We know what active reading looks like: students reading voraciously and talking and thinking about what they read. When students are active readers, they know that reading is much more than sounding out words—it’s building vocabulary and connecting background knowledge to new learning. For students to end the year as active readers, we have to spend time engaging them in active reading every day.
What is active reading?
In short, active reading is … active. It’s students actively thinking about what they are reading, either following along with a novel, or learning more about a topic with a nonfiction text. The active part is in how students engage with each text. Rather than skimming a text to get the main idea and moving on, active reading means students are engaging in many ways with a text. They’ll think through questions before, during, and after reading. After reading, they’ll share their ideas. And as they read from text to text, they’ll build knowledge about everything from mushrooms to mysteries.
Why is active reading important?
Once students are able to read words on the page and are able to understand the basics of text, active reading helps them add purpose to reading. The more kids read, the better readers they become. And active reading strategies have been associated with improving students’ vocabulary and overall comprehension.
Active reading also helps students see real purpose in reading, so that they’re not just reading for an assignment or for school, they’re able to read to satisfy their own curiosity. Active reading starts in the classroom and can be done with any text, from science articles to biographies in history class to novels. Below are 11 ways to turn every student in your room into an active reader.
Active reading strategies to model
Get a book you’re genuinely excited about, and show students how you’re thinking as you read. It doesn’t have to be a novel—even reading through your favorite picture book and explaining what makes this book interest you can be a quick mini-lesson in active reading.
1. Ask questions
Source: Dr. Precise’s Literacy Playground
Active readers are always asking questions. When they start reading, they’re wondering why the author chose the title they did, or what an article will reveal about the topic. During reading, an active reader is constantly asking what will happen next or how the aspects of a topic fit together.
Active readers will ask questions that range from the most basic to the most advanced, so we want to make sure lessons incorporate all kinds of questions, starting with literal and advancing from there.
Source: University of Michigan
Use this list of higher-order thinking questions as you plan lessons.
2. Teach multisyllabic word reading
Source: Ms. Winter’s Bliss
Even after students have learned phonics patterns, they’ll run into words that are complicated. Advantageously, ketogenesis, and transfiguration come to mind. Having a strategy to approach longer words will help students read more complex texts, and it will support their vocabulary as they may have heard longer words before they see them in text.
Teach the BEST strategy to sound out longer words:
- Break the word apart.
- Examine each part.
- Say each part.
- Try the whole word.
3. Set a purpose for reading
Rather than diving into a text, have students do some prework. Talk about the title and what it could mean. In fiction, do they think the title refers to the setting, plot, or characters? For nonfiction, what knowledge do they bring to this reading? What questions do they already have?
Read more about questions that set a purpose for reading.
4. Set a purpose while reading
After each chapter or section, have students think about what was new and what they’re wondering about next. For fiction, have students pause after each chapter or big event to think about how the story is changing and why the author is taking it in this direction. For nonfiction, knowing what you want to know helps direct what students focus on and what information isn’t as important.
5. Teach text structure
Source: Teacher Thrive
A nonfiction text’s structure determines how we’ll approach it. Teach students the various text structures and how to approach each one at the start of their reading so they can use text structure to help them comprehend what they’re reading.
6. Preteach important vocabulary
Source: Miss DeCarbo
Building a strong vocabulary is something that all readers need, and the more kids read, the larger their vocabularies become. It is helpful to teach words that are specific to a text (Tier 3 words). Teach three to five words per text. For example, before reading a text about genetics, you may want to teach words like dominant, recessive, and allele.
7. Read around to define new words
Readers are always going to come across new words. Teach students to read around new words. When they come to a word they don’t know:
- Stop and reread the sentences before and after the word.
- Think of a potential synonym for the new word.
- Plug that synonym in and see if it makes sense.
- If it makes sense, keep reading. If it does not make sense, either try again or try another vocabulary hack, like a dictionary or asking a peer.
8. Teach annotation
Source: The Joy of Teaching
Rather than having students circle and highlight, which can get out of hand, teach them to shrink paragraphs down to less than 10 words. Every paragraph or so, stop and think about what the author is saying. Write the gist of the paragraph in 10 words or less.
9. Reread strategically
Teach students how to recognize when they need to reread (when they have read a paragraph or two and can’t tell themselves or someone else what they read). And when they are rereading, teach them how to read differently the second time around so they don’t miss the meaning. To mix it up, students could:
- Read it aloud.
- Read slower.
- Use their finger to follow along with the text.
10. Discuss daily
Have students discuss what they’re reading in pairs or small groups. Keep the focus on curiosity, not necessarily literal comprehension. To do this, focus on open-ended questions:
- What does this text make you want to learn more about?
- What surprised you most in what you read today?
- What advice would you give the author?
Some ideas for engaging students in text that don’t involve talking:
Source: Building Book Love
11. Extend active reading with your classroom library
Source: Lessons With Laughter
During a unit, create a section of your classroom library that includes books that encourage students to read deeply about a topic. Or have a section that encourages students to read more broadly. For example, if you are studying volcanoes, fill one section with more nonfiction about volcanoes (and think outside the book—include lists of websites, videos, or documentaries). Then, include a section with books that feature volcanoes but aren’t necessarily nonfiction—graphic novels, mysteries, and other fiction books that incorporate volcanoes. The idea is to capture any and all student interest and help them run with it.
What are your top tips for creating a love of reading? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, check out 25 surprising benefits of reading.