Promoting Active Reading Skills

Placing prompts throughout a text challenges students to analyze and interpret what they read—improving reading comprehension. 

September 12, 2019
Alice Mollon / Ikon Images

Reading comprehension is an important skill throughout all grade levels, and students who struggle to comprehend texts may disengage from learning. Engaging instructional practices allow students to form a connection with the content.

Confident and successful readers engage with the material. A strategy called “Stop and Think” gives teachers across content areas and grade levels a tool to implement in their classes to enhance their reading instruction. When reading is modified with purposeful questioning, students have enhanced comprehension and engagement. 

Create the Prompt

When I implement this strategy with my students, I read through a text and write questions as I read. These can include personal reflections like a reaction or opinion about the text. They may include more specific questions if I identify certain passages that display different content. After my own text annotations are completed, I use that material to design prompts for the students. In student copies of the text, I purposefully place the prompts throughout to promote a fluid but thorough reading experience. The placement of a prompt is determined by its purpose. For example, if students are being encouraged to make inferences prior to reading, the prompt will be placed at the beginning of the text. I use the heading “Stop and Think” in all caps and then insert a question or prompt.

Student responses display their comprehension of the text. These responses from students can be used to informally or formally assess students. Teachers can also use the responses from students to guide further reading instruction. For example, if students are asked to summarize a section of the text and they cannot adequately do so, the teacher will know that more instruction is needed. Teachers should be using the responses to guide their instructional choices for the needs of their students. 

Differentiated Assessment and Instruction 

The Stop and Think strategy enables teachers to differentiate instruction. Some prompts may require students to make inferences, while others may ask students to pose questions. When crafting Stop and Think prompts, consider the following: 

  • Who are your learners? Do you have students who are below grade level for reading? What are their learning preferences, and how can you use that in your prompts? For example, can students draw a visual summary of a passage instead of writing?
  • What do they need to enhance their comprehension of the text? What are specific reading skills that they need to practice?
  • What specific skills do the standards dictate that the students must master?

Using different levels of language in the prompts accommodates varying levels for individual students. For example, my prompts for a College Prep English II class are different than my prompts for my Honors STEM English III class. Use knowledge of the needs of students when creating their guided reading prompts. 

Consider where prompts should be placed throughout the text. Purposeful and intentional placement can emphasize different reading skills. For example, teachers can have students make inferences solely based on the title by placing a prompt below the title of a text. Also, teachers can place summarizing and reflecting prompts in the middle and end of especially compelling sections. By sprinkling a text with prompts for students, the teacher can promote active reading skills for their students. 

Stop and Think prompts encourage engagement throughout the reading of a text. They also encourage students to dive deeper into a text. Instead of simply skimming a text, students are challenged to interpret and analyze it. 

Beyond Paper

The Stop and Think strategy can be utilized with online tools as well. If students use programs like Google Docs to interact with texts, teachers can share a document with their students with prompts included. Students can use the comment feature to respond to each of the prompts. Another online tool that can be used with this strategy is Seesaw, which provides many different outlets for communication and collaboration. Prompts can be shared through this program for students to analyze and record their responses with written text, pictures, or audio. 

Teachers across content areas are being encouraged to implement effective literacy strategies throughout their instruction. Stop and Think can be used in classes of all levels and content areas. With any text, teachers can construct prompts that address literacy standards and requirements for their content areas. Asking students to explain their motives when solving a math program or doing a chemistry experiment reinforces content while promoting deeper engagement. 

When we promote active reading skills, we engage students in reading. Using Stop and Think, teachers create intentional and purposeful reading instruction to enhance student learning. 

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Filed Under

  • Literacy
  • Teaching Strategies
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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