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Improve comprehension and critical thinking with this one reading strategy

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Improve comprehension and critical thinking with this one reading strategy

Teaching reading skills is HARD WORK. No matter the grade level or subject area, every teacher needs effective ways to help students make sense of complex texts.

If you have students who struggle with comprehension, building inferences, and making connections, this three-part strategy will help!

We’ve got a video for you and a written transcript below–choose your favorite format!

This strategy is helpful for reading challenging texts, especially in a content area that may be difficult for students or when trying to understand the author’s purpose or intended audience.

Each of these steps can be completed as a whole class, in a small group, or individually. Consider starting with a whole class reading and then move into individual reading and group discussion.

At each step of the process, students should also be asked to “read with their pencil” and mark up the text where they find evidence for their responses.

Step 1: reading ON the lines

In the first step, reading ON the lines is focused on understanding the text at the surface level.

  • Read the text aloud while students follow along and mark with their pencil words and phrases that reveal the main idea of the text.
  • After reading, start with questions like, “what was this about? What happened at the beginning? How did it end?” You can add or adapt this mark-up task as needed based on your classroom needs and learning objectives, but focus on literal meaning and basic levels of understanding.
  • After this first reading, define words that may need clarification in order to avoid confusion for students.

Step 2: reading BETWEEN the lines

Next, have students read the text again silently or with a partner. The purpose here is to begin reading between the lines.

Ask questions pertaining to the author’s craft and the structure of the text.  This step is adaptable based on your learning objectives, but choose questions that can be answered based on evidence in the text, and ask students to look for and mark only one thing each time they read. For example, words that show emotion, and in the next reading, they might look for words that show action. From there, they can then make conclusions about what they’ve identified in the reading.

Here are some ideas students might mark on the text or on a sticky note (and obviously adapt according to the needs of your students.)

  • something that is interesting or important
  • something that is confusing
  • What is the author’s purpose? (to inform, to persuade, to entertain, etc.)
  • Who is the audience?
  • Is the author appealing to the audience’s emotions? Logic? How do you know?

STEP 3: reading THROUGH the lines

The third step is to read through the lines. This is where we ask students to make conclusions, evaluate, and analyze. Here are some questions and tasks that help students read through the lines:

  • Choose a challenging word from the text. Why do you think the author chose that word?
  • What does the author think about…?
  • What can you infer about…?
  • Ask the students to make connections between the reading, other texts, and prior knowledge.

As an addition or adaptation, have students create a drawing or visual image that represents the text. This provides an alternate method for processing and making sense of a text.

Try this out and let us know what you think! Have questions?  Want more ideas?  Connect with an instructional coach at

Like these ideas? To learn classroom engagement strategies that make the most immediate impact, we recommend checking out our program, "Fostering Engagement Online Course."

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Tags: reading
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Amy Jimenez

Author Since: May 8, 2018

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