How to boost nonfiction reading skills

How to boost nonfiction reading skills

Your student’s brain may already have strong reading muscles, especially when it comes to favorite books. But students need to familiarize themselves with nonfiction texts from a wide variety of sources so that their ability to comprehend informational content is as strong as their ability to devour novels and stories.

In order to get better at synthesizing a block of text (gulp!), students have to practice reading smarter, not harder. On standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, the provided informational passages are different in style and content from the fiction that students frequently encounter in class. Because these nonfiction reading skills are intuitively learned, they cannot easily be taught in a classroom but instead honed through hours of reading practice.

Learning how to read well is like learning how to hit a baseball.

Let’s say little Johnny wants to be the best batter on his baseball team.

His coach can teach him how to hold the bat, the stance he should take at the plate, the importance of keeping his eye on the ball, and how to connect with the pitch. This is knowledge-based teaching.

Unfortunately, even the best coach can’t make Johnny a star slugger simply by teaching him the skills. He has to practice, practice, practice until his muscles have absorbed that knowledge and he doesn’t even have to think about it; his eyes and his arms and his legs all know what to do when the pitch is thrown.

The point is that he doesn’t have enough time to analyze that pitch using everything he’s been taught about speed, vectors, strategy; he doesn’t have time to remember everything his coach taught him. He has to use his intuition, and the muscle sense he’s earned with countless hours of practice, to hit the ball before it flies into the catcher’s mitt.

The brain works the same way with reading.

Students first learn how to read using knowledge-based teaching: first the alphabet, then words, then sentences, followed by whole books. But to be a truly great reader, they have to practice, just as Johnny does with baseball.

When you think about how many letters, words, and complex sentences you’re dealing with when you read a single essay, and how much work your brain is doing, it’s quite remarkable – as though your brain is hitting dozens of baseballs flying at you every minute.

If your student is still reading at the knowledge-based level, this can be very exhausting, difficult, and discouraging. It’s a long journey to become a reading pro: someone who can analyze written material effortlessly, even enjoyable, at an intuitive level. It takes practice.

So what tools does your student need?
Students should read text from a variety of subjects to expose themselves to something beyond fiction: the social sciences, natural science, history, arts and culture, and current events. Reading material can easily be found (for free!) in dozens of publications and journals, government agency documents, and archives of historical essays and speeches.

To accelerate your student’s progress, encourage your child to practice for fifteen minutes a day. That’s it! To make the most of your child’s time, each passage should ideally be accompanied by in-depth annotations and related quizzes, including the following:

✓ vocabulary preview notes
✓ detailed analyses of key sentences
✓ paragraph summaries
✓ reading comprehension quizzes and answer explanations
✓ vocabulary quizzes
✓ progress reports updated in real time
✓ and more