Reading is one of the most valuable skills that children learn as they grow up. Developing strong reading skills early in life is hugely important for professional success and personal wellbeing in adulthood. People use the literacy and reading comprehension skills that they learned during childhood throughout their lives.
Children often start reading around first grade, but developing strong comprehension skills is a gradual process that requires continued reinforcement throughout their elementary, middle, and high school years. Here, we discuss tools, strategies, and resources that can help students at different grade levels engage with reading and improve their comprehension abilities.
The Importance of Reading and Literacy for All Ages
Reading is a popular form of entertainment and a fun way to pass the time, but there are also several notable long-term benefits associated with it. Building strong literary skills during childhood can help people enjoy these benefits at all ages.
Because of the way it stimulates the brain, regular reading can help reduce stress and promote crucial cognitive abilities like memory and concentration. This can lead to improved performance at school or work, and a decreased risk of dementia later in life. Reading also allows us to connect with stories, which promote creativity and aid in the development of key social skills like empathy and mental flexibility. These skills help people build and maintain stronger interpersonal relationships throughout their lives.
While the benefits of reading are lifelong, the optimal way to get your child or student interested will vary depending on their grade and experience level. Kids change rapidly as they get older, and you must utilize age-appropriate tools and strategies to maximize engagement and ensure the best results when teaching reading comprehension skills.
Kindergarten Through Fifth Grade
Because many children start reading around the time they’re in first grade, elementary school is a critical time for developing reading comprehension skills. The activities, strategies, and tools in this section are designed to help elementary school students develop foundational literacy skills, get them excited about reading, and prepare them for the rest of their academic careers.
Oftentimes, the way that kids learn to read can leave a lasting impression on them. When teaching elementary school students, it’s important to use methods that make reading as fun and interesting as possible. The activities and suggestions below can help you cover the fundamentals while simultaneously instilling kids with a lifelong love of reading:
- Read-along: Read stories aloud to your child or student while they follow along with the words on the page. Ideal for newer readers, this activity can help kids expand their vocabulary, increase their attention span, strengthen their written and verbal cognition, and improve their ability to recognize words later in life.
- Dialogic reading: Have regular conversations with your child or student about what they’re reading. During these conversations, discuss their thoughts about the story/characters and try to answer any questions they might have. This activity can help improve critical thinking and oral language skills as well as reading comprehension.
- Designate a “reading area: Designate a specific area of your home or classroom for reading. Keep it stocked with a collection of popular children’s books and children’s books series. Make the space fun for kids using mood lighting, decorations, and comfortable furniture like bean bag chairs. This will help avoid distractions and encourage them to spend more time reading.
- Read outside: When the weather is nice, take your child or student outside to read. This can allow them to burn off some excess energy and provide a refreshing change of scenery. Spending time outside can also reduce stress while promoting focus and attention span, which can help improve kids’ ability to engage with stories.
Resources and Websites
The internet can be an extremely helpful tool for students as they learn to read. The online resources below provide students, parents, and educators with a variety of important information including lesson ideas, book selection guides, and news articles about childhood literacy.
- Oxford Owl: This site offers a variety of reading resources for kids ages 3 to 11, including reading comprehension strategies, blog posts, and resources for struggling readers. There is also a wide range of children’s books available for sale on the site, as well as a library of free eBooks organized by reading level.
- PBS: The PBS kids literacy page contains a wealth of information for families of kids ages 2 to 8. Here, you can find articles about childhood literacy, as well as activities that can help promote reading comprehension. These include interactive mobile games, printable activity sheets, and ideas for crafts related to words and literacy.
- Reading Rockets: This site specializes in resources for teaching children how to read, including strategies, activity ideas, and lesson plans for parents and educators. The site also contains resources designed to help you and your child or student find the perfect book; such as themed book lists, author interviews, and a Book Finder feature that allows you to search for books by specific genre, topic, age range, and reading level.
Developing strong literacy skills in children often requires continued practice and repetition. The digital applications below provide kids with a range of engaging reading exercises, and allow them to practice anywhere using a mobile device.
- Homer Learn and Grow: This learning app is specifically designed for children ages 2 to 8. The program uses personalized interactive lesson plans to keep kids engaged while they learn and practice foundational literacy skills like word recognition and phonemic awareness. The app will also provide kids with important background knowledge and introduce them to a wider range of literary genres as they move through the lessons.
- Biblionasium: This literacy tool is structured like a secure social network where children can share book recommendations and discuss what they’re reading with one another. It also features digital reading logs that allow parents and educators to check what their children/students are reading and devise customized challenges based on their performance and goals. This app’s personalization and social features can help get kids excited about reading while allowing them to learn at their own pace.
