How to Develop Reading Skills in Students: 3 Critical Strategies

Reading Plus | Nov 16, 2020 at 08:00 AM

Our education system invests heavily in developing students into successful, independent readers.

Yet, despite the promise of technologies like digital content, big data, and personalized learning platforms, the results are disappointing. Research shows that, when reading independently, today’s students struggle more and comprehend less than their peers did in 1960

What are we missing?

Yes, technology can help develop skills, but focusing on reading as a set of discrete, separate skills ignores the way that students actually experience reading. When students read independently, their physical skills, cognitive abilities, and emotions are all working simultaneously. Yet, most reading programs fail to address all three critical components of reading. 

We’ve lost focus on how and why students read and reduced our ability to develop successful readers. It’s time to remind ourselves of:

  • The three critical components of reading: efficiency, comprehension, and motivation 
  • The importance of targeting each in reading instruction, and
  • How all three work together in developing proficient, lifelong readers.

“It’s not only about becoming faster and more efficient in independent, silent reading,” says Dr. P. David Pearson, professor emeritus and former dean at the Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley. “It’s doing it with comprehension, and with the ultimate goal of acquiring knowledge and enhancing personal interests.” 

Here are the three essential strategies that every literacy intervention program needs to develop successful, lifelong readers. 

3 Critical Strategies for Improving Reading Skills in Students

1. Develop Reading Efficiency: The Essential, Yet Overlooked Key to Fluency and Staminareading-efficiency-and-comprehension

Reading begins with a physical skill: the visual processing of text. We call this reading efficiency, and it’s the hidden hurdle that prevents the development of comprehension and motivation in struggling readers.

In fact, 70 percent of non-proficient readers and 30 percent of proficient readers struggle to read efficiently

When our eyes move across lines of text, we extract the features of that text and process it to construct meaning. However, the physical act of reading doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Students who labor to read haven’t yet developed efficient reading habits and fall behind in vocabulary and comprehension. They spend their energy trying to process words and have little left for comprehension and even less for developing their interest in independent reading practice. 

Readers must efficiently navigate their eyes across lines of text in order to develop the fluency and stamina that allow them to increase comprehension. Research shows the link between physical efficiency and comprehension.

However, most reading programs ignore this essential building block of reading, leaving students to continually struggle, grow increasingly frustrated, and ultimately, lose interest in reading.

Reading Plus is the only adaptive reading intervention program that develops efficiency in readers. By scaffolding the silent reading process and guiding readers’ eyes across the page, the online reading intervention program helps students overcome this hidden hurdle.

Interested in learning more about silent reading efficiency? Click here to download our free research summary for an overview of the hidden hurdle

2. Improve Reading Comprehension: The Dominant (and Often Misunderstood) Component of Reading Proficiency

An emphasis on vocabulary and comprehension has dominated both the theory and practice of reading instruction for decades. Most approaches assume any performance improvement begins and ends with instruction and leveled practice. For this reason, many reading programs simply provide leveled texts, ask students to read and re-read, and then test for progress.

However, leveled texts often do not match student needs. Research shows vocabulary complexity is the best indicator of text complexity, but most readability measures use formulas that emphasize sentence length. So, a text with shorter sentences can have a lower readability level, even when its vocabulary is more appropriate for a higher level reader. 

In fact, it’s possible to manipulate the readability level of text by keeping the same vocabulary and simply shortening the sentences. Shorter sentences might lower a readability score, but do nothing to change the cognitive demands placed on the reader if the vocabulary complexity is too high.

A reading program may declare a successful “match” of reader and text, but, in fact, has given the student a text that is overly complex due to the vocabulary. The result: the student struggles, falls behind, and loses interest in reading. 

Text with shorter sentences can have a low Lexile level, even when its vocabulary is more appropriate for a higher level reader.


In the Reading Plus program, content is designed to boost reading comprehension by facilitating both comprehension skill mastery and vocabulary development. Along with tools and activities to develop silent reading efficiency, the program’s comprehension questions incorporate a rich library of cross-curriculum words to equip students with the academic vocabulary they need to comprehend text. 

3. increase Intrinsic Motivation: Student Interest Drives Confidence, Self-Efficacy, and Achievement


Measures of student interest correlate highly with academic performance. However, students most in need of improvement are rarely given opportunities to bring their personal interests into their reading practice. Instead, most reading programs focus on isolated cognitive skill development.

Ignoring student interests during reading development guarantees a lower level of student engagement in reading. Students who aren’t engaged don’t get the chance to discover reading as the key to learning more about who they are and who they can become.

Students who read what they like are more interested and engaged in reading; more interested and engaged students become better readers; and better readers become lifelong readers. 

As the only reading intervention program that measures and improves student motivation, Reading Plus develops engaged, passionate students who learn to pair their personal interests with a sustained love of reading. 

To Build Lifelong Readers, Target All Three Components of Reading Proficiency: Efficiency, Comprehension, and Motivation

When students read independently, they rely on intrinsic motivation, comprehension, and silent reading efficiency—and effective reading instruction must develop each component as well.

Effective reading instruction must:

  • Build silent reading efficiency
  • Provide the personalized, leveled content that best meets each individuals’ needs, and
  • Tap into students’ interests to build confidence and motivation.

Backed by years of research, Reading Plus is the only adaptive literacy intervention program that measures and improves efficiency, motivation, and comprehension for students in grades 3–12. Each student gets what they need, when they need it, and at the pace that works best for them.

Reading Plus could be the key to boosting literacy rates in your school or district. Click the link below to download a copy of our overview brochure for an in-depth look at our solution. 

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