Teaching reading: strategies & methods to encourage learning

6 mins read
Andrea Heath

Various studies show that promoting reading can have a major impact on children and their future. In this article, we’ll look at strategies and methods to support the teaching of reading and comprehension in early elementary school and beyond.

There’s more than one way to teach children to read. So, it’s important to have a range of different strategies and methods to encourage learning in different students.

Teaching reading: strategies & methods

  1. Read aloud to students
  2. Provide opportunities for students to read, write and talk about texts
  3. Read texts repeatedly to support fluency
  4. Teach children the tools to figure out words they don’t know
  5. Provide time for studying spoken language, including vocabulary and spelling
  6. Use prior knowledge to make connections
  7. Predict
  8. Visualize
  9. Summarize
  10. Teach critical thinking skills

The early years: strategies for teaching reading

Literacy teaching and learning are core responsibilities of teachers and schools. Yet teaching reading and writing is a complex and highly skilled professional activity. Many young learners start school with little knowledge about how to read and write. Teachers are tasked with helping children to bridge the significant gap between linking their written and spoken language. Learning to read is critical, with research showing that reading for pleasure can:

  • Promote improved health and wellbeing
  • Help build social connections and relationships
  • Increase the chances of social mobility.

Literacy development is an evolving and non-linear process that encompasses foundational skills (phonemic awareness), word recognition, reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension (Simms & Marzano, 2018).

For a student’s ultimate success, teachers must:

  • Understand how students learn these skills, and
  • Implement best practices when teaching these skills.

Learning to read should include exposure to a wide variety of exciting books from different genres. Students should also experience reading through different mediums, such as interactive apps and web content.

Here are 10 strategies you can use to support your students in developing their reading skills and boosting comprehension.

1. Read aloud to students

Read-aloud regularly in the classroom and encourage parents to do the same at home. Reading aloud has many benefits for students, including improving comprehension, building listening skills, and broadening their vocabulary development.

2. Provide opportunities for students to read, write, and talk about texts

Regularly giving students time to read, write, and talk about texts can enhance their skill development across multiple areas. For instance, reading more helps you become a better writer. By talking about texts and hearing the perspectives of classmates, young children also have the opportunity to deepen their comprehension. Encourage parents to further engage young readers by asking them to help their child attack difficult words and ask questions about the text that will promote discussions.

3. Read texts repeatedly to support fluency

Allow students to read the same texts multiple times. By doing this, they not only build fluency but also build confidence. The more confident they become in their reading skills, the more likely they will enjoy reading.

4. Teach children the tools to figure out words they don’t know

Teaching students to read for the ultimate goal of producing independent readers begins by explicitly teaching the code we use to decode words. That starts with teaching phonemic awareness.

Here are some other strategies that support phonics instruction:

  • For beginning readers, target words that are decodable. These are regular spellings with regular sounds. (Ex. such – /s/ /u/ /ch/ not gone)
  • Sound out each phoneme and blend as you go by going back to the first sound everytime a sound is added. Hold the sound (sing) then add the next sound. Ex. /g/, /r/, gr—, /ow/, grow.

Note: Students may want to look at pictures for context, but this does not help them decode words. As we encourage students to read more difficult texts, they won’t have pictures to rely on, so encourage them not to use the pictures to decode difficult words.

This might involve combining strategies, such as:

  • Sounding out a word using phonics knowledge
  • Looking at the pictures
  • Skipping the word and coming back to it after reading the rest of the sentence
  • Thinking about what would make sense.

As an elementary teacher, you can support the families of your young students by sharing phonics resources. By providing parents with practical resources, you are setting them up for a productive and positive reading experience with their child.

5. Provide time for studying spoken language, including vocabulary and spelling

A comprehensive approach to teaching reading also includes providing time to develop complementary skills, such as:

  • Spoken language, including through conversation or oral presentations
  • Vocabulary, such as building class lists while reading texts
  • Spelling
  • Grammar, such as through bite-sized video content like the Grammar Miniclips series.

6. Use prior knowledge to make connections

Each student brings unique prior knowledge to their reading education. This knowledge is the sum of all experiences they bring to the reading or viewing of a text. This could include personal experiences, cultural or religious experiences and concept knowledge. Prior knowledge helps young readers infer meaning from text, a skill recognized as a predictor of reading comprehension at various developmental stages and one of the drivers of sophisticated reading ability. An early reader can activate prior knowledge and make connections at each stage.

  • Before reading, they could ask ‘What do I already know about this topic?’
  • During reading, they could reflect ‘This part of the text is just like…’
  • After reading, they could offer ‘I know more about this topic now.’

7. Predict

Prediction is about anticipation and working out the actions and ideas coming next. An early reader can use prediction at each stage of reading.

  • Before reading, they could suggest ‘From the cover, I think this book will be about…’
  • During reading, they could predict which word comes next in a sentence.
  • After reading, they could comment on whether their predictions were correct.

8. Visualize

Visualizing combines using your senses and activating prior knowledge to create a mental picture. Ask students to create a “mind movie.” Young readers, especially with a teacher or parent prompting, can draw on their senses to imagine smells, sounds, tastes, and images that go with the story they are reading – like a show or movie in their mind.

9. Summarize

Teaching students to recall the main points or ideas of a story is not easy. First, they need to be able to put the story in order, then put it in their own words before they can articulate a ‘summing up’ of the author’s main ideas. To start to learn to summarize, young students can practice:

  • Selecting the key words from a paragraph
  • Locating the topic sentence (often found at the start or end of a paragraph)
  • Responding to general questions about a story
  • Talking through the story in their own words

10. Teach critical thinking skills

Critical thinking gets readers to think about why an author creates a text in a particular way (author’s purpose). You can encourage young readers to ask some of the following questions to get them thinking critically about what they are reading:

  • Why did the author write this story?
  • What did the author leave out of the story?
  • How do I feel about this story?


Reading comprehension strategies

Opportunities for teaching reading comprehension occur at all levels throughout the curriculum. Good comprehension draws from both linguistic knowledge and knowledge of the world we live in. Students develop skills in comprehension though high-quality discussion with teachers, and from regularly reading and discussing a range of texts across genres. Therefore, the reading strategies discussed earlier in the article should be practiced, consolidated and expanded on as a student progresses through school.

Growing readers must learn to read on the lines, between the lines, and beyond the lines. Reading will involve literal, interpretive, and inferential comprehension as it deepens in complexity. As students get more advanced, they’ll learn concepts such as transferring knowledge to new contexts and understanding an author’s viewpoint, purpose, and intended audience. And when they acquire those skills, they’ll be able to critically analyze messages and information in a range of literacy modes for various purposes.

Recommendations for teachers to support the progression of reading comprehension:

  • Make sure your students spend significant amounts of time reading engaging texts.
  • Select texts for students which support authentic learning. These could include topic-based or interest-based texts.
  • Give students access to a range of texts in various genres (multimodal, print-based, images, animations, graphic representations, video, audio, diagrams/charts, newspapers/magazines, fiction, non-fiction).
  • Identify and discuss vocabulary from rich texts with your students.
  • Give your students time to talk to each other about the texts they have read and listened to.
  • Give students time to write and reflect on their reading.

Bring English language arts classes to life for your students

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