What is a Successful Reader?

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 2 class periods
20 minutes to assemble/copy various texts.
Materials: A packet for each student containing 5-6 excerpts from different texts of varying difficulty levels (Sample Texts Handout), 1 poster board or large sheet of butcher paper for each class.


The mini “essential question” for this lesson has two parts:

1) How do you define a “successful” reader?
2) What does a successful reader DO in order to comprehend a text?

Students will often label themselves as either good or bad readers, but this lesson encourages them to realize successful readers are really no more gifted than a reader who struggles - they simply are more familiar with and have practiced with a variety of reading strategies. These reading strategies can be learned and applied by any student.

Purpose – Students are exploring and explaining what successful readers do to understand a variety of texts.

Students will be able to:

1. Identify the characteristics of a “successful reader” in discussion.
2. Describe what goes on in their minds while they read various texts.
3. Explain the techniques readers use to comprehend a text in a presentation.

National English Education Standard
Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Teacher Background
Texts for this lesson can be taken from any variety of sources, but one very useful text is:
Building Academic Literacy: An Anthology for Reading Apprenticeship
Audrey Fielding (Editor), Ruth Schoenbach (Editor) ISBN: 0-7879-6555-3

Related and Resource Websites

The Literacy Web at the University of Connecticut http://www.literacy.uconn.edu/index.htm



Day One
1. Write the questions of the day on the board (the question may also be printed on strips of paper and handed to students at the door as they come in): “How does a person become an accomplished reader? What does it mean to be able to read well?” Allow students 5-10 minutes to contemplate and write down their responses and ideas. Tell them to write as much as they can about these topics and prepare to have a short discussion about them.

2. When students have written down their responses, ask a few people to share what they think. Spend about 10 minutes or so talking about the qualities of a successful reader (some examples might be “Reads a lot”, “Reads without difficulty”, “Can read for a long time”, “Can read quickly”, etc…). You might have a student write a list on the board of these characteristics. Explain to the class that what we think of as “successful” or “good” readers are not really any more gifted than a reader who struggles—the strong reader is simply more familiar with and has had more practice with the reading strategies necessary to comprehend a text. Encourage the students to realize that they too can become more proficient readers if they learn about and use these strategies.

3. The next activity should take the rest of the class period and will spill over into day 2. Have students break into groups of 3-4 people in order to read 5-6 short excerpts from different texts (or you may use the excerpts provided in the Sample Texts Handout). These excerpts should be prepared ahead of time in reading packets. Draw from a variety of texts, including scientific and historical articles, with a copy for each student to read. Each excerpt should only be 1-2 paragraphs long. Instruct the class to read each selection one at a time, and to write down answers to the following questions as they read each text (you may want to write these target questions on the board or put them into a handout):

a) What are you thinking about as you read this excerpt? Why?
b) Do you have any difficulty in reading this piece? If so, what problems did you encounter?
c) If you had problems understanding the text, did you solve those problems? How?
d) As you read, are you distracted by anything in the text or in your environment? What distracts you? Can you get focused on the reading again? How?

Encourage the students to be thorough in their responses and really think about what goes on in their minds as they try to comprehend each selection. After they read and write down their responses to these questions, students should converse with their team members about each article. Encourage them to explain to each other how they read each selection and what mental processes were going on in their head while they were reading. This meta-cognitive thinking may be tough for some students; encourage them to refer often to their responses to the four target questions. Remind them to go beyond simple analysis like “I just don’t understand it”, to identifying what specific parts of the text make it challenging. Students will most likely not finish their group work on day 1, but will continue on day 2.

Day Two
1. Have students reconvene in their analysis groups from the previous day and resume reading and taking notes on their challenging texts. You may want to have 1 or 2 new texts available for groups that finish early. Give the class about 15-20 minutes to finish their group work; each student should have read each excerpt, answered the four target questions for each article, and discussed their answers with their team members.

2. As a whole class, discuss each text, noting what difficulties students had with each piece. As a student explains what made a particular reading difficult, determine by a show of hands if other students encountered the same problem. Ask students to explain what they did to overcome these challenges. While this discussion is going on, the teacher or a student should compile the responses into a double-column chart (on poster board or butcher paper) entitled “Reading Roadblocks and Reading Strategies”. In the left hand column students will describe some of the difficulties or “roadblocks” they encountered while reading, and in the right hand column students will explain the tools or strategies they used to overcome these challenges and understand the text. Ask students to point out strategies that were most helpful in understanding scientific and history based texts.

Once the whole class has composed a reading strategies chart, the teacher will introduce to them the correct terminology and definitions for the reading strategies they have discovered (see teacher background). Then have the students copy down the chart (with the appropriate strategy labels in parenthesis) into their notes for future reference.

Embedded Assessment
Assess the students as they are working in groups by checking their individual responses to the target questions. They should be able to identify such reading difficulties as unfamiliar vocabulary, confusing sentence structure, unclear topic, outside/mental distractions, etc. Make sure that students are able to point out specific parts of the text that make it challenging. Some students may not know how to overcome these roadblocks at first, but by the end of the lesson all should have an idea of new strategies to try.

Have students read a challenging text at home for 15 minutes and experiment with the reading strategies.

Embedded Assessment



PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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