Teaching Reading to Middle School Students: Improving Reading Comprehension

Teaching Reading to Middle School Students: Improving Reading Comprehension
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Reading Comprehension

After simply being able to decode words on a page, good reading comprehension is the most important skill a reader can have. Middle school students are encountering more and more non-fiction text, so middle school is the perfect time to really work on improving comprehension of all types of reading material.

How to Improve Comprehension Skills

To help your students improve their reading comprehension skills, have them complete the following three steps with their reading material.


Don’t just assign your students a piece of text and say, “Read this.” Before they read, have them do some pre-reading activities to build their background knowledge. Pre-reading is important because it gives readers context.

For example, maybe you are reading a short story that is set in another country. Before reading, show your students pictures and give them some information about that country. This will help them better understand the story because they have some background knowledge.

During Reading

As your students read, have them take notes about what they are reading. You can give them specific ideas of what to look for, such as instances of foreshadowing, or you can have them take note of anything that appears significant to them. You could also do a combination of these two things.

After Reading

Have an activity that requires students to reread parts of the text. This will reinforce what they just read.

Use Context

Teach students that if they don’t know what a word means they should use context to determine the meaning.

This is important because if students make it a habit to skip over words when they don’t understand them their comprehension will suffer.

Also, let them know that it is not always possible to use context to determine word meaning. For example, they may be reading a complicated section from their science textbook.It may be necessary to actually use the glossary to find a word’s meaning.


Poor fluency negatively impacts comprehension. A reader who does not read fluently usually reads slowly, pauses frequently, and stumbles over words.

This is not only embarrassing to kids when they are reading aloud, but if they are having to spend so much time decoding words, they are not able to spend time actually figuring out what those words are saying.

If you have students that have fluency difficulties, try these strategies to improve fluency.

Age-Appropriate Materials

If you have struggling readers in your classes (and many of us do) as you consider how to teach reading to middle school students, try to find-age appropriate materials for them to read.

It is humiliating for a middle school student to sit in class reading a book that belongs in the hands of a second grader. Not only is it embarrassing, it is also boring. Even if the student reads on a second grade level, try to find books that look and would be interesting to an older child.

It’s easy to struggle when teaching reading to middle school students. It’s an interesting age for teaching reading. As I said before, typical middle school students already know how to read, they just need tools to help them read better. And, as I said before, you may also have some strugglers in your classes that not only need help with comprehension, but also with decoding and fluency. Reaching them all takes a careful balancing act.