Research School Network: 10 Ways to Support Reading Making progress using reading strategies

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10 Ways to Support Reading

Making progress using reading strategies

by Sandringham Research School
on the

Annabel Brown, Research School Director


We all know that there is a marked gap between disadvantaged students’ attainment and their peers and the recent Education Endowment Fund (EEF) data shows us how the pandemic has widened the gap further.


Attainment gaps in year 2 over time*

Reading Strategies 1 Covid attainment gaps 2 May 22
Fig 1. EEF Best evidence on impact of COVID-19 on pupil attainment

Students lacked the technology that was necessary to attend lessons, many had little parental support and finding a quiet, productive environment in which to work was hard to access, as families lived on top of each other working from home.

Despite their best efforts I found that many students were distracted by their surroundings. One particularly diligent student turned on her microphone to ask me a question from her kitchen and the noise was manic; music blared in the background, her brothers talked across her, pots and pans were banging as someone made lunch and I struggled to hear her question. It would be hard for anyone trying to work in such an environment, let alone our young people.

Thankfully those times have passed, and since being back in the classroom, schools have been working furiously to plug educational gaps, often using the EEF’s Tiered Model of targeted academic support and interventions, investment in high-quality teaching and employing wider strategies to engage their learners. High staff absenteeism due to Covid has made progress even harder and the EEF’s new publication, The Impact of COVID-19 on Learning: A review of the evidence’, explains how a recent study (DfE, 2022) found that in secondary reading, learning losses have increased since the end of the 2021 summer term”.


So, what does the evidence say are the best bets for closing the reading gap’?

As an English teacher, seeing that reading comprehension strategies could have a positive effect of up to 7+ months in Secondary Schools based on evidence from 141 studies was pleasing, but how can schools implement these strategies across the curriculum?

Below are 10 ways schools can support students’ reading comprehension taking from the Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools Guidance Report:

Provide targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject (Recommendation 2)
1.Train students to access academic language for different subjects; engage in academic talk, support academic writing, and make academic reading accessible.

2. Ensure that both teachers and students understand the three Tiers of Vocabulary and how to use the tiers to support identification of key words to bolster students’ vocabulary.

Tiers of Vocabulary

Reading Strategies 2 Tiers of Vocab May 22
Fig 2. EEF Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools Guidance Report

3. Graphic organisers such as the Frayer Model can help students to break down and understand complex vocabulary:

Reading Strategies 3 Graphic Organisers May 22
Fig 3. Alex Quigley’s example of the Frayer Model

4. Setting up low stakes quizzing supports students’ understanding of subject specific vocabulary and allows teachers to assess their progress.


Develop students’ ability to read complex academic texts (Recommendation 3)

5. Activate students’ prior knowledge before reading a text to support comprehension, by retrieving their previous understanding.

6. Make predictions, ask questions, clarify, and summarise texts students read, allowing students to monitor their own comprehension.

Reading Strategies 4 Reciprocal Reading May 22
Fig. 4 The Reciprocal Reading Approach from Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools Guidance Report

Combine writing instruction with reading in every subject (Recommendation 5)

7. Write before reading. Ask students to note down what they already understand about the text or create a list of questions they have about the reading.

8. Annotating, underlining, highlighting, and making notes, allows students to identify key information or features in the text.

9. A short summary sentence or paragraph about a text enables students to think more carefully about the meaning and allows teachers and students to monitor their understanding.

10. We often find ways that students make mistakes in our subjects, and by anticipating common misconceptions, we can reduce the likelihood of them becoming an issue or a stumbling block for students.

Each of these strategies used alone can support progress in reading but a whole school approach to literacy is far more effective for our students. The EEF importantly notes that, supporting struggling readers is likely to require a coordinated effort across the curriculum and a combination of approaches… No particular strategy should be seen as a panacea, and careful diagnosis of the reasons why an individual pupil is struggling should guide the choice of intervention strategiesEEF Toolkit.


To hear more about these strategies and discover more tips on supporting your students you can sign up to our Improving Secondary Literacy Course on 21st June.

Useful references:

  1. Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools https://d2tic4wvo1iusb.cloudfront.net/eef-guidance-reports/literacy-ks3-ks4/EEF_KS3_KS4_LITERACY_GUIDANCE.pdf?v=1635355220
  2. Reading comprehension strategies https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/teaching-learning-toolkit/reading-comprehension-strategies
  3. NEW: Pandemic adversely affected young children’s development, with fewer reaching expected levels by the end of reception class https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/new-pandemic-adversely-affected-young-childrens-development-with-fewer-reaching-expected-levels-by-the-end-of-reception-class
  4. Best evidence on impact of COVID-19 on pupil attainment https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/guidance-for-teachers/covid-19-resources/best-evidence-on-impact-of-covid-19-on-pupil-attainment

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