Reading Skills and Strategies

Reading Skills & Strategies

Every teacher, no matter their specialist subject, has to wear a wide range of hats on a day-to-day basis: guide, leader, supporter, authority figure, mentor. In recent years, educators have started to apply this mindset to not only the roles that teachers play but also the knowledge that teachers provide. Literacy is no longer the sole preserve of language arts teachers; numeracy is not limited to just the math classroom; a physics lesson can build students’ creativity as much as an art class. All teachers, therefore, can actively participate in developing reading skills and strategies through their lessons. But is it as easy as that? Some teachers may feel nervous about explicitly encouraging reading skills and strategies in their students, in the same way that teaching about climate change as a non-specialist might be daunting.


Here at SubjectToClimate, we have solved both problems! Our repository of exceptional, ready-to-use teaching resources will help K-12 teachers build their students’ reading skills and strategies and help teachers to engage with the vital issue of climate change. 

The Air We Breathe
Forest Essays
Emerald Edge Rainforest
Gender Inequality
Lab Meat
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The Air We Breathe

Grade: K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th

Subjects: Science, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Health

Resource Type: Digital Text, Activity

Did you know that NASA does more than explore the depths of outer space? The organization also participates in educational outreach and creates resources for teachers. One such resource is the charming picture book The Air We Breathe, perfect for introducing elementary school students to the concept of the Earth’s atmosphere. Illustrated with cute cartoons, written in rhyme, and including an optional science experiment at the end, younger students will love this engaging resource.

The Air We Breathe

As any elementary school teacher knows, there are so many reading skills and strategies that students need to develop as they take the first steps on their reading journey. During the initial stages of literacy development, teacher-student talk plays an important role. It is therefore vital for teachers to find moments for “modeling and extending children’s language and thinking during interactions and activities such as shared reading” (Education Endowment Foundation, 2021). The amazing thing about The Air We Breathe is that it provides so many opportunities for this, both from a scientific perspective (discussions about the Earth’s atmosphere) and a literary perspective (exploring the story’s use of rhyme). 

This picture book definitely works best when read aloud, either by the teacher as part of a daily storytime or as a collaborative student-teacher effort. Pre-planning differentiated questions using the command terms in Anderson’s Taxonomy will help to catalyze extensions to students’ thought processes. Additionally, pre-teaching several uncommon vocabulary words (magnify, mixture, eruption) will help students’ decoding and comprehension of key passages. The Air We Breathe is a great example of a cross-curricular resource that can be used to develop students’ reading strategies as well as their climate change knowledge.

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Forest Essays

Grade: 2nd, 3rd, 4th

Subjects: Science, Biology, English Language Arts

Resource Type: Digital Text, Worksheet, Activity

Created by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, this collection of eight single-page stories with associated comprehension questions is perfect for older elementary students. Each story is an engaging vignette about a child’s interaction with a forest creature, ranging from bald eagles to slugs and everything in between. Perfect for a whole-class activity or independent work, these stories engender a love of the natural world and can be utilized in a variety of ways across a range of subjects. 

Forest Essays

Any resource that uses comprehension questions to explicitly build up students’ reading skills and strategies is certainly pedagogically beneficial but, on the other hand, runs the risk of being met with a chorus of “Boooring” from a restless class. The lovely thing about the one-page stories in this Forest Essays collection is that, while each story does include a few brief comprehension questions, the stories themselves are so interesting that students won’t even realize that they are working on their comprehension… probably!

Many teachers will tell you that elementary school students will engage more closely with reading tasks if those students are able to make text-to-life connections and activate their prior knowledge about the topic. The great thing about these Forest Essays is that there are so many opportunities for students to make these connections. Family life, the outdoors, cute animals, strange animals, slimy animals; is there an Elementary school student in the world who doesn’t have an opinion on at least one of these things? After discussing their personal connections to the texts, students could then be provided with the first half of a story and make their predictions about what might happen next. In my opinion, this would work particularly well with “The Mystery of the Fox Sparrow” – students will love trying to guess the reason for the sparrow’s odd behavior!

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How the Emerald Edge Rainforest Could Help Change the World

Grade: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Biology, Civics, English Language Arts, Justice, Social-Emotional Learning

Resource Type: Article, Video

If you’re anything like me, approximately 100% of the lessons that you teach will deviate from the lesson plan in some way. Such deviations might be minor, like a task taking 7 minutes instead of the planned 5, whereas other departures might be a bit more significant. In my experience, the few lessons that have become completely derailed from the lesson plan are the result of one simple thing: a question from a student. When students are presented with high-quality resources, they are more likely to ask high-quality questions; questions that are catastrophic for the lesson plan but incredibly valuable for the class’ learning. The Nature Conservancy’s article “How the Emerald Edge Rainforest Could Help Change the World” is one such resource. Packed with interesting information and supported by pictures, maps, and videos, this resource will help develop students’ reading skills and strategies and is sure to engage students across a variety of subjects. 

Research has shown that teaching students strategies to help them comprehend the texts that they read cannot exist in isolation. Alongside these reading strategies, students must develop the requisite skills, background knowledge, and schema to help them truly understand what they are reading. In the words of Professor Dan Willingham, teachers across all subjects should aim for an integrated model of literacy development, comprised of “generative vocabulary instruction, deep content exploration, and opportunities for reading across genres and content areas.” The exciting thing about this resource is that it gives teachers an opportunity for exactly that: meaningful subject knowledge development that can then supplement students’ comprehension of the text. 

