Strategy Guide

Preparing Students for Success with Reading in the Content Areas

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Strategy Guide Series
Reading in the Content Areas

About this Strategy Guide

In this strategy guide, you'll learn how to determine the level and type of support you need to provide students based on careful preparation as a content area expert.


Research Basis

Content area teachers can be frightened into paralysis when it comes to reading in their classrooms. Students come to the classroom with such diverse levels of background knowledge and literacy proficiency that it’s hard to know how much preparation is enough before asking students to read. While it’s true that students will likely need some support before reading, it’s equally important to acknowledge that the sometimes challenging act of making meaning through text is an integral part of the process and one of the most important habits teachers can impart to their students.


Strategy in Practice

The level of preparation necessary for any reading experiences varies widely depending on the students and the content, so a teacher’s professional judgment is key. Read the selected text carefully, asking yourself what expert knowledge (both in terms of content and process) you have that allows you to make sense of the reading. Use that awareness as a guide for what to provide students.

  • Preview or preteach key vocabulary. Make a list of words with which you think students will be unfamiliar. If the list is impossibly long, this may be a sign that this isn’t the right text for your students. It the list is manageable, separate words into two sublists: words that are relevant to your content (perhaps including multi-definition words that have new or surprising definitions in the content) and words that are part of more general vocabulary. Plan on spending a bit of time explaining the content-specific words; it’s possible that the entire reading experience hinges on a student’s basic understanding of those words. For other important (but not content-specific) words, consider providing a mini-glossary, a handout with the words and context-appropriate definitions.
  • Lead a guided preview of the text. Ask students to look for ways that the author has structured the text to guide a reader’s meaning. Take special note of the title of the piece and any headings and subheadings that are included. Have students form questions based on those “written guideposts” to prepare themselves for the reading. If appropriate, share information about the genre and author of the piece. Students need to be reminded, for example, that they need to approach an op-ed piece by a prominent activist differently from the way they would a textbook account of the same topic.
  • Plan and conduct a think-aloud to model strategies appropriate for the reading. Project the first few paragraphs of the text and read it aloud. Stop occasionally to share your thoughts (connections you’re making, questions the text raises for you, observations about the way the text is structured, or key ideas you’ll want to remember) to demonstrate the way in which an expert in your content area would approach the reading. Then encourage students to use similar thinking when you transfer the responsibility to them.


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