25 Reading Strategies That Work In Every Content Area

reading-strategies-graphic25 Reading Strategies That Work In Every Content Area

Reading is reading. By understanding that letters make sounds, we can blend those sounds together to make whole sounds that symbolize meaning we can all exchange with one another.

Without getting too Platonic about it all, reading doesn’t change simply because you’re reading a text from another content area. Only sometimes it does.

Science content can often by full of jargon, research citations, and odd text features.

Social Studies content can be an interesting mix of itemized information, and traditional paragraphs/imagery.

Literature? Well, that depends on if you mean the flexible form of poetry, the enduring structure of a novel, or emerging digital literature that combines multiple modalities to tell a story. (Inanimate Alice, for example.)

This all makes reading strategies somewhat content area specific. Stopping (maybe the most undervalued strategy ever) and Rereading might make more sense in science, while Visualization and Text Connections may make more sense reading literary works. Questioning the Text may make equal sense in both.

But if you’d like to start with a basic set of strategies, you could do worse than the elegant graphic above from wiki-teacher.com. (Useful site, by the way. Check it out.) It lists 12 basic reading comprehension strategies.

For related reading, see 50 of the best reading comprehension appsdifferent ways your school can promote literacy, or how reading in the 21st century is different.

25 Reading Strategies That Work In Every Content Area

1. Reread

2. Activate Prior Knowledge

3. Use Context Clues

4. Infer

5. Think Aloud

6. Summarize

7. Locate Key Words

8. Make Predictions

9. Use Word Attack Strategies

10. Visualize

11. Use Graphic Organizers

12. Evaluate Understanding

To the above list, we’d add:

13. Question the Text

14. Stop!

15. Monitor & Repair Understanding (While Reading)

16. Paraphrase

17. Annotate the Text

18. Adjust Reading Rate

19. Prioritize Information

20. Use Graphic Notetaking

21. Predict

22. Set a Reader Purpose

23. Text-connections (text-to-self, text-to-text, text-to-world)

24. Skim

25. SSQ (Stop, Summarize, Question)

We’ll gather these and put them in a Before Reading, During Reading, and After Reading matrix soon. Only because we like you.

25 Reading Strategies That Work In Every Content Area


  • What is meant by “use graphic organizers”? Are teachers filling out the graphic organizers for the students so that students will understand the structure of the passage beforehand, or are the students filling out the graphic organizers?

    • Generally the latter. Graphic Organizers can help frame the complexities of a text–narrative structure, supporting details, thematic development, etc.

      Teachers can fill out though as a kind of review. Model how it’s done, or to simply summarize a text before moving on without asking students to do the same. Good question.

  • thanks for sharing. would you give the name of the author you used for the first 12 Reading strategies. I need that name for quoting it in a Project I am working on.

  • It might be more helpful if these strategies were organized in a hierarchy of most effective to least effective. For example, rereading is listed as the first strategy that works in every content area. Yet rereading supports familiarity rather than recollection (Willingham Lecture 2/11/2016), meaning that it may not help students remember what they have read as much as other reading comprehension strategies do. For example, in their article “Is the Benefit of Retrieval Practice Modulated by Motivation?” Kang and Pashler find that retrieval practice (i.e. quizzing) always beats review (i.e. rereading), even when motivation is taken into account (Kang & Pashler 2014). Quizzing oneself on the reading can tie into Strategy #15: Monitor and Repair Understanding (While Reading), as well as Strategy #12: Evaluate Understanding. These strategies therefore seem as though they could be more impactful than the first strategy when it comes to effective reading comprehension strategies.

    Similarly, the strategies “Make Predictions” (#8) and “Activate Prior Knowledge” (#2) and the strategies “Evaluate Understanding” (#12) and “Monitor and Repair Understanding” (#15) have differing levels of evidence that point to their effectiveness in regard to student learning. Pashler et al. in the September 2007 “Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning IES Practice Guide” reports a low level of evidence for using pre-questions to introduce a new topic (Pashler et al. 2007). The pre-questions are specifically designed to influence the activation of prior knowledge as well as encourage students to make predictions. On the other hand, using quizzes to re-expose students to learning comes is supported by strong evidence (Pashler et al. 2007). Thus, we have better proof that the strategies “Evaluate Understanding” and “Monitor and Repair Understanding (While Reading)” have an impact on student learning than the strategies “Make Predictions” and “Activate Prior Knowledge.”

    Although strategies such as “Evaluate Understanding” have a largely beneficial impact on reading comprehension, they cannot be accepted unconditionally. In this case, students may not be the best people to monitor their own understanding of the reading. For example, in McCormick et al.’s chapter on metacognition, the authors explain that the worst performers on judgment of learning tests are overconfident; students who have not grasped the material fool themselves into thinking that they have (McCormick et al. 2012). However, McCormick et al. found that metacognitive strategy instruction works (McCormick et al. 2014). In other words, teachers should not rely on their students’ abilities to discern knowledgeable about the reading material they are until they have sufficiently taught to them and demonstrated for them the skills needed for metacognition.

    Finally, not all strategies mentioned in the post work as well as people often think. For example, summarization (#6) ought to work but often does not when it comes to students comprehending and remembering their reading. This is likely because the quality of summary matters, and people frequently come up with bad summaries (Willingham Lecture 1/28/2016). It should thus be noted that teachers should demonstrate to their students what a quality summary looks like, and provide ongoing feedback to their students on their summaries. Overall, however, the strategies mentioned in the blog post are helpful; the majority of suggestions force students to process their reading deeply, which has been proven to work when it comes to reading comprehension and memory (Pashler et al. 2007).

    • This is a very thoughtful response. Thanks for carefully supporting your ideas with research. My only response would be to say that most TeachThought readers would not simply grab a graphic and uses it without considering factors such as those you’ve pointed it. A graphic injected with research tidbits and scholarly contexualization would indeed be better, though I might challenge some of the takeaways as implied above.

      Either way, this is the kind of contribution to education context that can push us all forward in our thinking. Thanks again!

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  • I’ve been ranked in the top 5-10% of the nation as a reading teacher for the past few years according to NWEA growth data and what works for me is MUCH simpler. Teachers MUST find a way to tie the text to what their students are interested in. That needs to be one of the top priorities and constantly touched upon. If you can choose texts that your students have told you or written about wanting to read about that will make a huge difference. Say goodbye to the frustration of arguing with kids about wanting to read and follow along for the most part.

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