The All-Time Top 5 Ways to Be a Better Reader

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Every once I awhile I get in a funk and I feel like nothing I’m doing with my students is working…and I wonder why I ever decided to be an SLP. It’s like I’m on auto-pilot, completely disengaged from what I’m doing and never pausing to “be in the moment.”

A couple years ago, I was having a week like this. Then, one morning I was rushing back and forth in between sessions and my students in one of the second grade classrooms were in the middle of something when I went to pick them up.

As I stood there in the classroom waiting for them, a poster on the wall caught my eye. I’d never noticed it before, because quite frankly I’d never taken the time to pay attention.

Here’s what it said:

Top five ways to be a better readertop5
1.Read
2.Read
3.Read
4.Read
5.Read

If I’d had a camera I would have taken a picture. This poster, although on the surface appears to be cute and comical, said one of the most insightful things I’d seen throughout my years in the school system. This simple, yet profound message has stuck with me, and gave me one of those “Aha” moments.

Sometimes the solution to our problems is right in front of our noses, and we even don’t even realize it.

For me, it was this: Keep it simple and stay consistent, and you’ll see results.

The thing is, in the school systems we work with students who have language impairments. Their issues are so complex, and it can be hard to pinpoint the right ways to treat them. When it comes down to it, language is messy.  Yet in spite of all the nuances of language, we’re supposed to devise a plan and find a way to fix the issues our kids are having.

In the past, I’ve found myself jumping from skill to skill, dabbling here and there, and never seeing improvements because I was trying to cover too much. I never scratched the surface of any particular skill.

That is, until I realized how to simplify the process, stay focused, and target the essential skills that make the greatest impact.

The answer was always right in front of me and I didn’t even know it.

Let me ask you this. If you had to pick one central focus for your students with language impairments, what would it be?

My answer: Vocabulary

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Now you’re probably thinking, wait a minute…what about all the other things your students are struggling to do?

If so, that’s a good question to ask. The thing is, vocabulary is more than just naming and identifying words-it’s actually related to many other language skills, so focusing on vocabulary enables you to hit multiple skills at once. I’ll hit the key points to explain why this is so important. I want you to pay attention to two words that keep popping up.

  1. Vocabulary is tied to our phonological knowledge of words-you’ll never use a word you can’t pronounce, and if you don’t use a word, you won’t fully grasp its meaning. And, phonological knowledge is essential to reading (Kucan, 2012).
  2. Vocabulary is tied to orthographic knowledge-we need to know how a word “looks” in order to truly “know” it, be able to spell it consistently, and recognize it in print. These are all necessary to be able to read and write (Kucan, 2012).
  3. Vocabulary and syntax are interrelated-part of knowing a word is knowing how to use it. This also impacts writing abilities and our ability comprehend what we read (Nippold, 1995). My 30-page vocabulary booster hits syntax and vocabulary together.
  4. Vocabulary and morphology are interrelated-part of knowing a word is understanding and using it with varying grammatical markers, or understanding how prefixes and suffixes can change the word. Both of these skills are related to reading and writing (Cunningham, 2009).
  5. Vocabulary skills are dependent on our knowledge of semantic information. The more semantic features we are able to associate with a word (e.g., function, category, associations, synonyms), the more effectively we can use it. Word knowledge in early grades (elementary) can actually predict reading performance in the later grades (high school) (Scarborough, 2001).

Did you see which words were highlighted? Reading. Vocabulary. I probably could have highlighted writing too, but you get the picture.

You need strong vocabulary skills to effectively comprehend what you read. If you know less than 90-95% of the words in a passage, you won’t be able to understand it (Nagy & Scott, 2001).

One of the best ways to learn new words is through reading, because text language is much richer and more sophisticated than conversational speech. Anyone who is not a “reader” is missing out.

Guess who tends to read less than the average student? That’s right, our students with language impairments.

Here’s what happens:

Weak language/vocabulary skills=weak comprehension=less motivation to read=less time spent reading=fewer new words acquired.

It’s an endless cycle. A Catch 22, if you will.

This means that one of the best ways to teach language skills-especially vocabulary-is through the context of books. If we can provide regular and consistent exposure to “book language”, we can make an enormous impact because our students are often not getting enough of this.

If we integrate reading into our therapy sessions-we can use this book language to emphasize those key areas of language that impact both comprehension and vocabulary (e.g., phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, orthography).

This regular practice with reading will improve their reading skills. This gives you the opportunity to target multiple skills at once that our students are missing.

So when you have one of those days when you feel like your brain is going to explode, you are way behind on your paperwork, and you haven’t had time to prep the way you wanted, grab a book. They’re one of the greatest tools ever invented; for therapy and for life.

And remember this: Keep it simple and stay consistent, and you’ll see results.

I’d like to revise those words I saw on that poster years ago, because I know now that language, vocabulary, and reading are so interrelated.

The all-time top five ways to be a better readerTOP5-2
1.Read and learn words
2.Read and learn words
3.Read and learn words
4.Read and learn words
5.Read and learn words.

I hope I’ve made my point.

If you want a resource to use while book reading so you know exactly how to target key skills, The Power of Meta: Vocabulary Booster is a manual I’ve made summing up some of my best tried-and-true strategies to improve word learning. You’ll be able to start implementing them right away. You can download it here:

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DrKaren

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