10 Reading Comprehension Tips

What is reading comprehension?

Reading comprehension is understanding what is being read. The reader is able to grasp information from any kind of text (fiction or nonfiction) and demonstrate knowledge of the piece by answering questions, discussing aspects or completing an activity.

Why is reading comprehension important?

Reading comprehension is important because everything is text-based in education. Students are expected to read articles, novels, directions, discussion responses, essay prompts, lab reports, and more. Once they read these works, students are then expected to do something with the information- participate in discussions, complete a homework assignment, fill out note sheets, etc.

Whether we realize it or not, reading comprehension is the crux of what students need to be successful in education.

There’s typically a shift in English/Language Arts classes when a student enters middle school. They not only have five different teachers, but they are expected to read and interact with texts in all of these classes. There is no Reading class where students practice decoding or have phonics lessons. These are some HUGE adjustments for young readers, and the need for strong reading comprehension is crucial.

So, what do we do if a student is having difficulty with reading comprehension?

Over the last ten years I’ve worked with thousands of middle and high school students and have figured out some really awesome tips for improving reading comprehension.

Tip #1- Activate prior knowledge.

When introducing a new text, tap into a student’s knowledge on an aspect of the text. It can be historical knowledge, a connection (text to self, text to world, text to text, text to media) or an experience.

Last month I had my students read an article about the history of education in the United States. To activate prior knowledge, I had students talk to their parents about what high school was like for them. What clothes did they wear? What did they eat for lunch? What did they do for fun? How was your parents’ school life different from your school life today?

The purpose of activating prior knowledge is to prepare student for what’s ahead. I like to think of it as giving my kiddos a “heads up”. They are able to focus on a specific concept and will be on the lookout for this idea while reading the text.

Tip #2- Provide necessary background information.

This is honestly one of my favorite pre-reading activity, that totally lends itself to reading comprehension. Author’s always use some sort of inspiration in their personal lives in their writing and this can typically influence the author’s purpose. Some teachers LOVE to give pre-reading information about the author, which is never a bad idea, but I personally prefer to dive into the historical aspects of a new text.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle is legit one of my favorite novels to read with students. Before I start this classic piece of children’s literature, I spend time going over the timeline of events during the 1960s, since this is when the book was written. The Space Race and Communism are underlying themes and concepts in the novel, so it’s important the students are familiar with these ideas before we read.

I’m currently reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde with 8th-10th graders. Before we even opened the text, we spent about a week learning about the Victorian era and watching parts of Oliver! to help students visualize the setting. For the record, this musical has superb costumes and sets that really capture London during this time period.

Providing background information helps students become familiar with time periods, historical events, the author, or concepts they will be reading about. It can also help with visualizing (one of the reasons I showed Oliver!).

Tip #3- Introduce new vocabulary

So many times students glaze over an unknown word and continue reading. Why? Because it takes extra time to try and figure out how to pronounce a new word, let alone try and figure out the definition. This typical strategy tends to cause some problems with reading comprehension because one word can change an entire sentence, paragraph or part of the plot.

Listing new vocabulary words for students before they start reading, will remind them that these are new words they will encounter in the reading. These words can be right from the textbook or hand-picked by the teacher. Some teachers also go ahead and give students the definition of the vocabulary words to make it even easier for them. As an English teacher, I usually have my students define the words on their own.

Tip #4- Provide a summary

SparkNotes are amazing. I can honestly say that as a student AND as a teacher. In college, to help with my understanding of various Shakespeare plays, I would read the SparkNotes after I finished reading a play. This worked really well for me because I would often miss concepts since Old English always threw me off.

As teachers, we usually think to summarize a text after we read it to fill in any gaps with reading comprehension. Whether it’s a teacher summary, SparkNotes or a video, there are plenty of options for providing students with a condensed version. My kids are really loving chapter summary videos from Course Hero on YouTube.

It’s okay to give students a summary of the text before or after they read.

Recently, I started giving a summary of the chapter before I read it with my classes, and it’s been an awesome game changer for my special education students. I’ve read the SparkNotes for the chapter to highlight the important plot points for my kiddos and it has been quite helpful. I will also point out key information while we’re reading and at the end, but adding that extra at the beginning is a new favorite technique of mine.

Along with SparkNotes, other websites like CliffNotes and Shmoop are also great resources to use for summaries. Personally, I like the sense of humor with Shmoop, especially for high school students.

Tip #5- Listen to the audio version

I will admit that I was never an audio books fan until about two years ago when I came across Jim Dale’s version of Harry Potter. (Which, for the record, is AMAZING and I’m totally addicted to listening to it).

Currently enjoying book 5 of Harry Potter…again :).

So, how exactly do audiobooks help with reading comprehension? When a student listens to the audiobook version of a story, it helps relieve the pressure of decoding. He or she can just focus on what is happening in the story without stressing about how to pronounce a word.

