Strategies In Teaching
February 24th, 2012

More Research-Based Strategies to Increase Reading Comprehension

This week's Featured Educators, Paula Landeen and Mandy Boland, help their students create original scripts based on the novel The Three Musketeers (see the video here). This week, we're discussing ways to help secondary-level students engage with difficult texts. You can read part 1 of this discussion here. These strategies are based on ideas found in the PD 360 video "Using Active Strategies For Learning."

Creating concept maps and other pictorial organizers

The brain learns visually, so any strategy that can tap into a visual learning method has a good chance of success. Asking students to create a pictorial or concept map helps them differentiate between main and supporting ideas, and helps them make meaning out of text-dense pages. Make sure to show them examples of these tools before having them create their own. If students struggle, start with a simple bubble map, or allow classtime for students to work on their maps together (lots of images of concept maps available here).

Writing summaries

Do your students really know how to summarize? This skill is harder than it seems, and may require some practice. Writing a summary helps students differentiate between main ideas and secondary ideas, and makes them search for meaning. Show students examples of good summaries and practice this skill in class before letting them do it at home.


This skill could be seen as a preliminary step to requiring written summaries, because students work in groups with teacher guidance. After students have gone through an assigned reading, have them close their books and ask them simple recall questions (such as "what were the tests that Penelope's suitors failed?" or "What are the three characteristics of covalent bonds?") Write the students' answers on the board, and then have them check their accuracy in the reading. Then, guide the students in writing a three-to-six-sentence summary of the reading.

Writing margin magnets

Require students to put a sticky note in the margin of their book, next to each paragraph. In this note, students write the paragraph's main idea. Use these margin magnets to help students review what they've read, or to help students create concept maps.

Creating a timeline as a class

Before beginning a large reading, such as a novel, create a large timeline with the beginning and end of the book clearly marked. Post this in the classroom. As students read portions throughout the weeks, have them work in groups to decide the three most significant events in the completed reading section. Then as a class, decide which 3-5 events are the most significant. These get written down on sticky notes and posted on the timeline. You can use different colors based on theme or character. By the end of the novel, this timeline becomes an excellent, group-created summary and can be used to discuss the overall storyline, novel structure, or other elements.

Create a "question parking lot"

To address issues that students may have with the reading, create a spot on the board (like a large circle) where students can write down and post any questions they have via sticky notes. From time to time, check the parking lot and address the questions. Even better: open up a particularly good question to the class, and discuss.

Please try any of these ideas in an upcoming class and let us know how your experience went. Thanks!