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5 Key Reading Strategies for Teens: Boost Comprehension Now!

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

Teen exploring a new novel entitled Unspeakable Hope by Leon Ford

Do you have a teenager who already knows how to read but could use some additional supports?

They may say things like...

"I don't even understand what this is about."

"This doesn't make sense."

"This book is stupid."

As a mama of three and former English Language Arts teacher, I have been there! If there is one thing I know for sure about these types of moments, supports need to be put in place immediately or the ability to develop key literacy skills could turn into a life long struggle.

Five key strategies I have learned during my journey as a mama and educator are listed below. They have not only helped my children but also many of the teens I had the honor of teaching.

1. Psychologically Safe Learning Spaces

Before any changes can ever be made, you must make space for them to safely fail and recover void of judgement, constant corrections, directives, and all or nothing ultimatums.

  • Encourage them to make mistakes and persevere in the face of initial difficulty.

  • Openly acknowledge that it is normal to struggle with reading sometimes.

  • Embrace the opinions and perspectives they share in response to what they are reading.

  • Allow them to speak, think, and communicate in ways that are most comfortable to them.

Most importantly, remember that a psychologically safe learning space must OPENLY ACKNOWLEDGE that it is normal to struggle with reading sometimes so that when young people are confused about things like an author's ways of thinking or unfamiliar words they will have enough confidence to unapologetically use the strategies I am going to list below.

This is key because research shows "the difference between proficient adolescent readers and those who struggle all the time is this: When proficient readers struggle with text, they know what to do to get out of trouble. They have confidence in themselves as readers and learners. When a text becomes confusing or doesn't make sense, good readers recognize that they have an array of skills and strategies that they can use to work themselves out of difficulty (Vacca et al., p. 17, 2021). 

2. High Interest Reading

Allow your teen to select what they want to read and read a book with them. This will motivate and empower them to be more engaged. A diverse mix of classical and contemporary high-interest titles are listed below. If needed, you may also want to consider using an audio version of the selected book and have your teen listen as they read. This will help them to build their word recognition and comprehension skills.

Dr. Pickett's Top 21 High Interest Diverse Novel List for Teens. For more information about each novel, click on images.

3. Metacognition (“Thinking about Thinking”)

I know…I know…this third one may sound like a bit much but let me tell you this one is a game changer! Simply put, when it comes to metacognition and reading, it means to teach your teen to stop and think about what they understand and what they don’t understand. Then, encourage them to use that self-awareness to independently activate reading strategies they have learned to better understand what they are reading. I stress the word independently because the goal is to get them to the point where they are confident in their ability to not have to depend on an adult to help them comprehend what they are reading.

Teaching your teen to practice metacognition or to “think about their thinking” can take on many forms. One key strategy is to teach them self-monitoring reading strategies.

 4. Self-Monitoring Reading Strategies

Teaching your teen how to self-monitor when reading is important because it will help them to learn how to direct themselves as learners. Some self-monitoring reading strategies to share and practice with your teen are listed below.

Self-Monitoring Reading Strategies

5. Talking & Writing

Reserve time to talk and write with your teen about what they are reading. Allowing them space to freely do so will give them opportunities to process and promote problem solving skills. Most importantly, it will empower them to be fearless when it comes to communicating their thoughts and needs. Some suggested exercises are listed below:

  • Summarize a chapter, book, short story, essay, letter, or poem verbally or in writing.

  • Actively listen as they speak.

  • Talk about or write about the 5 Ws + H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) of what they read.

  • Talk or write about why they liked or didn’t like what they read.

  • Encourage them to create and talk about original writings: songs, raps, poems, speeches, letters, journal entries, emails, or texts.

The 5Ws + H

Finally, remember the power of association is real. So, if by chance, you don’t like to read or disliked reading when you were a teen, your teen does not need to know this! Pretend like you love reading because our children pick up on our dislikes and likes. Then, they imitate them.

Now that you have reviewed all of the strategies, take action by planning your next steps.

Begin by picking one strategy that you would like to focus on with your teen. Then, as time progresses add a new one when they are ready. Don’t feel pressure to be perfect. Give yourself and them plenty of time and grace. Know that your journey will require a tremendous amount of patience, awareness, and most importantly empathy.

I guarantee you will be happy you did not skip this step during their childhood. The far-reaching benefits will be beyond measure.

Wishing you much success,



Disclaimer: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Meaning I am awarded a small commission for purchases made through them.      

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1 Comment

This was a very informative article! As an educator and parent I can see using these strategies if my daughter struggles as she gets older. However, I also think you can use them for younger students. Luckily, I love/loved reading growing up and she does now as a 9 year old and I hope that love stays.

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