While I LOVE my Audible app, when I want to post the audio version for my class of students I generally use YouTube. Teachers have been so kind to post themselves reading full novels aloud for free and there are also some professional readers on there as well.

Bonus tip: one audio version for Dr. Jekyll and Hyde was too slow for my kiddos, so to keep them engaged I sped up the video. In YouTube, simply click on the gear (settings), go to Playback speed and change it up.

Tip #6- Read the eBook version

Nowadays, kids are used to reading from screens whether it be tablets and Chromebooks, so why not take advantage of this technology? While some students prefer to read a hard copy of a text (as do I once in awhile) there are quite a few perks to reading an eBook.

Students can change the font. Whether you’re reading on a phone or tablet, iBooks and the Kindle app offer this feature, which is great for students who are visually impaired.

Students can look up unknown words. Ebooks have this amazing quality where with just a few finger taps a reader can look up an unknown word. As we discussed with Tip #3 , defining new words plays a huge role in reading comprehension, and these nifty pieces of technology make this task super simple for readers.

Students can highlight and record notes. One of the drawbacks about having a class set of novels/texts, is that students aren’t allowed to write in the books. Many teachers, including myself, rely on the Post-it method for notes. However, eBooks allow students to highlight and make notes right on the text. Students can truly make notes their own, while interacting with the information.

Students can read anywhere at any time. I LOVE the portability of eBooks. I have the Kindle app on all of my devices and rely on iCloud to save my place as I switch back and forth. It’s no big deal if I forget to bring a book because I have a whole library in my pocket. In addition to Kindle, apps like Vooks, Epic!, Raz-Kids and ABC Mouse offer incredible eBooks (many with audio versions) for readers of all ages. For more information on ABC Mouse, check out my review on this online learning program.

Bonus tip: For my auditory learners and special education kiddos, I always recommend listening to the audio version and following along with the text of the story. Many prefer to use their phones or tablets so everything is in the palm of their hands.

Tip #7- Covering the basics

This is the go-to for every teacher, regardless of what grade or subject we teach. Guided notes or just straight reading comprehension questions require students to DO SOMETHING with their new knowledge.

In my early years of teaching, I tried to get away from this “traditional” method of teaching. During literature circle discussions, I found that I had some students missing key plot points. Now, learning from this, I ask some of the basic questions (describe this character, discuss the main conflict, etc.) but I will also throw in higher order thinking questions focusing on quote analysis. This allows me to touch on those basic points while also hitting making inferences and drawing conclusions.

Other than using reading comprehension questions, there are other ways to cover the basics:

Students can bullet point important key information from the text. To differentiate this, the teacher can provide a template with headings to help students navigate the text and note sheet

Students can complete Cornell Notes. This website offers a bunch of different templates students can use.

Students can draw a picture with captions. I really like this idea for breaking down chapter events, even for older students. Students can either physically draw or they can create a Google doc and copy and paste pictures from the web.

For more note-taking suggestions, check out my post: 6 Effective Nonfiction Note-Taking Tips.

Tip #8- Always share thoughts

Along the lines of having students do something with the new information they read, it’s just as important to talk about what is read.

Whether I’m tutoring one-on-one or teaching an English class, at the end of every chapter we read, I ask students to share their thoughts, comments or questions. This encourages students to reflect on the reading and evaluate their knowledge of the chapter. When kids ask questions, I’m able to determine if I need to re-teach or summarize the chapter. If a student says the almighty, “I don’t know.”, I often ask what the purpose of the chapter is. Is it a fluff chapter that is just there to connect the plot events? Does it move the plot along? Why?

When in a class, I tend to use Think-Pair-Share (turn and talk) with kids for this part. I then take volunteers at the end so every student can hear other thoughts, comments and questions. Why? You never know what a kid misses during a reading. They may go to the bathroom, day dream, or get distracted, etc. This is a quick strategy that allows all students to get filled in.

Tip #9- Encourage connections

The first few weeks of sixth grade are always the most challenging as a teacher because we are helping kiddos transition from elementary school to middle school. For those that have taught this age group, we all have stories where we mention a dog as a character and we get hands waving frantically for kids to tell us all about their dog. Kids love to talk and make connections to things we say all the time.

So, why not encourage students to make connections with the various texts they read?

This not only increases student engagement, but it also helps kids interact with a text. Connections (text to text, text to self, text to world, text to media) will not happen with every reading, but suggest for kids to make connections whenever possible. Also, make sure you take a few minutes here and there for students to share their connections.

Tip #10- Keep communication open

It’s very rare that a kid will approach me and say they don’t understand something. A student will sit in silence, skip quiz questions and not complete homework because they are struggling.

As teachers, we need to create a system of communication that works for our classrooms.

