10 Tips for Building a Strong Reading Program

Quality reading programs start with Tier 1 instruction in the classroom. Sound instructional practices build a love of reading and make the reading-writing connection. Check out this post for ten practices each teacher needs for building lifelong readers.

Building a strong reading program isn’t just a task for your school administrator. Strong reading programs start where the action is, right in your classroom! What happens (or doesn’t happen) in your classroom directly leads to the reading strengths of each individual on your language arts roster. It’s a huge responsibility we have, and because we know the importance of reading achievement to academic success, we must be thoughtful practitioners. Today, I’d like to share ten important tips for reflection for building a strong reading program. If you have these practices in place, you are likely building strong readers.

Reading Program Tip #1-Keep a gradual release model in mind when planning reading lessons.


A gradual release model allows you to provide support where it is needed and monitor understanding. You can avoid kids slipping through the cracks with close monitoring, and you can give independence as students are ready. A gradual release means that you are explicitly teaching your standards, supporting your students through the practicing stage, and letting kids work independently when ready. The assessment gives you the next step.

To practice a gradual release, you begin with a demonstration using a high engagement activity. Include opportunities for students to turn and talk and interact with the instruction. “I do” doesn’t mean lecture or that students just observe. Engagement is the key to understanding.

Reading program Tip #2-Connect to your reader’s schema. Meaning is made only when a connection is made between known and unknown content.


Kids need background information on a topic in order for it to be meaningful to them. Schema builders are the activators in your lesson. The purpose of your activator is to build interest and background. Here are a few great choices you might try out.

  • Give One, Get One
  • ABC Brainstorm
  • Carousel Brainstorm
  • Word Splash
  • Quick Writes
  • Pairs Check
  • I Wonder
Quality reading programs start with Tier 1 instruction in the classroom. Sound instructional practices build a love of reading and make the reading-writing connection. Check out this post for ten practices each teacher needs for building lifelong readers.

Give One, Get One

With this strategy, students have a grid sheet. The blocks in the grid can have a question in them or can be blank for brainstorming. The goal in the activity is to fill the grid with information and signatures. Each student shares just one response, initials the page, and moves to another student. When grids are full, then ideas are shared with the whole group to review.

Carousel Brainstorm

I love this activity for the engagement and group interaction. First, you place a poster-sized paper with the given topic at the top or question to spark thinking. Students travel in groups to each station and brainstorm together or you give each child a different prompt in small group, respond, and have kids pass the paper for the next student to add to the list. Once all have responded, debrief by sharing the responses.

Word Splash

A Word Splash is a simple graphic organizer used for students to record key words and/or ideas related to a topic. It is used like a web or ABC brainstorm to get ideas flowing and to tap into background knowledge. They also work well after reading for recording what was learned.

Quick Writes

Journaling has been around for a LONG time, and journals can be used for more than a prompt of the day. If you want to know what a student knows about a topic, set a timer and have your students just write all they know. The product won’t be perfect, but it will offer a chance for kids to think and share.

Pairs Check

Kids need to talk, and pairs check is a strategy that allows that. Pair your kids to work together on a given brainstorming assignment. After X number of minutes, pair up your pairs and have them exchange ideas. Not only does this strategy work well with reading, but you can use this with other topics too.

I Wonder

This is a predicting strategy. Kids preview reading material with a picture walk. With a thought bubble, they record their questions and wonderings. During reading, they look to find the answers to their questions.

Reading Program Tip #3-Before-During-After activities help keep all students engaged throughout the reading process.

Before Strategies:

Before strategies help students get into the book. Students need a “hook” to put new information on, so use the strategies I shared or other activators you may think of. How?…brainstorm predictions, discuss what the child knows related to the topic, and share experiences related to the book. You also want to embed vocabulary instruction into this segment of your lessons. Focus on a limited number of words, context, and kid-friendly definitions. [THIS POST] includes many tips to help with vocabulary instruction.

During Strategies:

During reading strategies help students monitor their understanding and add to their knowledge of what they are reading. Engagement continues to be a key ingredient to comprehension, so strategies used need to be active. Here are a few you might use:

  • Sticky notes
  • Graphic organizers such as column notes, webs, four square thinking, or thinking maps.
  • Bookmarks or Foldables
  • Say Something
  • Task Cards/Discussion questions (Turn and Talk)

After Strategies:

After reading strategies help students use the knowledge gained from reading and ensures that a student understands a given comprehension skill. These strategies also help teachers evaluate the lesson objectives as well. Here are a few ideas you can use for after reading:

  • Graphic organizers (great for post reading too
  • Quick writing about reading
  • Discussion of questions and task cards
  • Interactive notebooks or writing projects
  • Group projects

Reading Program Tip #4-Motivation is very helpful in gaining reading stamina and skills.

One of the best ways to motivate kids with reading is discussion. Teacher-student conferences about what kids are reading and book talks provide students with the opportunity to share their views on what they’ve read. To build excitement about reading in your classroom, consider these classroom tested ideas:

  • Know book titles and authors that match your students’ interests. Have next step books in mind based on your kids’ interests.
  • Praise, praise, praise for improvement and effort.
  • Use book talks and book clubs to allow kids to talk about their reading.
  • Create a book recommendations wall.
  • Have independent reading book bins for each child. You can let kids cover cereal boxes with contact paper and decorate them or grab plastic bins at the Dollar Tree or Target Dollar bin.

