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Targeted Reading Instruction: How to Teach Reading Strategies

teaching Feb 15, 2017

Teaching Reading Strategies with Targeted Reading Instruction

Teaching Reading Strategies is harder than it looks. It always seems so easy when you look at all the worksheets on strategies. Unfortunately, it is impossible to effectively teach reading strategies through worksheets. Let's face it, skills taught in isolation remain in isolation. As Nancie Atwell said, " A child sitting in a quiet room with a good book happens to be the only way anyone ever grew up to become a reader." I would add, rinse and repeat. Often.

So, how do we effectively teach the strategies and skills necessary for students to practice in order to become readers?

Teaching reading is a lot like directing an orchestra or teaching someone to drive a car. There are many parts that need to be learned, practiced and coordinated in order for real reading to occur. No wonder our efforts to teach students to read well becomes a struggle and often fails for so many students. This is why we need an overall plan, a daily plan and individual plans.

Let's begin...

In the beginning, there is phonemic awareness. We will go nowhere when we don't have keys  to start the car or have a musical instrument to hold. These are the keys. However, as we begin here, we need to be supporting with read alouds and concepts of print. Read alouds help students see reading as desirable and fun. Understanding concepts of print helps students begin to see becoming a reader as a possibility. We are never teaching only one skill when we are teaching students to read. Too often teachers in Pre-K, K and 1st grade focus all their energy on phonics and hold reading hostage until students get their letter and sound knowledge "under control". BIG mistake. Do not hold reading hostage.

Read Alouds: Concepts of Print

Read aloud every day as much as you can. You can never read enough stories to your students. As you read, talk through the concepts of print. I always read the author's name and illustrator's name. I point out if we have read another book by the same author. "Oh, yeah. We like this author. He's funny. We'll have to see if we can find more books by him when we go to the library tomorrow. Will you help me remember to do that?"

I always point to the words as I read big books to a class. Talk about which way the print goes. I act confused with big books sometimes and start to read the wrong direction. It's powerful. Kids love to correct adults! "What?! I'm going the wrong way? Are you sure? Ok. What's the rule about direction in reading?" Your students will never go the wrong way again. I call this Wrong Way Ralph. Afterwards, we talk about how driving the wrong way down the road doesn't work and neither does reading in the wrong direction.


Our students need to code for reading as fast as we can teach it to them. I teach 5 letters with their sounds a week. 4 consonants and a vowel (short vowel sound). Additionally, each student is taught the letters in their name and the sounds they make the first week of school.

Writing About Reading

Begin writing from the first day of school. "What?! My students don't even know how to write their names!" Perfect. Start there. However, add in reading response journals or pages from day 1. Students are perfectly capable of responding to literature and thinking. I start with pictures. Grab these FREE printable response pages for beginning, middle and end (3 levels to independence).

The Symphony: Concepts of Print + Phonemic Awareness + Skills + Thinking and Responding

Part 1: Phonemic Awareness

Get ready! This is where the symphony comes in. After our morning meeting, we start our day with phonics. My students all have white boards, markers and erasers (use an old, clean sock). Students sit  on the floor with their white boards in front of my white board. I say a sound and the students attempt to write it. Then, I write it and they check and change if they were wrong. I can see everyone's work and can make quick notes on a post-it of anyones struggles.

When we are learning new letters and sounds, I write them and the students copy my strokes saying the letter name and the sound the whole time we write. We brainstorm a quick list of words that start with that sound on the side of the board (and draw a little picture). I point out and underline the letter in the word. Each day we add a new letter/sound and try to remember the ones we have learned so far (see above).

Correcting Students: I am very gentle in my corrections. We talk about how some letters are very naughty and like to go the wrong way. It's the students' job to make the letters behave. I model this for them and sometimes make random letters wrong and ask students to find the naughty letter. If I see someone make a letter wrong and they aren't seeing how it is different from mine on the board, I say, "Oops. You have a naughty letter. Can you see if you can make it behave?" If they can't, I make a note and save it for individual instruction later.

Note: Once we get through all the letters and sounds, I encourage students to write both the capital and the lower case letters for each sound I say. I give them air high fives as "bonus points" for writing both when we practice. I never stop teaching phonemic awareness with students in K-2. We review letters and sounds and up the ante with digraphs, word work, syllables, etc. all year long.

Part 2: Skills

Next comes a story. I use big books for this part. If you don't have big books, you can project a book with a document camera or write out a couple of pages from a book on large pieces of chart paper to use. You want to have to turn a couple of pages. If you use this method, keep the actual book handy for the rest of the reading.

I introduce the book and talk about the title, author, illustrator and cover picture. As I read, I talk about any other concepts of print I am working on. We make predictions using evidence from the title and picture before I read. We check our prediction a couple of pages in and adjust it based on new evidence. My students are story detectives. I teach them what evidence is and how to cite it. We make connections, ask questions, wonder about things and mark the pages with post-it notes as we do.

Additionally, I have 2 words already picked out to "struggle on". Using my reading strategies, I think aloud about the letter it begins with (one we're working on), and try to remember it's sound. Together we use those clues and look at the picture, think about what we have already read and make a good guess. Taking the mystery out of the process is really important.

If there are two lines of print on a page, we talk about the return sweep. Before going on to the next page, I sometimes act confused "Which way do I go now?" Reading is a fun game we are playing together and my students have important parts to play.

Part 3: Thinking and Responding

When we are done reading, we talk about the story. What was your favorite part? Why? Why do you think she did that? Would you do that? What would you have done differently?

Then, I assign a response. I model one using the previous day's book. Modeling drawing the pictures and thinking of letters to put down to represent the words I want to say is an important piece. Reading Response assignments can be: Beginning, Middle and End, make up a new ending, etc. Soon, students are off to their seats and drawing their responses, adding a letter here or there and eventually writing whole words and sentences. Students grow wings and fly very quickly with this method.

Part 4: Small Groups

Next, I put books in students hands after the first month of school for beginners and ASAP for emergent readers. Beginning readers can memorize patterns and enjoy "reading" early on without stress. Using small group sessions, we practice using pictures and simple, repetitive text to predict and read. We talk about concepts of print after we read. Students put the books in their book boxes to practice and get excited about books.  Later in the week, they can make their own books with the same patterns. I like ____. I don't like ____. Students write the letters they hear and draw a picture to remind themselves of what they wanted to say.

Teach joyfully-



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