When I taught in brick and mortar schools, I created Communication Cards. I took red, yellow and green index cards, fastened them together and had kids “show me your color” during lessons. Sometimes I had kids hold up their cards, but mostly I had them lay the card down on their desk. Red cards meant a student needed help ASAP, yellow meant they wanted to chat and green meant they were good to go. I would approach red cards first to see what they needed from me before moving onto the yellow cards. It’s amazing how honest kids were when they knew they didn’t have to ask questions in front of the whole class.

In my virtual classrooms today, I encourage kids to private chat me in Zoom or send me an email. This year more than ever I have had kids ask me specific questions about assignments and advocate for themselves. I also text my students A LOT because I know they hate talking on the phone. Many of them will send me a quick text with a question and then they are able to get right back to work. Keeping that chain of communication open is incredibly important.

Involving parents in supporting reading comprehension.

Every year I have parents reach out to me asking about how they can support their learner at home, especially in middle and high school. My usual suggestion is to read our class novel together at home while we are reading it in school so parents can talk about it with their student.

Head over to my TpT store to snag this FREE resource

In addition, I also recommend doing family read-alouds a few times a week and asking some reading questions. I developed this FREE list of reading questions for parents to use in this exact situation.

For more specific tips and tricks for parents, check out my post on Reading Comprehension at Home: 5 Things Parents Can Do.

Reading comprehension is necessary for all classes, not just English. It is never too late to introduce students to new tips and strategies for improving reading comprehension.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

5 Ways to Support Special Education Students One-on-One in Virtual Secondary English Classes

A few months ago, I did a post about Accommodating Special Education Students in the Virtual Classroom, but what can teacher’s do who work one-on-one with students?

While being a virtual English teacher and tutor, I also I currently work with special education students in an out of district placement school as a Reading Specialist. All of my students are reading below grade level and have very specific accommodations. I mainly pull students out (virtually) weekly for 45 minutes of one-on-one instruction.

My role is to support my students in their English courses, and sometimes in other content classes where reading comprehension assistance is required. For those of you looking for ideas and resources in the virtual classroom, below are some suggestions that I have used with my students.

  1. Ebooks. I absolutely LOVE sharing my screen in Zoom with students, and using ebooks has been the easiest way for me to do this. I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription that has come in quite handy, and I also spend my own money purchasing books I know I will use with multiple students. Currently, I’m reading The Witches and Fantastic Mr. Fox with two high school students. By sharing my screen, students can follow along while we read and they can use the pictures to help with reading comprehension (which is why I chose these texts). These books don’t come across as babyish for my teenaged students, and have pictures and manageable vocabulary so they don’t feel like they’re struggling.
  2. Videos. I have always been a believer about using videos and movies in the classroom, and the same carries into my virtual one. Sometimes it’s not realistic to show a whole movie, so I like to keep a stash of short film versions on hand. One of my junior’s needs lots of support with reading comprehension and vocabulary, so Shakespeare’s Macbeth is definitely not an easy text for her. Sparknotes is amazing to begin with for my kids, but they now have video summaries of the text! The almost ten minute video touches on theme, plot and characterization in a visual way that is perfect for classified students.
  3. Verbal answers. Have you ever watched kids try to type? It’s actually quite painful sometimes because kids take foreverrrr to type a sentence, let alone a paragraph. I try to eliminate as much frustration as I can for my kiddos, so I do a lot of verbal responses to assess reading comprehension skills. I also use this method for working on quizzes and tests, and I will email the teacher what score the student earned. Teachers normally give me the assessment so they know the questions asked.
  4. Pictures. Vocabulary always seems to be an area that my students struggle with, especially when dealing with high school level texts. While reading Beowulf with a junior, she was struggling with comprehension because she didn’t know what armor was. While we read a modified version of this challenging story, I stop every so often and show her pictures of important objects in the story (sword, bow and arrow). We work a lot on visualizing to help with her weak reading comprehension, so this strategy really works well for her.
  5. Making connections. Personally, I find that encouraging my special education kids makes a HUGE difference in not only their reading comprehension, but also their higher order thinking skills they use for theme. I try to do a lot of text to self and text- to text (media) connections because those are ones kids are most familiar with. I find this works as a great pre-reading and during reading strategy.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

My 3 Favorite Virtual Reading Activities

Teaching reading and writing online is definitely a change from in person lessons. We know that kids need to be engaged in the learning process, and we need to be introducing them to different activities to help keep their focus.

As a virtual teacher, I’ve experimented with a few different ways to engage my students when it comes to literacy. I want my students to have fun and appreciate the joy that reading can bring. I use Zoom with my students, and will record my sessions to pass along to those who couldn’t make the session, or who want to re-watch it. Here are three my three favorite virtual literacy activities I’ve used with my students.

