Part 2-Getting them to buy in & supporting their efforts

Missed a part of the “How to Teach High School Students how to read,” 5 part, blog series: See end of post for links

Baseline Testing

I begin the year by testing students using the Wechsler test. This gives me a baseline to use when determining whether or not students have improved over the course of the semester. I give these results to each student and explain how this scientifically accurate test indicates that the student is reading below grade level (e.g., grade 3.2 level). I share examples of past student experiences to help engage and inspire students. I share examples of how past students, reading below grade level, have followed the program and finished the program reading multiple grade levels higher. This is the push some of them need to buy into the program. Others take a bit more convincing.

Getting a JUST RIGHT book

There is varying opinions on whether or not to force students to read books based on levels. Despite the fact that I have accessed them for reading level, I don’t find it necessary to force them to read a specific level. I encourage them to instead to read a book that is at their “just right level,” this is the sweet spot where the text is not too hard or too easy and most likely to increase their reading fluency (the rate at which a reader takes in and the level to which they understands what they are reading). I teach them how to figure out if a book is at the “just right level” for them.

(here is a poster I use, free on TPT)

More than levels, I emphasize that students should be reading a book that they find interesting and they can change books as often as they like until they find one that they like. I allow this within reason as switching books constantly is a coping mechanism some weak readers use to avoid reading. Ultimately students will have staying power with books that are interesting to them, and it is unlikely that they will enjoy a book that is too hard. My job then is to ensure that they are not reading a book that is too easy, which I do during reading conferences (more on this later).

I also work at exposing students to a variety of books and places to get them. We do a book browse with my in class library and with the school librarian. If I am feeling ambitious, and I am organized enough, we even take a field trip to the public library.

Setting aside time for reading

A skill can only improve if it’s worked on and reading fluency is no different. Encouraging a love of reading and improving fluency requires time. By the second week of school all my students are reading during the first 10 to 15 minutes of class. Some of them are pretending, some of them are reading a book they hate and some of them are really enjoying themselves. It is now my job to help them improve their reading skills.


You don’t want to weigh students down with too much “work” on their novel or they may start disliking the book. I give students a calendar (get this free calendar or an editable calendar pay product, on TPT) on which they write the amount of pages they read each day and the total count for the week.

When they start a new book they assess their reading rate. Reading for 10 minutes, counting up the pages they read, and multiplying by 5 will give them their reading rate (page # x 5 = reading rate). Over time they will compare their reading rate to the total number of pages read in the week to see if their reading rate is improving. They bring this handout to our reading conferences and we discuss their progress. If they are not improving we discuss why: are they disinterested in their book, distracted from reading due to their phone or seating arrangement, or is the book too easy or hard.

Meeting with students

Conferencing with students is an effective, one on one, way to support their skill development.

I model good reading behaviour for a week or two at the beginning of the semester to help students get into the groove of silent reading time. For some reason when I say “I need complete quite to read” and then point them out as disruptive to my reading, it really seems to have an impact. I am also showing them that this reading time is a privilege and something they should look forward to (because I do) and that I am not asking them to do anything I am not willing to do. I may step out of my own reading modelling if it becomes clear that a student needs more direction, such as when they are hiding/using their phone or pretending to read. These are pretty obvious “fake outs” when a reader exhibits specific behaviours like turning the page every once in a while, eyes that scan across the page, holding the book at an unnatural angel or thumbs/fingers that do not move.

Once there is a good rhythm and automaticity to reading time I start meeting with students. I set up a seating area in the corner of the room and meet with three to five students a day. We discuss their reading calendar and how their reading is going. Penny Kittle has examples of questions to ask, and I find them very helpful. This conference gives me an opportunity to support each student where they are: give suggestions of strategies to use if they are struggling but enjoying their book, give alternative book suggestions if they are disengaged and struggling to find a book they like, and encourage more critical thinking if they have the right book but are coasting.

NEXT? Read part 3 of this article: How to teach high school students to read: Part 3-Teaching Reading Strategies


NEED TO CATCH UP? Read posts below:

If your interested in how to teach high school teachers how to read or you have questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment or contact me.


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