Becoming a Good Reader

Reading to Learn – Not Learning to Read

Becoming a good reader in the primary grades is an important goal for primary students. When students get past the primary grades, they are expected to use reading as a tool for learning. There is little time to spend on mastering the skills of reading. Yet, many students still struggle with fluency and comprehension after third grade.

The two most significant needs of students in grades 4-8 are building fluency skills, strengthening and expanding their vocabulary, and strengthening meaning and comprehension of what is being read.

Becoming a Proficient Reader Takes Practice

Reading is a participation sport. Just like a golfer has to practice hitting the golf ball on the golf course or a tennis player has to practice playing against a worthy opponent to improve their skills, students need to practice their reading to become more fluent and powerful readers.

Practices like “Drop Everything and Read” time (DEAR time) or other sustained independent reading times are helpful ways to encourage more reading. Allowing students to choose books and participate in book clubs or book circles is another way to encourage sustained reading.

Students must actively READ – not talk about reading or complete skill-drill worksheets about discrete reading skills. Students must practice their reading skills by reading authentic text. The more time children spend actually reading, the better readers they become.

When reading is effortless and enjoyable, children can truly lose themselves in the characters’ plight or in learning about content in which they have an intense interest. Good readers often report “getting lost” in a fascinating novel. Or, they might lose track of time while reading about topics they they find interesting. This is when reading takes on a special significance for students. They are now reading to learn important content rather than learning to read.

Building Fluency in Readers

A way to build students’ fluency skills is by re-reading a specific text to practice and refine it. Readers can use audiobooks while following along in a print version of the text. After reviewing the text a few times, they can read it to a peer or teacher to show their proficiency. Kids love it, and fluency soars!

Another fun way to encourage children to practice re-reading and building fluent reading is by using plays and Reader’s Theater in the classroom. A quick internet search will provide many Reader’s Theater scripts for classroom use. Children can also write their own Reader’s Theater scripts and create podcasts of the material for others to enjoy.

Using Reading to Learn in Grades 4-8

Helping Students Increase Reading Speed

Once children can read with good phrasing, expression, and intonation, the next step is helping them increase their reading speed. Research tells us that slow readers often lose interest in reading because it is an uphill struggle that reduces their stamina. Readers who can read fluently have more cognitive energy to devote to making meaning out of the words they read.

Timed reading passages where children practice fluency can increase reading speed and practice with the material at an independent reading level. Practice with appropriate material increases reading speed as children become more comfortable readers. Again, as fluency increases and effort decreases, the brain has more time to process the meaning of the text. This makes reading more enjoyable.


Helping students become proficient readers is the key to helping students experience success in the classroom and enjoy learning. By helping students improve their fluency and expand the number of words they can access quickly and easily, teachers can help students become more proficient readers who can use reading to learn and grow their background knowledge.

If you liked this article, you may like: Helping Struggling Students Meet Reading Standards

Learn more in my book: Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading

Teaching Similarities and Differences

Why is This Skill Important?

Teaching similarities and differences are essential for students in grades 4-12. This skill is crucial because it helps students develop critical thinking and analytical skills necessary for academic success and lifelong learning. If you have read Marzano’s research in his book, Classrooms That Work, you know that helping students identify similarities and differences is considered a “high yield” strategy. It is an essential skill for teaching content and helping students improve academic performance in all content areas.

How to Teach Similarities and Differences with Graphic Organizers

One effective way to teach similarities and differences is by using graphic organizers. Graphic organizers are visual tools that help students organize and synthesize information. They provide a framework for students to compare and contrast different concepts and ideas. You use this technique with literature, for example, by asking students to write about how two stories connect. Students should describe all the ways the two stories are similar and how they are different. Provide a graphic organizer to help students organize their information before writing their papers.

Many graphic organizers can be used to teach similarities and differences. One common type is the Venn diagram. Venn diagrams are circles that overlap to show the similarities and differences between two or more items. They are an excellent tool for comparing and contrasting different concepts and ideas.

Another type of graphic organizer that can be used to teach similarities and differences is the T-chart. T-charts are charts with two columns, one for similarities and one for differences. They are a simple yet effective tool for organizing information and identifying similarities and differences between concepts or ideas.

Using Real World Examples to Deepen Thinking Skills

In addition to using graphic organizers, teachers can also use real-world examples to teach similarities and differences. For example, teachers can ask students to compare and contrast different types of food or different countries. This approach helps students understand the practical applications of similarities and differences and makes the topic more relatable and engaging.

Teaching Similarities and Differences Through Text

Another effective way to teach similarities and differences is with text. Teachers can use books and stories to teach students how to compare and contrast different characters, settings, and plot points.

In content areas, teachers can use two or more informational articles to help students understand how different authors might have different perspectives or viewpoints on a topic. This approach helps students develop critical thinking skills and helps them see the importance of reading to build knowledge.

Teachers can create activities that require students to compare and contrast different concepts and ideas. For example, teachers in younger grades might ask students to create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting two different animals. Teachers in middle or high school might use this skill to complete a T-chart comparing two different types of technology, a scientific process or the perspectives of two or more versions of a historical event.

Another effective activity for teaching similarities and differences is a gallery walk. Gallery walks involve displaying different objects or images around the classroom and asking students to compare and contrast them. This activity encourages students to think critically and analyze information from different perspectives.

Using Similarities and Differences to Deepen Thinking Skills

Since teaching similarities and differences are essential for students in grades 4-8, including these strategies in your teaching is essential. A critical aspect of teaching similarities and differences is to provide students with opportunities to practice the skill. Understanding how to compare and contrast concepts helps students develop critical thinking and analytical skills. Both of these skills are essential for academic success and lifelong learning. By using graphic organizers, real-world examples, literature, and engaging activities, teachers can help students master this skill and become confident, competent learners.

If You liked this article, you might also like: Visualizing Text to Deepen Comprehension and Retention

Learn more great strategies for teaching reading in 4-12 with Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading.

Visual Story Telling for Creative Storytelling

Students love using cameras so why not capitalize on their natural interests by getting them to use visual images to create a story in 5 frames.  This task has two important parts. The first is thinking about the story line visually, creating a title that tells about the story in a very direct way and then creating and arranging the photos to tell the story.  The second part is sharing the photo story with a group. The group can comment on the poetic or prose forms of the images, critique the structure of the story, or make any other comments about the meaning or construction of the visual story.  Here is an example of a visual story using Flickr about a young colt’s first day in the world to give you some ideas.