Virtual author visits– I was fortunate to have an author, Brenda Felber, reach out to me a year and a half ago about doing a virtual author visit. She found me on social media and we arranged to have her Zoom with my students.  She shared her research and writing process and more (click here to read about her visit). Brenda writes mystery chapter books (click here to check out my review of her novel)

I also had another author visit with Christine Reynebau a few weeks after Brenda. Christine writes and publishes picture books (Celebrate, PB&J, Guts, Rescue, and Lost) and did a read aloud during her visit along with a discussion of how she made her dreams of being a children’s book author come true.

I typically network with a lot of indie authors for my book reviews, and it’s truly incredible when I can introduce my students to quality texts.

Read alouds- if you’ve been a follower for a while, you know this is my jam. Read alouds are my thing. I LOVE being able to make great stories come to life for my students and be able to discuss the works together. I’ve been able to create a community of readers through an online platform which makes my heart so happy.

When I first started doing virtual read alouds, I used texts that were part of the curriculum. For sixth grade I read The Hunger Games, seventh grade was A Wrinkle in Time and eighth grade was The Giver. My students loved being able to throw their ideas into the chat box and discuss with their peers while I facilitated. At the time, my kiddos preferred the chat box because they didn’t feel comfortable being on camera.

The last read aloud I did with grades 6-12 was Divergent, and it was pure magic! My regular group would join me once a week and we had the best time. They even created hashtags that would pop up during our discussions. For more specific information on virtual read alouds click here.

This summer I taught kindergarten, and I spent our morning meeting time with a read aloud. I chose a different picture book every day and we practiced pre-reading strategies, reading comprehension, and making inference skills during our time together. My kiddos loved knowing we would read something new every day, and they were engaged while practicing new skills.

For kindergarten, I used e-book versions of text and shared my screen while I read. I got my daily books from Kindle Unlimited (a truly amazing service) and introduced my readers to a lot of indie authors.

Scavenger hunts– I actually got this idea from my elementary supervisor this summer during a meeting about student engagement. She encouraged us to get the kids moving and grooving as much as possible, since they were sitting in classes with us for 45 minutes at a time.

When we were working on phonics and letters, I would tell my students to grab objects  in their house that started with a specific letter. For instance, they had to grab objects that started with the letter ‘w’ and kids came back with walnuts, a dollhouse (she pointed to the window) and a wallet. Not only did it get them up and moving, it was seriously entertaining to see what they came up with.

For older students, I would use the idea of a scavenger hunt to help with teaching symbolism. I would tell students to find an object in their room that represents (symbolizes) them. Once students returned we would all discuss the object and how it symbolized the student.

 

Literacy activities don’t always have to be an online game or writing activity. By adding in some different activities, we can keep our students engaged and also have fun.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

 

Resources for Teaching Reading Online

 

As a middle and high school teacher, I was never really given a reading program to use with my students. I loved this flexibility,  but it was time consuming to find the resources I wanted to use with my students.

As many educators are putting together their own collection of online reading resources, I wanted to share my experiences with ones that have helped my readers.  I have used these programs with general education students, special education and honors students.

Raz-kids– This is an awesome online reading program. I love that students have access to their account 24/7 and that parents can see what their student is reading. This site is great for students in grades K-6. I did use this for my readers in 6th grade and some of them were too advanced for the program, so I gave them a supplemental novel to focus on instead. The leveled libraries are filled with a mixture of fiction and nonfiction texts that require students to read each work multiple times by listening to it and reading it independently. The comprehension quizzes focus on specific topics (characterization, plot, cause and effects) so teachers are able to really see the areas of strengths and weaknesses. The system also creates progress reports based on this data, which I’ve actually used in parent conferences.

Teachers do have the ability to conduct running record assessments with the program as well. I have used some of the passages, but have never had students record themselves with the software.

ReadWorks– I found ReadWorks when I first started teaching in 2010 and have used it since. This is one of those rare programs that can be used with grades K-12. The site has SO many filer options for finding the perfect text. Users can search using Lexile levels, grade level, fiction/nonfiction, content type, activity type, etc. I typically use grade or Lexile level and fiction/nonfiction to find the passages I want. Users can listen to an audio version and/or read the text independently before tackling some reading comprehension questions. Being super honest, I wish that the questions were a little more challenging at times, especially for the older grades, but these work really well for my population of students.

While teachers can print the passages and questions, you can also set up online classrooms through the site and electronically assign students assignments. I have used this feature tutoring and it was super easy to navigate and access.

Reading Detective by The Critical Thinking Co.- This is hands down my FAVORITE  resource to use with my kiddos. Each passage is one page and has a page of questions that accompany it. The questions are absolutely incredible by requiring readers to use their higher thinking skills. The questions also constantly ask for textual evidence to support answers, expecting students to look at specific sentences and paragraphs.

I’m currently using the traditional book version, and using my document camera or taking pictures on my phone of passages. However, the company offers e-book, win software and app versions that I will definitely be looking into in the next few weeks to make my life easier.

