Reading with High School Students

How to manage reading with high school students. Tips from a reading expert.
Reading with high school students? I asked an expert!
I took *zero* classes in college or graduate school that focused on reading with high school students. I think the assumption is that older students can read, and we secondary teachers should delve into texts – analyzing, critiquing, examining.


That is not the situation I always find. Sometimes, I wish I were a reading specialist. I know that other ELA teachers probably face the same questions I have.

I sat down with my neighbor and close friend Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven – a high school teacher with that reading specialist certification. After much back and forth, we combined my concerns for reading with high school students into two main ideas. My questions and her answers are below.

In my high school classes, I try to squeeze every second of the class period. How and why should I set time aside for individual reading?

Success in this world is dependent upon literacy. Research has proven that choice reading is the most important element when it comes to encouraging students to read more on their own. Teachers need to engage students with meaningful, relevant texts, and the majority of the time, this cannot be achieved through whole-class novels.

Independent reading increases students’ vocabularies, reading comprehension abilities, and overall literacy skills; most importantly, it helps foster the pleasure factor. Kids who are allowed to read for fun start to see it as a lifelong hobby instead of a daily school chore that is always accompanied by work.

While all aspects of an ELA curriculum are valuable, independent reading is the element that has the greatest likelihood of increasing students’ success both in the academic setting and in life. It’s tempting to eliminate independent reading time from our curriculum due to time constraints, but it just doesn’t make sense to do so when we look at all the research.

Reading with high school students - the tricks and the methods for helping secondary students succeed with reading.

I took zero ‘reading classes’ in college. Sometimes, I have students who struggle with reading. I want to help them, but I also don’t want to make them miserable with questions, highlighting, sticky notes…

What’s the balance? What are realistic approaches to use with these students?

Scaffolding texts is an integral part of a successful reading program. Still, we definitely need to be constantly researching new strategies to make reading comprehension activities feel like less of a chore. I love reading new research-based texts about how to address reading comprehension at the secondary level because these books inspire me with so many new ideas.

As far as realistic approaches, teachers need to build students’ background schema before approaching an unfamiliar or challenging text. I often use video clips and songs that are related but in a surprising way. Students also enjoy short web-quest assignments and mini jigsaw research projects to help them grasp the historical context they need to understand complex texts.

During reading, teachers can ask students questions that relate the text to their own lives. Instead of using worksheets, we can use task cards, class discussions, station activities, and collaborative writing assignments to encourage students to look back at a text several times without even realizing they are doing so. Rereading is a key ingredient to truly understanding multiple layers of meaning in a text, but finding creative approaches to get students to analyze the story further is the key.

Finally, when teachers are put in the situation where they have to teach a whole-class novel, incorporating choice through different avenues is important. Rather than asking students to simply annotate the text, we can offer them three different options for how to do so (and if those options can appeal to different learning styles, even better).


And… those are the answers Melissa gave me about reading with high school students. I hope these answers give you insight into helping your secondary students with reading.

Melissa has taught English at the secondary level for eleven years. She specializes in the flipped classroom and the co-teaching experience. Using her masters degrees in Curriculum & Instruction and Reading, Melissa has worked with at-risk teenagers, inclusion classes, college-bound pupils, and gifted-talented students. She also holds a reading specialist certification. You can read more of her teaching tips, including thoughts about classroom management, reading comprehension, grammar instruction, differentiation strategies, writing activities, vocabulary retention, and best-practice teaching approaches on her blog, Reading and Writing Haven, or follow her on IG @readingandwritinghaven or on Facebook.

Interested in other interviews? I sat down with a college professor for ideas about teaching writing.

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