- Epic!: Designed to make reading easier and more exciting for kids, this app offers subscribers unlimited access to a massive library of books, videos, and interactive activities for elementary school readers. The virtual library format allows kids to conveniently read a wide range of titles and practice their literacy skills directly on their favorite mobile device. The program also provides users with personalized recommendations based on their previous selections, and features motivational rewards that encourage kids to read more.
As kids get older and their brains become more developed, they can begin learning new literacy skills and reading more advanced materials. The activities and resources below are designed to appeal to the interests of preteens and provide them with challenges that match their reading level.
Most middle school students value independence, but still have a lot to learn about reading. The activity suggestions below can help preteens improve their reading comprehension skills and encourage them to practice independently.
- Entrance questions: Give your child or student some specific questions about their book to consider as they read, then discuss their answers afterward. These questions can relate to the story, characters, or the language used in the book. This activity encourages kids to read more attentively, which can improve reading comprehension and help them form a connection to the story. Discussing these questions also allows you to observe your child or student’s literacy skills as they continue to develop.
- Start a series: If possible, find a multi-part book series that your preteen is interested in and allow them to read all the installments. Finding a series with an engaging story can encourage more independent reading and promote the development of important literacy skills like visualization and vocabulary. If your middle schooler is becoming bored with their old favorites, letting them choose a popular series like the Hunger Games, Divergent, or Throne of Glass can help sustain their interest in books and give them a fun way to discuss reading with their classmates.
- Music and poetry: Writing and analyzing poetry is a useful way to develop literacy skills, but many middle school-age students may not find traditional poetry exciting. To bridge this gap, have your preteen or middle school student identify some of the rhyme schemes used in their favorite songs, then practice writing their rhymes with similar structures. This activity can promote decoding skills and improve kids’ ability to recognize and use literary devices like personification.
- Buy used: As kids grow up, their tastes in literature can evolve dramatically, and they may not always finish all the books they start. Buying new books can be expensive, but it’s important to make sure your child has a steady supply. Knowing where to buy used books can save you a lot of money while allowing your child to indulge their curiosities.
Resources and Websites
These websites contain a variety of literacy resources specifically cultivated for middle school students, parents, and educators.
- AdLit: Short for adolescent literacy, this National Education Association-funded multimedia project specializes in adolescent reading resources for teachers, students, and families. Here, teachers can find tools like video modules, literacy assessments, discussion guides, professional development webcasts, and a classroom strategy library. For students and their families, the site offers author interviews, themed book lists, and a book-finder tool with which they can search for books by age level, theme, and other specific criteria.
- Tweens Read: An annual virtual book festival specifically aimed at helping fifth through eighth-grade readers connect with their favorite books and authors. The festival features virtual panels where students can hear their favorite books read aloud and ask the authors questions live via Zoom. You and your student can peruse the schedule online and sign up for any panels that interest you. Participating in these sessions can provide students with first-hand advice and an unforgettable experience that will help foster a lifelong love of reading.
- TweenTribune: A free educational site offered by the Smithsonian. Here, you can find a selection of news articles that are organized by grade level and cover a wide range of topics including art, science, history, culture, and current events. The content of these articles is designed to appeal to students of a particular age and challenge their literacy skills appropriately. The site also serves as an online comment-sharing community where teachers and students can exchange information and review lessons/assignments together.
As students get older, it can become harder and harder to separate them from their mobile devices. These applications can give preteens a way to discover new titles and practice their literacy skills directly from their phone or tablet
- Dear Reader: This app allows users to play a selection of interactive puzzle games that utilize excerpts from their favorite books as they read. These games incorporate a variety of different activities that can improve reading comprehension, such as unscrambling passages from classic books, matching famous quotes with their sources, finishing incomplete lines, and identifying misspelled words. The app helps users track their reading goals, offers motivational rewards for completing challenges, and comes with a virtual library of 101 literary classics that they can choose from.
- Device 6: An interactive text-based adventure game in which users move through the storyline and unlock new chapters by solving a series of puzzles. As players navigate the text, they must keep track of clues and work through the different types of puzzles to solve the mystery. This game’s combination of reading and puzzle-solving activities can keep preteen readers interested and help promote a variety of literacy skills including inferencing, problem-solving, relating background knowledge, and identifying plot points.
- IXL: A comprehensive learning app that offers a variety of reading and language arts activities designed for mobile devices. Through these interactive activities, middle school students can learn and practice important reading skills such as constructing compound sentences, identifying vague pronoun references, distinguishing facts from opinions, interpreting allusions, recognizing dangling modifiers, and more. The app provides users with detailed week-by-week lesson plans and personalized activity recommendations based on their goals and reading level.
