learning and to facilitate understanding by providing an illustration of thoughts and ideas. Utilize the K-W-L method for organizing and reinforcing story structure. The K-W-L (Know, Want to Know, Learned) method allows students to write about what they already know about the subject to be read. Thinking skills are activated when they must decide what it is that they want to find out about the subject. After reading, students write or discuss what it is that they learned.

Tips & Warnings

  • Remember that struggling high-school readers must be retaught basic skills that should have been learned earlier in their school career. These skills must be reinforced before comprehension and understanding can take place.
  • Comprehension is an active, not a passive activity.
  • The goal of reading is fluency.
  • Younger students are taught to learn to read, but high school students must be taught to read to learn.
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