5 Effective Strategies to Boost Reading Proficiency in Students Post-Pandemic

Reading skills have been dropping for years now, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse. When students were unable to be in conventional classrooms for safety reasons, many of them fell even further behind. Students who were just learning how to read stalled in their progress.

Now it’s up to teachers, tutors, and parents to help children improve their reading proficiency, but how?

We’re here to help. Read on to learn five of our top strategies for helping children learn not just how to read but how to truly comprehend what they’re reading.

1. Improve Vocabulary Skills

Many children who were in their early school years during the peak lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic struggle with their vocabularies, especially if they have parents who weren’t able to spend time at home going over vocabulary words or reading with them.

These children are further behind than the children of years passed. They may know a lot of words verbally, but they don’t know what the words look like on paper. They may not even know that many words yet.

This is okay. Children are incredibly adept at picking up languages, especially the languages they use with their peers. These children will catch up with their vocabulary skills, but it will take time.

If students are struggling with learning how to read, start with individual words before improving sentence comprehension. Go back to the start.

Even if your students are in an older age group, don’t be afraid to go back to good old-fashioned vocabulary flashcards, word lists, and workbooks. You don’t have to have a heavy focus on spelling or grammar yet, but make sure children are able to attach written words to meanings. Proper spelling will come with time.

You can have them play fun vocabulary games if they don’t respond well to traditional learning activities.

Words are like building blocks for longer pieces of text. If the students don’t know a lot of words yet, they don’t have enough blocks to build with. Start small and build from there.

2. Build Background Knowledge

Often, children who seem to have good vocabularies are still struggling with reading proficiency. They know the words, and they may even be good at understanding basic sentences, but they aren’t able to truly understand what’s being said. Why is that?

Well, post-pandemic, some of these children lack life experience and background knowledge that would help them understand and contextualize certain concepts. It’s easier to understand a piece of text when you have something to relate it to.

Boy watching and feeding giraffe in zoo.

For example, a child that’s never been to a zoo may understand the concept of animals in cages, parks, and snacks, but they won’t really understand a story about “a trip to the zoo” if they’ve never seen one, even on television. Their mental image of it may be confusing and distorted, so they may struggle to understand.

Try to help children build up their background knowledge before starting a new text! But how do you do that?

Let’s use the zoo example again. You could show a brief cartoon or documentary about a zoo. This way, students will get the basic concept, and they’ll have something to visualize while they’re reading.

You can also have children relate memories or experiences to the topic. Let’s say you’re teaching a story about a president. Do a pre-text activity in which you have children write down everything they know about the president, any questions they have, and any assumptions.

This prepares students for the text they’re about to engage with.

You can also use shorter and easier texts on the same topic to ease children into the more difficult ones. Anything you can do to boost background knowledge will boost the students’ reading comprehension skills.

3. Try Reciprocal Teaching

Many teachers are wary of the idea of reciprocal teaching for students who are a bit “behind,” but don’t be. As long as students have supervision, reciprocal teaching can be fantastic for reading comprehension.

School children reading books to each other.

So what is reciprocal teaching?

It’s when children are almost teaching each other. They’re all taking new roles in their educations and all of those roles are active. The teacher is still doing most of the work and facilitating the activities, but it gives children some autonomy and control over their education.

Put children in small groups and assign roles. These roles will rotate over time, so don’t worry about assigning the wrong role to the wrong student.

One child is the questioner, one is the summarizer, one is the clarifier, and one is the predictor. After the children finish reading through their texts, the questioner comes up with questions, the summarizer summarizes what they just read, the clarifier tries to answer questions (or find ways to get the right information), and the predictor uses context clues to guess what will happen next.

Note that these are discussion groups, so the roles may blur from time to time. Think of it like a small book club.

This is a great way to make sure that kids are all staying engaged throughout the reading. Make sure you check that everyone has done their task so the groups run smoothly.

4. Encourage Reading Out Loud

Many students dread reading out loud, but it’s actually beneficial for them. However, you need to create a supportive and comfortable environment if you want students to reap the most benefits from it.

Students who feel uncomfortable reading out loud may feel that way because they’re not confident in their reading skills or because they’ve been made fun of in the past. They may have a speech impediment, a learning challenge, or just anxiety that’s getting in their way.

So step one is working on your classroom culture. Establish rules and expectations around kindness during reading time. Reward children for kind and quiet reading sessions so they’re encouraged to regulate each other.

When children read out loud, they’re reading more actively. When they read to themselves or someone else reads to them, they may gloss over details. Reading out loud requires children to think about what they’re reading, and it slows them down.

Teens socializing in small group setting.

You can do “popcorn reading,” but that isn’t always the best idea if you have poor readers or anxious children in the class. You can have children read out loud in smaller groups or you can have them go in order through the classroom so they can prepare themselves.

Do what you have to do to make children feel more comfortable reading out loud. It can be helpful to poll the students to see what they would prefer. Kids often have great suggestions!

5. Do Summarization Activities

Summarization activities are key for building reading proficiency and comprehension at any age. These activities will vary depending on the grade level of the students, but even older students can benefit from them.

Often, students don’t actually “take in” any information when they read. They may understand the words and the sentence structures, but they aren’t engaging in active reading. They’re reading over the text or skimming instead of actually slowing down and reading thoroughly.

Before the children read, let them know that they’re going to be doing summarization activities after the fact. This will encourage them to slow down.

You can also have them use Post-it notes or highlighters to take notes and point out interesting or confusing things they may want to revisit later.

So what do summarization activities look like? It depends.

For older students, you can use worksheets. Have them write down the important points made in the text, have them answer a few questions, and have them write a one-paragraph summary of what they read.

You can also have children teach each other. Have one student act as the teacher and do a brief presentation on the text either to the rest of the class or their small group. Encourage other students to ask questions and give commentary.

You could even have children act out or draw a scene from what they read. This will keep them engaged and it will allow them to interact with the text in a new and interesting way.

It’s Time to Boost Your Students’ Reading Proficiency

Now that most children are back in conventional classrooms and the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, it’s time to start helping students with their reading skills.

Boosting reading proficiency will take time, and these students may not be as quick to pick up new skills as in previous classes. That’s okay. Keep working hard and trying new strategies to help your students turn into fantastic readers.

We want to help. We’ve developed helpful texts and tools so you can start bringing your students up to speed. Visit our shop and find your new favorite workbooks today.

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