Because of the level of detail in this article, I would recommend that students complete quite a bit of pre-learning work before exploring the whole resource. This will naturally look different in different subjects. Students in a language arts lesson could each be given one individual paragraph to summarize and one vocabulary word to teach their peers. Social studies students could begin with an image or video to challenge them to identify features of the forest’s natural or human geography. Civics students might want to do a deep dive into the issues facing the Indigenous people of the region, before sharing their findings with the class. Developing this knowledge will then lead to deeper and more meaningful comprehension of the text when students do eventually read it. Ultimately, students will be able to develop their reading skills and strategies in a way that also builds their appreciation for the Earth’s environment and how to preserve it.

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Explainer: How Gender Inequality and Climate Change Are Interconnected

Grade: 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

Subjects: Social Studies, Civics, English Language Arts, Justice, Health

Resource Type: Article

My comments about the previous resource discussed the research-based benefits of using information outside of a text to help deepen students’ comprehension of that text. Interestingly, there is also research that provides justification for students focusing their attention inside the text. When students are encouraged to make these “within-text links”, they are being tasked to “connect between pieces of information that they glean from different parts of the reading task”. The type of text that lends itself to this sort of activity is one that is extensive, meaningful, and high-quality: three adjectives that aptly describe this Explainer: How Gender Inequality and Climate Change Are Interconnected. Created by the United Nations, this resource will help students across a variety of subjects build their reading skills and strategies while also grappling with a challenging and relevant issue.

Explainer: How Gender Inequality and Climate Change Are Interconnected

This article highlights the human cost of climate change, particularly for women, girls, LGBTQ+ people, and other disadvantaged groups. Explicitly mentioning the crucial concept of intersectionality, this resource will facilitate an in-depth and challenging discussion that will allow students to engage with a multitude of issues.

This resource would work best in a lesson where students’ prediction and synthesis skills can be put to the test. In groups, students could first discuss the potential impacts of climate change on a global level, then become subsequently more specific in terms of the demographic that they are considering: humans, women, Indigenous women, etc. Using the concept of “within-text links'' mentioned above, students could then read the article and make connections between different sections of the text. Is there a clear causal link between any of the problems that are described? Do the issues facing one group also apply to other groups? Are there any commonalities in the solutions that are proposed to combat these issues?

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Gerrymandering Is a Climate Problem

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

Subjects: Social Studies, Civics, Geography, English Language Arts, Justice

Resource Type: Article

This article, created by Yale Climate Connections, explores the effects of gerrymandering within US legislative districts and the subsequent negative impact on climate change, due to the potential mismatch between public opinion and political representation that can be created by a gerrymandered district. Through interviews, statistics, reportage, and one very effective political cartoon, the article explores this contentious issue in a nuanced and balanced way. 

Gerrymandering Is a Climate Problem

As mentioned above, encouraging students to look for “within-text links” is a surefire strategy to help them develop their reading skills. One way to do this is for students to create a summary of the text that they have read, using information from across the text. Depending on the lesson being taught, the summary may be different; a civics lesson may ask students to summarize the impacts that political decisions can have on individuals, whereas a language arts lesson may ask students to summarize the rhetorical choices used by politicians quoted in the article. 

This resource lends itself to differentiated tasks. Some students may need a bit of extra time to complete the summary task suggested above; others may complete this quickly and can move on to higher-order thinking skills such as comparing the tone at the beginning and the end of the article, or writing a letter to their representative to propose solutions to these issues. The key thing to remember is that all middle and high school teachers, regardless of their subject, can help their students to develop reading skills and strategies. Developing students’ literacy skills is a vital whole-school endeavor, just like empowering students to combat climate change.

Activity Guide
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Lab Meat Reading Comprehension

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th

Subjects: Science, Biology, English Language Arts

Resource Type: Article, Lesson Plan, Worksheet

This worksheet has been created by ClimateScience and is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It contains several pages of interesting information about the science behind lab-grown meat and includes graphs and diagrams that are relevant to the topic. Reducing humanity’s reliance on animal products is extremely important in the fight against climate change.

Lab Meat Reading Comprehension

Building fluency in reading is a key skill for students of all ages, and there are many strategies that teachers can deploy in order to build this skill in their students. But will students engage with texts that they are not genuinely interested in? The great thing about this resource is that the topic is so evocative – every student will have an opinion, one way or another! Whether a student is passionately in favor of lab-grown meat or deeply grossed out by the concept of eating meat at all, this topic will encourage a personal connection between students and the text. 

One important tool in any teacher’s toolbox is the use of group reading to encourage students to practice their reading fluency. Group work might also lend itself to audio-assisted reading, where a stronger reader (such as the teacher, another student, or a pre-recorded audio track) reads the text at the same time as weaker readers. The layout of this resource really lends itself to group reading: there are lots of different sections that can be allocated to different groups of students. Plus, the inclusion of graphs and charts in the resource means that this worksheet is a perfect opportunity for language arts teachers to include a bit of numeracy in their lessons, or for math/science teachers to develop their students’ literacy skills.

As an English teacher, I remember the first time I was encouraged to include cross-curricular links in my lessons. History? Basically the same subject – I can do that. Geography? I’ll have to think about it, but I’m sure there are some opportunities. Spanish? ¿Por qué no? La literatura es un lenguaje universal. Chemistry? Um… do I have to? Physics? Surely that’s impossible! Math? Absolutely, unequivocally, no. It took a while, but eventually, I learned the value of making these cross-curricular links to all subjects (yes, even math – exploring Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience through Venn Diagrams is surprisingly effective). So, if you’re a teacher who feels less confident building reading skills and strategies, teaching about climate change, or maybe both, I hope you give some of these SubjectToClimate resources a try. Go on – add another hat to your collection. 

About the Author

Originally from Florida, Tim Mac attended school and university in the UK. After training as an English teacher, he taught in Portsmouth, England, and in a British school in Bahrain for six years. He has recently moved to Sligo, Ireland, where he is busy getting reacquainted with the concept of rain.