5 Student Practices to Develop a Meaningful Personal Reading Life and Boost Comprehension

To help students to continually improve their reading skills, it is important to differentiate instruction and target support and interventions to their areas of need. But equally important is that they read a wide range of materials independently. This is the most effective way students can sufficiently develop their background knowledge, vocabulary, and comprehension skills to become college- and career-ready.

Providing students with access to books and opportunities to read self-selected books daily is also crucial to helping them develop a meaningful personal reading life. Students need well-stocked classroom libraries and school libraries with rich and varied collections, staffed by a certified school librarian who can order books, advise teachers, and help students find engaging reading materials.

As you foster the independent reading lives of your students, encourage them to stop and think about their reading, something many readers, especially developing ones, might not do. Using a read-aloud text, show students how you stop and think, as this will build their mental model of the process. It's impossible for you to monitor every independent reading book a student completes; that's not the purpose of independent reading. However, to strengthen students' reading skills, you can put in place several routines that build reflection, highlight students' thinking, and advertise books to peers.

In my book, Unlocking Complex Texts: A Systematic Framework for Building Adolescents’ Comprehension, I recommend incorporating these 5 student practices into your reading program to foster a love of independent reading among your students and boost comprehension:

  1. Self-selecting books for independent reading motivates students to read
  2. Entering completed or abandoned books on a reading log
  3. Presenting one book talk a month
  4. Writing a book review two or three times a year
  5. Discussing a book with a partner and documenting the conversation

In addition, I recommend that three or four times a year you confer with each student about his or her independent reading. Encouraging a “stop to think” pattern in students can lead to their being self-reflective about their reading. Since reading is social, set aside time for partners to have book discussions. You may also consider establishing voluntary monthly lunchtime book clubs, which I’ve found are a great way for students to eat together, discuss books, and still have some time to go outside and play.

To learn more about Unlocking Complex Texts: A Systematic Framework for Building Adolescents’ Comprehension, you can purchase the book here.

About the author:

Laura Robb is a master teacher, consultant, and sought-after speaker. She taught grades 4–8 for 43 years and currently coaches grades K–10 teachers in Virginia and New York. The author of many best-selling books for teachers, she has also developed several classroom libraries for Scholastic. Learn more about Laura Robb and her work at lrobb.com.


A 5-Day Routine to Build Your Students' Vocabulary

Building students' vocabulary through a study of roots, prefixes, and suffixes can develop proficient readers who can tackle challenging texts. And the most effective way to build student vocabulary is to select and teach roots that relate to texts students are reading and to the subjects and topics they are studying.

In language arts classes, I recommend that teachers spend 4 to 5 minutes a day each week building words using roots and affixes. In my book, Unlocking Complex Texts: A Systematic Framework for Building Adolescents’ Comprehension, I outline a 5-day teaching routine that you can use with any root:

Day 1

Write the root, the language it derives from, and its meaning on chart paper or the whiteboard. Have students pair-share for 2 minutes and generate words they think come from the same root. Record the list on chart paper or the whiteboard.

Example: port - to carry - Latin. Possible words: portable, import, imported, importing, export, exported, exporting, report, reported, reporting, deport, deportation, deported, deporting, portfolio.

Day 2

Read the list of words out loud and ask students to pair-share to see if they can find additional words. Explain that students can challenge a word to make sure it comes from the root the class is studying. If a student challenges a word, look it up in the dictionary, showing students the word's origin. In this way, you can help students understand that even though a word contains the root, it's important to consider the word's meaning and origin. 

Example: Additional Words: porter, port, reporter, support, transport, transported, transporting, transportation.

Day 3

Invite students to work with a partner and use their knowledge of the root to define the words the class generated. In their notebooks, have partners compile a list of prefixes used with the root and use their print or online dictionaries to define each prefix.

Day 4

Discuss with students various situations in which a word might be used, and refine the definitions. Model how to use the word and situation to compose a sentence that shows an understanding of the word.

Example: transport – trucks carrying (transporting) fresh vegetables to grocery stores; trucks moving furniture to a family’s new home

Sample sentence:  Three men loaded the furniture and boxes from our home in Virginia onto a truck and transported it to our new home in Pennsylvania.

Day 5

Encourage partners to select 2 words and write sentences that reflect a true understanding of the word. Pairs can use the situations to support writing sentences. Explain that providing a definition doesn’t show an understanding of how to use the word. Ask each pair to share their sentences.

Here are a few more tips and ideas to consider to help build your students’ vocabulary:

  • Working with 1 root over a series of days helps students learn several words as well as prefixes and suffixes.
  • Teach a few prefixes a week because prefixes change the meaning of a word.
  • Use prefixes from the words students generate, or choose ones that will be highly useful for students to know.
  • Avoid having students copy the list of words the class generates, because many have visual discrimination difficulties and will copy them incorrectly.

I suggest you work on about 15 roots with each grade level during the school year, revisit these lists, and add words and situations each time. By designing lessons that actively involve students and deepen their knowledge of words related to a root, you can enlarge their vocabulary.

Find more ways to build student vocabulary and develop a strong independent reading program with Unlocking Complex Texts: A Systematic Framework for Building Adolescents’ Comprehension.