Encouraging a Reading Process

By Diane Lilleberg, Educational Consultant

Because of the potential for lasting value, encouraging the development of a “reading game plan,” or a reading process, should be an important focus in teaching young students to read. This process should lead students toward long-term development and ownership of skills and strategies that will assist them in reading independently while accomplishing the purposes for reading.

Activities to assist the development of such a reading process can be divided into three easily defined parts: Before Reading, During Reading, and After Reading.

Before Reading

Identify (engage background) and a Set a Purpose for reading

Activities which encourage students to identify in some way with what they are about to read can both motivate them in the reading and help them engage any prior knowledge or experience that might help them understand what they are about to read.

Before reading processes also help students learn to set a purpose for reading the story and expose them to the many different purposes for reading. The purpose that is set before reading is to be kept in mind during reading. Students will also be asked to consider that purpose in responding to the selection after reading.

Identify: Motivation is influenced by the ability to relate something to your personal experiences and your needs. Opportunities to identify with content through reflecting on and communicating about personal experience encourages student interest and motivation. If the setting is familiar, the student can tell what they know about it from personal experience. Questions can help a student remember and draw on experiences that might be similar to what a story character is experiencing. The student can be asked to preview the story and to predict what might happen from clues in the pictures or the text.

Most learning theories clearly recognize that learning occurs as you understand new things in terms of what you already know. Activities encouraging students to identify with what is to be read also encourages them to draw on what is already known about the topic. Drawing on what they already know can encourage them to expect reading to build on and enhance this personal background of experience.

If the reading experience is about something unfamiliar to the student, it is important to build some background to bridge that gap before reading. An informal field trip or reading something informative related to the story are ways to build background and identification. Telling a family story or a personal experience of your own can also help the student to predict more accurately and respond to unfamiliar content.

Set a Purpose: Even in very early reading assignments, students can learn to have a purpose in mind for reading. Comprehension is encouraged by asking students to keep this purpose in mind during reading and respond to it after reading. Examples of reading purposes might be to enjoy, to find out what happens to a character, to discover how a character feels or reacts, to find patterns or illustrations as they learn about print, to find information, to learn how to do something, and to discover answers to questions.

During Reading

Decode for Meaning and Monitor Comprehension

During reading activities are strategies to help students actively think about the content of the selection as they read. In particular, students should gain skill in decoding the words, in appropriately attaching the correct meaning to those words, and in making sure that reading is leading to understanding or meaning.

A mental picture is constructed by the reader during the reading of the text. A key concern during reading is to recognize what to do when the mental picture breaks down. The goal for a mature reader is to recognize there is a problem, diagnose it, and use decoding and comprehension strategies to correct it. In this monitoring during reading, students should have strategies to help them when they encounter decoding or comprehension problems. Research and literature on the teaching of reading often refer to these as “fix-up strategies.”

It is important that students learn fix-up strategies that include things to do to help themselves and knowing when and how to ask for help when helping themselves isn’t working. Examples of appropriate times to ask for help from another student or the teacher can be discussed (such as when they cannot decode a word, or when they do not understand a vocabulary word or a portion of text even after trying some strategies independently).

A key skill in developing independence through during reading activities is learning to ask oneself appropriate questions. Questions might include: “Does this make sense?” “What sound does it start with?” “Can the picture help me understand?” “I have tried a few things, and I still don’t know what this says.” “What else can I do to help myself?” “Is it time to ask for help?” “How else can I get help?” Effective questioning strategies are best learned through teacher modeling.Decode for Meaning: Though students may not recognize all the words, they can try to figure them out in the following ways:

  • Thinking about the letter sounds
  • Considering the context (what makes sense with the rest of the sentence)
  • Considering the picture clues

Be sure to model the importance of using both phonics (especially initial consonant sounds at first) and text and pictures to help determine what makes sense. Young readers should grow in their ability to read independently despite occasionally meeting difficult words. Learning to keep a list of words they need help in decoding will encourage this growing independence.

Monitor Comprehension: As they read, students need to reflect on the text and how it relates to the purpose set before reading.

For students just beginning to read, attending to decoding the text and to comprehending it at the same time can be difficult. Reading to the student, shared reading, and rereading are strategies in this program that encourage student practice in monitoring comprehension. Both teacher modeling and student responses can be oral, with written monitoring encouraged as literacy skill develops.

As they develop independence, young readers can begin to independently mark portions they do not understand or write down vocabulary for which they need the meaning explained. With these strategies, they can gradually be encouraged to work on their own, developing confidence in their ability to “take care of themselves” as independent readers.

After Reading:

Respond and Personalize (integrate the new into your background)

As mentioned, most learning theories acknowledge that we understand new things in terms of what we already know. While before reading activities focus on what is already known, after reading activities encourage the new understanding.

To encourage comprehension, students need to actively respond to what they have read. Reading provides something new to consider, and students need time and opportunity to reflect on it. This opportunity should allow them to personalize learning, integrating any new understanding into what they know.

Respond: Was the purpose for reading achieved? Reading comprehension is built by asking students to respond to what is read in a way that connects to the purpose set before reading. Students may be asked to respond informally, either orally or by writing. Affective responses may be requested—communicating, for example, what was most enjoyable in a humorous story. Cognitive responses can also be requested—asking students to review facts, to order events, or to describe the setting or characters.

Personalize: Young readers need to be encouraged to own what they have read through after reading activities. They are in an ongoing process of making personal sense of their world. In encouraging them to reflect and respond to what they have read, opportunities to blend the new ideas gained during reading with their prior knowledge should be given. Students, in effect, take a new sample of their world while reading and need to integrate it into what they already know. This new understanding then becomes part of their background of experience.

The kind of questions asked after reading influence whether or not such integration takes place. It is not enough to ask literal questions that can be answered by simply searching the text to retrieve factual details. Rather, after reading activities should invite young readers to question on their own, to reflect, and to gain new understanding. It is in so doing that we encourage children to creatively apply their knowledge, their experiences, and their gifts in growing toward their future.


Why do you read … now, as an adult? How do you learn … now, as an adult? What helps you regard new things you encounter as useful? What is most helpful in learning a new skill? What makes a difference in whether you retain something or quickly forget it?

As you encourage children who are learning to read, reflect on these questions. Reflecting on real purposes for reading can help you be more effective in your teaching role, especially as you determine priorities and make day-to-day instructional decisions. ∆

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