High School and Pre-College
Many people use the reading comprehension skills they learned in high school throughout their adult lives. The literacy activities, tools, and resources below were designed to engage high school students and help them prepare for college and the professional world.
High school students often have busy lives and a wide variety of things competing for their attention. The activity suggestions below help ensure that teenagers make time for reading, and cover important skills that will benefit them in all areas of life.
- Join a YA book club: Young adult or YA book clubs allow teenagers to explore a variety of young adult fiction and young adult nonfiction titles, and allow them to discuss what they’re reading with peers in a comfortable setting. This regular group discussion can encourage busy teenagers to keep up with their reading, and help them engage with stories as they exchange opinions and predictions with their friends.
- Skimming: Have your child or student skim through texts before they read and try to identify the main plot points, ideas, and/or arguments expressed by the author. Afterward, have them read the text in full detail and compare their observations. This activity can help prepare high school students for college by improving their reading speed and promoting valuable comprehension skills like inferencing, summarizing, and identifying important details.
- Topic/character analysis: Have your child or student analyze stories as they read by asking thoughtful questions about the plot/tone/characters. Create a template of relevant questions for your student to use for their analysis, such as “what strategy/style/literary device is being used?” and “what is the author trying to tell us with this?”. This activity can improve critical thinking and inferencing skills, and help students form a connection with the stories they read.
Resources and Websites
As kids’ tastes evolve, it can become challenging for them to keep finding new things to read. The resources below contain a wealth of information that kids can use to find books they like.
- ReadWorks.org: On this site, students can read selected literary passages and analyze them by answering a series of research-based questions. The questions for each passage are carefully curated by educators and designed to help promote reading comprehension skills. As they work through the different passages and question sets on the site, students will learn to make inferences, compare and contrast themes, identify literary devices, draw conclusions, evaluate text structures, and more.
- Project Gutenberg: Online library with a selection of 60,000 free eBooks they can download or read online. This site is ideal for high school students who are trying to expand their tastes and find new reading material. Students can search for books using specific criteria like title, author, subject, and publication date, or sort them by popularity (measured in the number of downloads) to see what others are reading.
- Read.gov: This site, managed by the Library of Congress, contains a variety of literacy resources for teens. Here, you can find free eBooks, literary recommendations, poems, creative writing prompts for students, strategy ideas for educators, and more. The site also has several uniquely engaging video resources about reading, including author webcasts, interviews, and recorded speeches from the National Book Festival.
The apps below contain a variety of resources that can help kids throughout high school and college, including advanced study tools and book viewers that allow them to read and make notes directly on their phones.
- Libby: This app allows users to browse and read titles from their local library, including audiobooks, eBooks, and magazines, directly on their mobile devices. High school students can perform advanced searches for books using specific criteria, access their books on all their mobile devices, and download titles to read offline. The app also features a built-in audiobook reader that allows users to listen to their favorite titles while they’re driving, working out, or doing chores.
- Rewordify: Free online software designed to simplify complex passages from books. This program is highly useful for teaching reading comprehension. By comparing the original excerpt with the simpler Rewordify version, students can expand their vocabulary and gain a better understanding of what they’re reading. The app also allows educators to track the errors students make in their class, which can help them create customized lesson plans designed to address their needs and goals.
- Snap & Read: An advanced text reading tool that can perform a variety of different functions, including reading text aloud, translating it from other languages, modifying passages to be more readable, and creating custom outlines for studying. Users can also modify the font and text layout of their books to fit their tastes. This app can help improve reading comprehension and is highly useful for analytical assignments like essays and book reports.
Assistive Technology for Reading at All Ages
These tools and resources can help promote reading comprehension and other literacy skills for students of all ages:
- Read & Write: Text to speech tool that can help make complicated passages more accessible to students. Includes features like word prediction, speech-to-text dictation, built-in text and picture dictionaries, as well as dual-color highlighting.
- Read2Go: Mobile reading app made for those who struggle with printed text. Read2Go contains a massive digital library of titles, and allows users to access their downloaded books on all of their mobile devices.
- Universal Reader Plus: Downloadable program that can read and summarize text. The app allows you to highlight passages and hear them read aloud or summarized, and can translate text from eight different languages.
- BeeLine Reader: A unique reading comprehension tool designed to prevent screen fatigue and make the text more accessible. Beeline gives users a high degree of customization over their display settings, including the on-page color scheme and text layout.