Vooks– I came across Vooks earlier this year when I saw they were doing free accounts for teachers. This resource is geared towards preschool and elementary aged kiddos, so I don’t use it as much with my students. Each book is read aloud and students watch the book come to life through video. It feels like like a mix between a read aloud and watching a cartoon, which is really cool for readers.

Epic– this is a one of a kind resource. It’s a digital library for grades P-6 that includes popular texts for students to read. It includes works such as Fancy Nancy, Frog and Toad and Ella Enchanted. I would recommend using this program for mini lessons and activities.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Accommodating Special Education Students in the Virtual Classroom

As a virtual English teacher, I’ve worked with classified students in grades 6-12. Parents and brick and mortar teachers are often amazed that special education students choose to do virtual learning (before the pandemic).

Yes, there are special education students who attend online programs. Yes, they can be successful.

This week I co-hosted a professional development presentation for Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy (EOA) on Implementing Special Education Accommodations in a Virtual World. I was able to show other virtual teachers samples of assignments I used with my classified students and how I evaluated them.

Today, I would like to share some of my experiences and examples in the hopes of helping teachers outside of EOA. These ideas can be used in brick and mortar classrooms, blending learning and distance learning environments.

Preparing to Make Accommodations

  1. Be familiar with a student’s IEP. When I worked in a brick and mortar school, I would sometimes have 20 students with IEPs. It can be A LOT to remember the specific details for every student, so I would often take quick notes about the classification(s) and accommodations. The same concept applies to the virtual learning environment.
  2. Use your knowledge of the student. In the virtual world, this can be done in a number of ways. Call/text/Zoom/email with the student and get to know who the student really is. What’s their favorite sport? What hobbies do they like? Also, feel free to talk to the parents, school, Child Study Team and special education teachers about the student. The more knowledge you have about each student the more you can make appropriate accommodations.
  3. Be flexible with grading assignments. This is a biggie. Many teachers use specific rubrics to grade assignments, but when making accommodations these rubrics may not be relevant. In these cases, it’s important that we think outside the box and use our content knowledge to assess if the student fulfilled expectations. We may need to create another rubric specifically for that child, or only include certain parts of the original rubric, it really comes down to the teacher to decide. Regardless of what a teacher chooses to do, always make sure to include specific feedback.
  4. Be aware of reading levels. To be super honest, this is a really big component of online learning. Students are required to do A LOT of reading (assignments, comments, lectures, directions, etc.). If a student has a reading level of third grade and is taking a sixth grade English course, he or she is going to be reading texts at the sixth grade level. This can be quite a challenge for many students who aren’t at that reading level yet. Since students are required to read in all courses, even a math teacher should be aware of a student’s reading level.

Accommodations in the Virtual Classroom

  1. Offer extended time. This is a very simple and effective way to help classified students, especially in the virtual world. It’s also helpful to check-in with the student and remind him or her with how much extra time they have left. For instance, if there is an assignment due on Wednesday, maybe consider having it due for classified students on Friday. On Thursday check-in with students and give them suggestions online learning graphicabout what they need to finish for the assignment to be submitted on Friday.
  2. Reduce assignment length. Personally, I use this accommodation quite a bit with my special education students. If the original assignment for students is to write an essay, I may have them write a paragraph instead.
  3. Support public speaking. A curriculum typically has a speaking/presentation component that can be fulfilled in the virtual classroom. There are a few different ways students can present a speech: 1. video chat with the teacher one-on-one, 2. participate in a phone call with the teacher (if a student gets anxious about looking at an audience), 3. record a selfie video of the student reading the speech and then send it to the teacher or post it on Youtube and share the link. It’s also important to remember that students don’t have to memorize their speech. I usually tell my students to practice reading aloud their information a few times before presenting.
  4. Providing alternate texts. As I mentioned before, reading level plays a huge role in virtual learning. If a student can only read at a 5th grade level, but they are taking 8th grade English, this could be a challenge for him or her. Teachers can provide an alternate text that still focuses on the theme/topic of the original text, but is better aligned with the student’s reading level. For instance,  my 7th grade English students are expected to read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”, to focus on how history (The Inquisition) impacts literature. This original text is too complex for my classified students, so I have them read chapter one of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry because it is connected to the Holocaust. I keep the same historical focus as I would with the original text, but now students have access to a text that they can handle.
  5. Provide novel support. Students will read a few novels a year in their English/ELARead Aloud courses. Getting students to just read the book can sometimes be a challenge, let alone having them complete activities and assignments based on the reading. Teachers can supply students with an audio version, guided notes, reading comprehension questions, and chapter summaries. However, another spectacular option that I have done is to provide students with a read aloud (see Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom) where I would read a few chapters aloud and then discuss plot, characterization, theme and quote analysis. I would record these sessions in Zoom and keep track of the links on a document that I could send to any student who needed access to the text. Students can watch, rewind and fast forward the video as many times as they want.
  6. Include outlines and graphic organizers. Just as in brick and mortar classrooms, outlines and graphic organizers are fabulous resources to give to students. If students need to compare/contrast, provide a Venn Diagram in an editable document for students to use. For writing a lab report, give students an outline to complete before writing the report.
  7. Help guide research. Utilizing textual evidence and research take place across all content areas. It can be overwhelming for classified students to look at a Google search bar and start the research process, let alone tackle a database. Two of my favorite options for research are to give students a list of key words to use in their search, and provide a list of links for students to use to complete assignments.
  8. Provide structure with note-taking. Learning in the virtual environment requires students to be more independent with their learning, and oftentimes students will need to take notes on the content in their courses. This can be challenging because students may not know what to record or how to record the information. Some options for students are to include guided notes, fill in the blank PowerPoint slides, and give note-taking templates (Cornell Notes, etc.).

