Three Ways to Give Your Adolescent’s Reading a Back-To-School Boost

As we enjoy the much-deserved summer vacation, most of us can’t help but think of the school year ahead. You may be researching and planning, or worrying about “summer slide” if your kids are taking an academic break for a couple of months. If you’re in that latter camp, or even if your children are still studying over the summer, but you want to give them a jumpstart to the new school year, Zinc has the perfect reading program for you. We use three proven strategies to deliver significant reading growth to middle and high schoolers fast. Whether you’re using Zinc or not, below are three tactics to try to give your kids’ reading a back-to-school boost.

1. Provide Instruction on How to Read Complex Texts

Education researchers often note that while speaking is natural, reading is not. This means that students need guidance on how to read. And it’s not just young kids who need direction. Once students have mastered the basics of foundational literacy skills like decoding, they need support in grades 6-12 on how to make meaning out of the words that they’re so competently reading. In other words, as the Institute of Education Sciences suggests, they need instruction on strategies for comprehension.

Zinc’s Reading Ignition program teaches middle and high schoolers what to do while they’re reading, and you should too. For example, train students to look for “navigators.” These are words, like “however” and “thus” that signal contrast and continuation. Direct students to use their senses and take any sensory words or phrases an author gives them and really imagine the look, smell, taste and touch. There’s much more to teach, but these strategies alone give many students a new experience with complex texts.

2. Teach Vocabulary with Repetition

We need to know at least 90-95% of words in a text to understand it. That’s why vocabulary instruction is so important. As kids get older and their texts get more complex and filled with unfamiliar words, vocabulary becomes even more crucial.

The key to really learning new vocabulary, and not just memorizing it for a day or a week, is repetition. In Zinc’s vocabulary instruction, students see each new word six times over about eight weeks, with the periods between exposures getting longer as they go. This gives them time to almost forget the new words and then have to recall them. This process moves new vocabulary words into their long-term memory. With their new—and lasting—vocabulary, reading levels jump.

3. Offer Choice of Authentic Texts

Many adolescents don’t like to read. Sometimes that attitude comes from reading being hard. That’s why we recommend making sure students have reading strategies and the right vocabulary. But even when kids can comprehend what they’re reading, sometimes they still dislike this practice that so many of us adults love. In our decades of work with teens, we’ve learned how to combat this reading apathy and disdain. The best antidote is choice of authentic texts.

By giving students choice, they can find texts that interest and speak to them. Sure, on a standardized test like the SAT, there won’t be options of what to read, so some directed reading is good practice, but free reading time is crucial. The more excited a student is about what they’re reading, the more likely they are to stick with it and build their critical reading muscles, even when the texts get challenging.

And while choice is good, choice of authentic texts is great. Adolescents don’t want to feel condescended to, so we’ve found great success in only offering them (age-appropriate) writing that we as adults would want to read. Our Articles section features carefully curated texts that we chose with a tough adolescent audience in mind.

These three simple strategies can make a big difference in reading outcomes. Try them offline on your own or with Zinc’s online reading tools available through the Homeschool Buyers Club.

We appreciate Colette Coleman from Zinc Learning Labs for sharing with us this week.

2022 Zinc Learning Labs - Category 200X200Zinc Learning Labs is a reading-instruction program for ALL 6th-12th graders, from reluctant readers to high flyers. Zinc has a singular mission: deliver reading growth to middle and high school students.

Have you tried Zinc Learning Labs? We combine all of the three strategies listed above to give 5th-12th graders the skills that they need to excel at reading and enjoy the process!


Visit the Homeschool Buyers Club and save up to 29% on your Zinc Learning Labs subscription.