Want To Improve Adolescent Literacy? Here Are Some Ideas For Teachers

Want To Improve Adolescent Literacy? Here Are Some Ideas For Teachers
The Editorial Team March 6, 2013

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Adolescent literacy is a serious problem for middle and high school students. According to published statistics only one-third of eighth-grade students read proficiently at grade level, and two-thirds of students entering high school are not proficient readers.

How can educators tackle this increasing problem? What are some techniques that instructors can utilize to help students become proficient in reading literature?

Below are some strategies teachers can use to help students improve their literacy skills.

How to explicitly teach vocabulary

Studies show that vocabulary should be explicitly taught and students should learn how to discern meaning from context. This is very important in subjects like science and social studies, which feature specialized vocabularies and exposes students to words they don’t use in daily life. Some examples of explicit vocabulary teaching techniques include:

  • Using dictionaries for word definitions. Then, students write down the meaning in their own words instead of copying from the dictionary.
  • Students should be given opportunities to use vocabulary in a variety of ways. Encourage them to use words in their writings and discussions. Select literature that will expose students to new words in their reading.
  • Utilize exercises where students match words to their meaning.
  • Teach students strategies to determine word meaning through context so they can become better independent readers.
  • Visual learners will benefit from vocabulary videos or computer software designed to connect the written word to its meaning.
  • Classroom discussion of vocabulary words increase comprehension.

Reading comprehension activity ideas

Different types of texts require different comprehension strategies. Informational text lends itself more to the task of main idea summarizing than does fiction. It is very important that the materials are suited to the reading level of the student in order to avoid frustration and enhance reading comprehension. Text that is too easy requires no strategies. If it is too difficult, concentration is focused on decoding words, not comprehending the text. Here are some suggestions:

  • Have students find the main idea of the text.
  • Have students paraphrase and/or summarize text.
  • Provide opportunities to answer questions, but also to ask questions.
  • Comprehension strategies need to be taught by teachers of all disciplines, not just English and language arts. Students need to learn strategies for comprehending across all subject matter and learn to eventually use their comprehension strategies in the workplace.

Discuss the meaning of the texts

Classroom discussion of the materials students have read is an effective way of increasing their comprehension. Discussions can be with the whole class or in small groups. Students should be encouraged to listen to the opinions of others and provide meaningful comments or different opinions. They should be taught how to support their point of view with portions of the text. Discussion can be promoted and enhanced by using the following strategies.

  • Choose reading materials that are of particular interest to the age level being taught.
  • Plan ahead and make notes of pertinent, meaningful questions to ask the students.
  • Be prepared to vary from the prepared questions in order to ask relevant follow-up questions to comments and opinions expressed by students.
  • Ask opened-ended questions instead of those that require only yes or no answers.

Motivating students to read

Students are more likely to read when the reading assignment is on topics relevant to their interests. The more that the reading material focuses on issues they may realistically meet in daily life or on current events, the more likely students are to become engaged with it.

  • Allow students choices in reading materials. Even in content areas where there is a certain amount of required reading, students can be allowed choices in what complementary materials they read and topics they want to explore further.
  • For some subjects, students may find the prepared text somewhat boring. Provide supplementary materials on the topic available at different reading levels so that study topics are relevant to the daily life of the student.
  • If you encounter students who dislike reading, you can follow these tips for motivating reluctant readers.

Utilizing trained reading specialists to assist struggling readers

Assess each student individually to determine which ones may benefit from a reading specialist. Adolescents who are struggling readers benefit from a trained reading specialist who can identify the specific need and provide the appropriate and specific intervention method.

Continuing education and professional development

Teachers who get a Master of Education degree concentration in teaching adolescent literacy, or reading intervention, will learn the skills necessary to improve literacy among this age group.

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