As with all accommodations, different options work for different students. At the end of the day, it is up to the teacher to decide how to best support students.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

5 Effective Tips to Help Kids Read More

“How can I get my child to read more?”

This is probably the number question a parent asks me, if their child is seven or eleven.

There is plenty of research to support the positive effects of reading, so it’s no wonder that parents are concerned about their child’s reading time. With video games and other screen activities captivating readers of all ages, getting kids to read more has become increasingly harder.

Every reader is different. What works for one child may not work for his or her sibling. Some kids just need to find that one book that makes them fall in love with reading (see my post  7 Books That Turn Tweens into Readers) But, I have found that the best way to get a kid reading is to find the perfect texts. Why? If a reader can find texts that they find interesting and engaging, he or she is more likely to want to read more texts. Below are some of my personal approaches to matching texts to readers.

  1. There are different ways to read. In my personal experience as an English teacher and Reading Specialist, this seems to be the trick that gets my students reading more. It is still reading if a student listens to an audiobook or a read aloud. Apps, like Audible, are amazing because they allow readers to listen anywhere at any time on their mobile devices. I would suggest having a reader listen to a book they’ve already read before so they can get used to listening to a text if they are new to audiobooks. Some students also prefer to read along with an audiobook so that can always be added to the mix. Read alouds can be done by anyone in the family at any time. While driving on vacation, after dinner around the kitchen table, or ten minutes before bed every night, whatever works best for the reader and the family.
  2. Movie/video game books. I see this more with kiddos in grades 4-6 who are in between the easy chapter books and middle school books. A few years ago, Minecraft books were super popular among this age group. Video game and movie companies often times put out a line of guide/companion books, spin off stories and more to get the attention of young readers. Some popular ones right now are Lego, Fortnite, and Animal Crossing.
  3. Find out what’s popular. Sometimes kids like to be surprised with a recommendation. Knowing what other kids are reading can be very powerful, so spend some time doing a little bit of research. The majority of this research can be done online with Facebook groups, Google lists, blogs, etc. However, if you’re like me and LOVE going to the library, check in with the children’s librarian. I’m blessed to say that my children’s librarian is an incredible woman who has been my go-to since I was in college. These book lovers have immense knowledge about genres, authors and specific titles for literally every type of reader.
  4. Ask them! One of my favorite things to do with kids is to talk about books. When that dialogue is opened about books, themes, topics, etc., it’s amazing what kids will say. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down and having an honest and open conversation with your reader about reading. Don’t be afraid to ask your child why they don’t like to read, or what they need to read more. Keep those conversations about books going because it will encourage kids to read more. During these chats, ask your child what he or she wants to read. It’s super important to note that reader choice is HUGE in helping kids develop reading habits. Give your child options during these talks and ultimately let them choose.
  5. Set an example. I grew up with my mom reading magazines. Literally she always had one ready to go (and a massive stack next to her bed). Kids mimic their parents constantly, so if you want your child to read more set an example. Instead of scrolling on your phone at night while sitting in the living room, pick up a book or an e-reader. If you want your kids to talk to you about books, start the conversations. It’s okay to  say, “I read this article about….”. It may not happen overnight, but you will see kids mirroring these reading behaviors.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I’ve been teaching for ten years, and during that time I have seen/heard about quite a bit of tween/teen girl drama and bullying. Cellphones and social media have completely changed the world for bullies since victims can never escape it like they used to back in the day. When we read about incidents in the news we never get the whole story, until we are introduced into that world by a book.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth, by Samantha Benjamin, is a young adult novel that takes readers on a journey filled with bullying, self discovery, and teenage love.

We follow Tammy, a teenage girl, as she moves from London to Morpington, a small town where everyone is related and knows each other. She instantly struggles with leaving her two best friends, Kristie and Sonia, and tries to fit in at her new school. The girls aren’t very welcoming, and Tammy finds her head in a toilet on her very first day. She also endures physical altercations with girls while trying to navigate her new social environment.