Reading program Tip #5-Choose books that are at your child’s instructional level for small group instruction.

How can you tell a book is at your students’ instructional level? Well, it’s not too hard. The book is read without a lot of stress and strain, so if the reading is halting, you are most likely having a student work at his/her frustration level. If the student flies through the text, that’s a sign it’s too easy. Use the Goldilocks philosophy…not too easy, not too hard, but just right. The child should struggle with no more than 5-7 words per 100 words or 93-95 % accuracy (but you can go as low as 90% for instructional). The reading rate and expression should sound like we are talking. To be completely accurate, the teacher should take running records weekly to bi-weekly to gauge instruction.

Reading Program Tip #6-Support reading routines at home and encourage discussion to improve comprehension.

How can parents help?

Parent involvement matters. Having a strong connection with your parents makes a HUGE difference to your students’ growth. Parents appreciate learning from the classroom teacher how to best help at home. You can help them with establishing a routine of reading, support parents with question stems they can use for discussion can aid in comprehension practice, and include them in your classroom routine where able. [THIS POST] includes tips on parental involvement. You might check it out.

reading program Tip #7-Be patient. It’s hard to remember what it was like learning to read. Have high expectations, but be careful to not overload. Pour on the praise for your kids who struggle. Effort makes the difference over time.

Struggling readers need TLC and extra time to catch up, but please keep in mind that these kids are working really hard. Encouragement goes a long way. Reaching frustration and having kids shut down does not help. Here are a few signs to watch for:

  • The student rubs eyes and puts head down.
  • Student asks how much longer is left in the lesson.
  • Student looks around the room “Looking for the answer.”
  • The student comments negatively, “This is stupid!” or “I hate to read.”
  • The student’s work is only partially done or not at all…often.
  • The child has had the same book for a long time or rarely finishes one before switching to another.

reading program Tip #8-Make the connection between reading and writing.

One of the best ways to make connections is by using mentor text lessons. There are so many great pieces of literature that serve as excellent models. For starters, you should check out the book, Writers are Readers by Lester Laminack. It provides an excellent model for a workshop classroom with specific examples of how to use the books featured. I’ve done several posts on reader’s and writer’s workshop, so check those out for more information.

A workshop model is grounded in the use of quality literature for skill modeling.  The literacy block is organized following the same structure for reading and writing.

Whole Group Mini Lesson > Small Group Practice >Assessment and Debrief

With Writer’s Workshop, you tailor the mini-lessons to the needs shown in your students’ writing as well as the writing process and six writing traits. A workshop model sends the message that our learning is a work in progress with the goal of growth. (growth mindset) If your teachers all follow a similar teaching format, it build consistency across your reading program.

Reading Program Tip#9-Teach, post, and practice reading test vocabulary words.


Struggling readers typically have difficulty with decoding longer words. They also “muddy up” skill language. Have you experienced this? To help work through this, I focus on one comprehension skill at a time with explicit teaching and modeling. We build anchor charts mapping out key ideas and words. I post these words to our word wall and refer to them often. As new skills are added, we use a spiral review to keep prior learning fresh in the mind.

Reading Program Tip #10. Model and practice to interact with text.

Close Reading:

Close reading’s biggest benefit is repeated reading and the emphasis on text marking and annotating. Teachers can model how students should interact with the text using articles or poems projected on a Smartboard, and use sticky notes with books. You can have students practice selecting text evidence to support their thinking. (highlight or underline) too. As you model, be explicit about how to use the highlighter. No painting the page, and with each reading of your text, set a new purpose or objective.

Quality reading programs start with Tier 1 instruction in the classroom. Sound instructional practices build a love of reading and make the reading-writing connection. Check out this post for ten practices each teacher needs for building lifelong readers.

With discussion, be sure to use text-dependent questions to help students practice reading to find evidence. Finally, as a post-reading extension, have students use the information from the text in an extended response. This deepens understanding.

Daily Routines that Build a Love of Writing

Parent Involvement Matters

The Reading-Writing Connection

Engaging Ways to Work on Fluency

In closing, remember that building a strong reading program is a work in progress. Gradually implement new practices until they are perfected before adding in another change. Kids need time to adjust to new ideas, but once the routine is established, you will reap the benefits by seeing the growth your kids show.



This resource makes planning for workstations easier. It too is in digital and PDF. The stations focus on word work, fluency, comprehension, and writing. It’s best for grades 2-5 and is adaptable.

This resource includes 156 before/during/after activity pages you can use in PDF and Digital formats for guided reading. They work well for engagement, comprehension practice during reading, and writing extension. In my opinion, it’s a must-have for the busy teacher. 

This table tent flipbook is intended to help the classroom teacher check for understanding. They are easy to assemble and durable if the base is laminated first before constructing them.

These paper bag books have worked really well for me. I use them for introducing and practicing specific reading skills. They also work well for review around testing time. 

Finally, you might like this set if you teach upper elementary and middle school. It includes the materials you can use for running book clubs. There are role assignments as well as response forms for each person in the group based on those rolls. Great for any book choice.

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Carla is a licensed reading specialist with 27 years of experience in the regular classroom (grades 1, 4, and 5), in Title 1 reading, as a tech specialists, and a literacy coach. She has a passion for literacy instruction and meeting the needs of the individual learner.