May 12

In-Class Reading Strategies to Empower Student Learning

As an instructional coach, I want to support teachers in empowering students to take control of their own learning. As a reading specialist, I want to support teachers in creating productive and purposeful opportunities for in-class reading strategies. In this context, I’m not referring to choice reading time where students have the opportunity to choose a book and read. Rather, I’m referring to the time teachers give students to read a specific passage, such as a textbook chapter, an article, a journal entry, a blog post, and so on, in class. 

Many students take full advantage of this time, whether five minutes or 20, to focus on the reading comprehension task. However, others simply don’t know what to do with the time given to them. Some students will put their heads down. Others will get on their phone and surf. Still others might stare blankly into space. John Spencer, an assistant professor of education at George Fox University, has coined the phrase “tedious boredom” for when we are required to cognitively focus on tasks that we perceive as tedious or meaningless.

Perhaps students think the reading task is tedious or meaningless and express their boredom through their behavior. If so, we must change students’ perceptions and create effective reading opportunities where time is valuable and constructive. 

Here are three teaching strategies for reading to help your students regulate, recognize, and reflect the next time you offer in-class reading:


We want students to be in control of their reading and be able to “regulate” themselves to stick with it. While five minutes, 10 minutes, or 20 minutes might seem like a short amount of time, for some students, it can feel like an eternity. What do students need to stay immersed in their reading? Some might need an environment change, such as standing at their desks or sitting on the floor. Other students might want to make reading more collaborative by sharing the task with a partner or small group. Finally, all students need a purposeful literacy strategy to stay on task. I recommend having annotation sentence starters ready for students to ask questions, make comments, or highlight any unknown vocabulary. I also recommend asking students to use a concept map to keep track of the main idea and details. By regulating or controlling their own reading, students will be more apt to stick with it.


Students need a purpose for reading, and they need to recognize that purpose. Telling your students to “read” is somewhat vague and obscure. Make the time purposeful so students are clear on what they are supposed to know and do within that reading time. As you are planning the next reading task for your students, consider these questions:

  •  What is the purpose of the reading? 
  • What should the reader be looking for? 
  • Are there important takeaways from the reading; if so, what are they? 
  • Is the reading meant to offer background on a topic students are studying; if so, what are the clues to help students find that background? 
  • Is the reading offering a unique perspective; if so, what are the keywords to help students find those perspectives? 

Make sure you are explicit in introducing the reading assignment and that you have fully responded to these questions in your introduction. In that clarification, students can clearly recognize the purpose of the reading task.


Without explicit time to reflect, regulation and recognition become pointless. When creating your lessons, you want to build specific reflection time so students can process the work they have done and the value of that work. Without reflective time, the learning process is nothing more than rote memorization or empty discussion. When students are given a chance to reflect, they are more apt to “think about what and how they have learned.” We know the what of learning is valuable, but the how of learning is the cornerstone of reflection.

When introducing reflective time to students, consider offering these resources to support students. The first resource is Kelly Gallagher’s one-pagers, where he creates a series of statements to determine how students understood the lesson. Next, utilize a reflection journal to determine how students processed the task. Finally, apply the student feedback form to determine how students metacognitively thought about the successes or challenges of that task. 

In closing, we have precious little time with our students to accomplish goals created for them or by them. We want to make sure the time we have is productive and purposeful. As a result of applying practices that regulate, recognize, and reflect, our students have ownership of their time, a purpose for the reading, and a cause to process. These teaching-reading strategies ultimately create a classroom where reading time is valued, respected, and appreciated.

About the Author

Peg Grafwallner, M.Ed., is an instructional coach and reading specialist at a large urban school in Milwaukee, Wis. An active blogger, presenter, and author, Peg’s articles have appeared in many leading education publications. Her latest books are available from Solution Tree, including “Not Yet… And That’s OK: How Productive Struggle Fosters Student Learning” and “Ready to Learn: The FRAME Model for Optimizing Student Success.” For additional reading and to learn more, visit
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