If that isn’t stressful enough, Tammy is also expected to spend time with her dad who clearly is not father of the year. He pushes his daughter to date a boy she is not a fan of, and does not support her emotionally or financially. Readers will like him less and less the more they learn about him.

As we dive deeper into her story, we learn that Tammy was bullied in her old school by a girl named Lorraine. Readers can understand why this character has trust issues and has difficulties making friends.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book based in the U.K., and I realized I don’t think I’ve read any YA book quite like this one.

The story is told in third person omniscient, and the scene changes happen very quickly, which took me a little getting used to because there are no space breaks between switches. My reading was definitely a little choppy in the beginning because of this, since I was trying really hard to figure out what was going on. However, once I got the hang of it my reader brain was able to follow the story line seamlessly. In fact, I don’t think certain pieces of the story would have been as effective without the quick switches.

The characterization of Tammy is raw. Plain, simple, and true. We experience all sides of her, not just the good ones, and she is not meant to come across as cute. It reminded me a little bit of Veronica Roth’s Divergent character Tris, except that while Tris had an inaccurate portrayal of herself, Tammy knows she has issues and expresses them very clearly.

Tammy will admit to readers when she is making a poor decision, but will continue to do so anyway. Why? Because she’s a teenager and that’s what they do. Her realness is incredible. Because of a domino effect, Tammy smokes cigarettes and weed, and even dapples with drinking. She tells readers she needs cigarettes to take the edge off, not because it’s cool. Adults tend to think teens partake in these activities because of peer pressure or whatnot, but Tammy shows readers that sometimes teens do the same things as adults for the same reason, to escape.

She is also going through the process of self discovery with her sexuality. Benjamin leaves little hints here and there, but it’s not until Tammy’s neighbor Alexis discusses the topic with her that Tammy realizes that she is bisexual. Personally, I loved this component of the plot. Being a teenager is challenging enough, as Tammy shows readers, but it’s even more complicated when you have to hide part of yourself.

As adults, we often look down on teenage love as not real. Teenagers are hormonal, emotional and have a flair for the dramatics. However, teenage love is also extremely complex and complicated, as we see with Tammy. When she starts seeing a girl named Lucy we are introduced to the legit crazy world that some teenagers experience. Feelings of guilt, desperation, and obligation are all very much real, and adults sometimes don’t realize their significance.

This novel was truly eye opening about what happens in the life of a teenage girl. Not going to lie, I was petrified a few times while reading it, especially thinking about what the world will be like when my three year old daughter is older. However, if you work with teenagers or you have a daughter, this is a must read.

I would also highly recommend that every teenage girl read this at one point to realize that they are not alone with how they feel or what they experience. The intricacies of friendships, family issues, and surviving high school are extremely complex and delicate. This book holds nothing back and literally touches on every topic imaginable for a teenager.

To purchase the book click here.

My 5 Favorite Books of 2019

2019 was a really big year for this blog. I took a HUGE nose dove into book reviews, and I loved every second of it. I have worked with some absolutely incredible writers and read some amazing texts. As 2019 draws to a close, I thought I would recap my favorite five books of the year before we ring in 2020 (in no particular order).

Bound in Silver

Bound in Silver by Marie Grace. This book is the ultimate YA fangirl book. I love the creativity and all of the amazing reminders of other great YA books (Harry Potter, Divergent, The Hunger Games, etc.). The plot moves at a great pace and really sets up ideas for the next books. And, as a plus, the author is a true book lover with an amazing Instagram account.

Arial the Youtuber

Arial the Youtuber by Mary Nhin. It’s no secret that I have fondness for this incredible unicorn, but this is my favorite Arial book. Being a virtual teacher, I’m drawn to ideas that involve technology, and this one shows how much work is involved in making it in the Youtube world. Nhin allows has life lessons mixed into inventive plots making her books engaging for young readers.

Timothy's

Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values by Christopher Gordon.  I always find it hard to find good books for boys that teach life lessons that don’t feel super Disneyish. This text definitely engages all readers, especially boys, with the use of a superhero. The stories are quick and effective, while focusing on one core value at a time. The questions at the end of each story also allow readers to interact with the text and make it personal.

Under the Scars

Under the Scars by Isabella Morgan.  This book is a little outside my usual review genres, as it’s an adult romance novel. It’s nothing like 50 Shades. It’s an incredible love story that will have you falling in love with Nick from the moment you meet him. This book will make you believe in the power and magic of love, and I guarantee each reader will want their own Nick or Violet.

Swimming Sideways

Swimming Sideways by C.L. Walters. This realistic fiction YA book is truly one of a kind. It’s the first in a trilogy that follows three extremely relatable characters as they struggle through life as teenagers in today’s world. The characterization is so intense and realistic that I can picture Abby, Seth, and Gabe as my own students. The realness of this book will leave an impression on any reader, especially those in high school.

