Students Read with the Right Literacy Strategies

Daphne Heflin
Daphne Heflin
Elementary school principal; Ed.S. in Educational Leadership and Administration

Reading is foundational to all other subjects in education. Also, reading is a fundamental skill for employees and professionals in nearly any job or profession around the world. Therefore, we need not wonder why states, school districts, and schools emphasize reading.

Many schools employ reading teachers, reading interventionists, reading coaches, or other reading specialists, yet some students continue their struggle to read. Why? Why do some children read well earlier in life while others read late or barely read at all? The answer is as complex as learning to read.

Learning to read requires neurological processes and development, sequences of change in perception and knowledge, and the acquisition of many skills and abilities. Learning to read is not a natural occurrence; it doesn’t happen without intentionality. Environmental factors, family routines and practices, experiences, and intentional, quality reading instruction contribute to students’ reading success.

This article will share a few of the many literacy strategies that promote proper development, skill acquisition, and knowledge acquisition in the reading process that have improved reading outcomes.

Why Do Some Students Need Different Literacy Strategies?

Children come from different environments, live through different experiences, observe and participate in various routines and practices, develop at different rates and different ways, possess different learning styles, have different abilities and disabilities, and experience different instruction methods and instructors. So many differences!

Students’ differences result in the need for different literacy strategies. Below you will find crucial strategies for any child’s reading progress, regardless of their differences.

Literacy Strategies to Try in Your Classroom

A few of the many strategies to foster students’ reading achievement include those that parents and teachers can use in homes and classrooms:

  • Conversations with children
  • Reading to and with children
  • Phonemic awareness and phonics activities
  • Vocabulary acquisition
  • Asking and answering questions

Conversations with Children

Infancy to early childhood is when language acquisition begins; children hear language, repeat language, and experiment with language use. Speaking to children and allowing them to speak increases their vocabulary and perception of words and word meanings, which are crucial components in reading comprehension. Environments in which children hear fewer words and have fewer opportunities to speak are environments that contribute to gaps in students’ language acquisition and reading comprehension. On the other hand, language-rich environments positively contribute to reading gains.

Reading to and with Children

Parents are children’s first teachers; so, parents must model good reading habits to their children as early as possible. When children see parents or others read at home, they learn that reading is purposeful and has meaning.

In schools, children see and hear others read, which perpetuates the concept that reading is critical and has significance in all settings. Furthermore, reading to and with children, while using quality reading habits, allows young children to learn foundational reading skills like the left-to-right, top-to-bottom reading progression, the proper way to hold reading materials, and the correct way to turn pages of a book. The strategy also increases listening comprehension and vocabulary acquisition, which are keys in reading progression.

Phonemic Awareness and Phonics Activities

Simply stated, phonemic awareness relates to sounds in words, while phonics involves printed letters and sounds. Both are keys to learning to read. There are entire courses on phonemic awareness and phonics; the information to know, for teachers, is in-depth and plentiful. Rather than go into the science and detail of phonemic awareness and phonics, I will suggest a few activities in the areas and describe their significance.

Two related activities in phonemic awareness are segmenting and blending. Segmenting requires children to hear a word and break the word into its sounds. For example, the adult says, “cat;” the student says, “/c/ /a/ /t/.” Blending is the opposite; it requires children to hear sounds and put them together to form a word. For example, the adult says the sounds, “/t/ /i/ /p/;” the child says, “tip.” The described activities increase students’ skills necessary for decoding as they read.

Reading fluency requires automaticity and rapid naming of sounds and words. Therefore, phonics strategies that support children’s reading gains include rapid naming activities. One such activity is the rapid naming of letter sounds. For example, an adult shows letter cards and the child rapidly says the corresponding letter sound. Rapid naming of sight-words is also important because most sight-words cannot be decoded, but knowledge of them is required for making meaning within sentences. With repeated practice, the child’s speed and accuracy should increase.

Vocabulary Acquisition

Comprehension requires many skills and much knowledge, including knowledge of vocabulary words and their meanings. In addition to having meaningful conversations with children, which we discussed earlier, a way to improve students’ vocabulary acquisition is by having students identify unknown words from a passage and then interact with peers to engage in word work. For example, partners define a word, use it in a sentence, illustrate the word’s meaning, and name its synonyms and antonyms. Engaging with words in a meaningful way enhances students’ vocabulary, which in turn improves comprehension.

Asking and Answering Questions

Another strategy for improving students’ reading skills is through questioning. Basic questions (who, what, where, when, why, and how) are a good start. After children hear or read a story, ask them the basics. Then follow-up with “how do you know?”

Also, have children develop text-based questions. Often, children can answer questions but struggle to ask relevant ones. Formulating relevant questions is a skill that requires in-depth thinking and connections to the text; thus, developing questions increases comprehension.

In the reading process, readers must name words quickly, recall their meanings, synthesize the meanings of the words, and remember before comprehension can occur; thus, responding appropriately to and formulating questions exercises students’ memory and their ability to synthesize meanings of individual words into meaningful concepts.

Reading is complex; it does not merely happen with time; therefore, effective reading strategies must be intentional, purposeful, and relevant to students’ development and needs.

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