The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Tale Book Review

There are officially 4 days til Christmas. It’s the last Saturday shopping day. In the midst of all the chaos of the next few days, spend some time reading books from The 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas.  Some of my favorites include: Arial the Secret Santa, A Christmas Cookie ExchangeThe Elf Who Couldn’t Read and The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Tale.

The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Tale, by Bethany Brevard, is an adorable Christmas book about the little acts of kindness.

I was requested to make a list of Christmas books for ELL students to read, so I did a little Google search, clicked on the top Christmas books for kids on Amazon, and found a lovely variety. While looking at this list, I noticed a book that was on The 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas post I did a few weeks ago. Not gonna lie, I got super excited for this author because that is definitely an accomplishment. I mean the book is on an Amazon list with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express.

Ever since I became a parent, I realize exactly how much is involved in Christmas. I mean, the list is pretty much never ending. I have had moments where I wish I had a little helper, just like in this story.

Our main character is a mouse, who makes his appearance once a year during the holiday season. His job is to help his human family with Christmas. This means sewing the hole in a stocking, hanging the mistletoe, and tasting the cookies. All of these little tasks are very important in making sure the family is prepared for Santa’s visit. There are so many tasks for our character, so he spends all day sleeping in his hammock in the Christmas tree.

However, the best day for our little helper is Christmas Eve. He is extremely thoughtful as he readies the living room for Santa’s big visit. The Mouse notices a hot coal in the fireplace and puts it out and he even blows on the hot chocolate so Santa doesn’t burn his mouth. These may seem like such little tasks, but they are definitely acts of kindness that don’t go unnoticed by Santa.

The overall theme of this adorable text is kindness, and the importance of doing little acts to help others. My favorite act the mouse does is to blow on the hot chocolate for Santa. It’s so simple yet one that I wouldn’t think to do.

As always, I LOVE books that offer readers more. This book has a few extra special components to it. The first is a fabulous little poem titled “The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Eve Tale”, that’s written to the rhyme of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. It is such a creative way to tie in a little bit of traditional Christmas to the story. I could see it being a great read aloud activity for young readers as they take turns reading every other stanza.

But wait, there’s more! Readers can purchase a mouse sleeping in a hammock ornament! The author even writes a blurb about adding the Mouse to the reader’s Christmas traditions. You can order the ornament right from Amazon!

AND THERE’S MORE! By buying the book, readers are helping the women in the Fair-Trade factory in Nepal who make the ornaments. In exchange for fair wages, healthcare and education for the women and their children, the women create the adorable mouse and hammock ornaments.

I would recommend this book for preschool and early elementary children.

To purchase the book click here.

To purchase the ornanment click here.

3 Easy Ways Busy Parents Can Help Readers

The alarm goes off at 5. You shower, get ready, pack lunches, make breakfast, wake the kids up, drive to sit in the drop off line, drive to work and start a jam packed day at the office. After work you run to pick up the kids, fly to football practice then dance class, rush home to throw dinner together, go back out and pick up the kids, come back home, eat dinner, get the kids in bed, try and catch up on social media and go to sleep.

Then wake up the next day and do it all over again.

It’s amazing how much parents are trying to cram into a 24 hour period. So how can parents help their kids with reading in the midst of every day chaos?

  1. Squeeze in reading time. This may sound overwhelming. How can you possibly squeeze 20 minutes of reading in before bed every night? Easy, you don’t have to. Reading can happen anywhere at anytime. While driving to violin lessons, have an audiobook playing in the car. Keep a book in the car and have your child read it. Same thing goes while your making dinner. There are always reading moments, it’s just making sure you’re prepared for them. Keep books around the house so they are within reach.
  2. Stay up to date on what’s happening in the classroom. Technology is amazing these days. Every teacher I know has a website that is jam packed with information. They include assignments, reminders, homework, etc. Dedicate 5 minutes a day (probably around 3-4 pm) to check your child’s English class website. See what the homework is, check out when the next quiz is. Have conversations with your child about specifics from class. For instance, if they have a vocabulary quiz, have them go over the words and definitions with you while you drive, making dinner, etc.  (are you seeing a pattern here?).
  3. Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. A lot of my middle school parents would sign up for parent-teacher conferences within minutes to ensure they got a slot. During our discussions, they would mention how they didn’t want to bother me with questions if it wasn’t parent-teacher conference time. Never, ever hesitate to reach out to a teacher with a question. Your goal as a parent is to ensure your child gets an education. If you don’t understand an essay rubric, or why your child scored low on a reading comprehension quiz, reach out to the teacher. The more you understand the more you will be able to help your child.

These three quick and easy ideas do require a little bit of prep work, but they all can be done on a smart phone and on the go.