Reading Strategies for Transitional Readers

Reading Strategies for Transitional Readers - TeamTom Education

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Transitional Readers Need Reading Strategies

Transitional readers need reading strategies to increase reading levels. Transitional readers have passed the early stages of reading (Levels B-H) and are ready to start reading short chapter books and nonfiction with longer paragraphs. Difficult picture books are great as students are learning to read with phrasing and rely less on illustrations for meaning.

Here are the most critical reading strategies you can teach to increase these students’ reading levels.

What Reading Strategies will Increase Reading Levels?

Next time you sit with your guided reading group hand them a book and say, “Do what good readers do.” Then observe. Students who don’t have strategies will just open up and read. Students who don’t have agency will just sit and wait to be told what to do. These are not good approaches to reading, learning, or thinking.

We want learners who are agentive – they can do on their own. They are strategic about what they do. They know why they do it, and their choices about reading actually increase their performance. That’s the purpose of reading strategies for transitional readers! Student choices can actually increase reading performance.

This is what reading strategies can do for transitional readers!

Readers at this stage in reading development are learning to focus on comprehension. Word fluency and sentence fluency are increasing rapidly, and these readers are seeking meaning from print. Here are 3 strategies that will give you incredible increases in students’ reading levels.

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1. Teach Readers about Self-Monitoring

Good readers check their understanding as they read. As they lose focus, they stop themselves and use a strategy to regain understanding. Early readers often do not know this occurs. They aren’t even aware of it most of the time. That’s why you can must teach this strategy.

As you monitor your students in guided reading, watch for any confusion. Listen to see when students struggle with understanding the text. If they aren’t whisper reading or self-talking through their struggles, just ask them, “What’s stumping you up?”

Then provide scaffolding. Here are some ideas for scaffolding using guiding questions:

  • “Good readers stop during their reading if something doesn’t make sense, is that what you did?”
  • “Is something not quite right in that sentence?”
  • “How do you know that didn’t make sense?”

These types of questions help readers identify when they lose comprehension. It’s a powerful self-monitoring strategy that struggling readers usually don’t know about. Teaching it will help them increase reading levels faster.

2. Reading Strategies for Regaining Comprehension

It’s fine to self-monitor – to know when you don’t understand, but what next? What do you teach students to do when they are aware of their own comprehension breakdowns?

You can show transitional readers these reading strategies for regaining comprehension. Here are a few of the easiest to learn.


It may sound obvious, but many transitional readers haven’t learned this strategy. Or at least they forget to employ it when they read. It’s the first strategy a reader should try when reading. Go back to the location where they think their comprehension decreased. Then reread.

What is the easiest way to teach this to students? Tell them to go back to the location where they think their comprehension decreased. Then reread.

You can tell students to slow down when they reread. Pay closer attention to the words to make sure they read the correct words. “I’m going to the store to buy bags of candy” is much different in terms of comprehension than “I’m not going to the store to buy bags of candy.”

Sometimes comprehension breaks down because the words are just a little too complex. This causes fluency to decrease (Read more on how Word Study can Increase Fluency). A decrease in fluency affects comprehension negatively. Rereading is an easy way to increase fluency on a specific text and increase understanding.

Clarify Words

Vocabulary is often the culprit when it comes to a breakdown in comprehension. Students need to know that clarifying words is a specific strategy they can use. Emergent and early readers don’t expect that every word holds meaning. They don’t expect that they should understand each word’s meaning.

Fluent readers do understand this. That’s why teaching it to transitional readers is critical. Generally, early readers do not understand how to solve unknown words. This is why they don’t expect themselves to…until you teach this strategy.

It’s not as easy as teaching self-monitoring or rereading because clarifying words requires students to use other skills. Context clues, word parts, root words, and grammar knowledge. It is more complex, so here are a few tips. Use these prior to teaching transitional readers this strategy.

  1. Teach word parts. Early readers haven’t quite discovered that words are not just long strings of vowels and consonants. They’ve learned there are blends, but now transitional readers should know there are larger word parts. If a student faces words like “unimaginable” or “hopelessness”, they will freeze. Sounding it out is not the right approach. Breaking it into word parts is.
  2. Teach prefixes. The most common prefixes can greatly increase comprehension. These are un-, pre-, re-, mis-, dis-, im-, and in-.
  3. Teach suffixes. When words get longer students will be more confident if they can easily recognize and understand these word parts: -ing, -ed, -es, -ly, -able/ible, and -less.

These vocabulary skills should not be taught and then just tested on a worksheet. The skill becomes important when we teach the clarifying words strategy. Students are empowered as readers when they are expected to use these skills as a reading strategy.

3. Predict and Infer

These are comprehension skills, but they are also employed by fluent readers to increase comprehension. Good readers always make predictions and inferences prior to reading and during reading. Often they do it subconsciously. Teaching it as a strategy will help readers be intentional about this approach.

Skim and Predict

Good readers like to get a big picture of the text prior to reading. They look over the book, browse through it briefly, and make many predictions. You can help transitional readers by teaching them this. Show them how to skim a book. Not just take a “picture walk”. Here are some questions to ask them as they skim.

  1. How is the text organized?
  2. What text features did you see?
  3. What headings or chapter titles caught your attention?
  4. What connections can you make to this book?
  5. What do you predict this book will be about?
  6. What genre do you think this book is?
  7. Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  8. What do you want to find out by reading this book?

These questions help students to think the way good readers think. Over time, they can internalize this thinking process and employ it naturally. The predictions they make will give purpose to their reading. It helps connect the text to previous reading experiences, and this strategy helps to scaffold student comprehension prior to reading. It’s like having a small head-start in a race.

Make Inferences

This is another comprehension skill that should also be taught as a strategy for readers to use on their own. They actually, really enjoy using this one! The easiest way to teach this strategy is to use this sentence stem:

“The text says ___, so I think ___.”

It really is that simple. During read alouds, post this sentence stem for students to see. Then stop and ask, “Who wants to make an inference?” Expect them to use the stem, and over a few weeks, young readers will start using this stem in guided reading and in everyday class questions. They love how “smart” it sounds.

The power of this strategy is when you ask them to use it during guided reading. Show them how good readers will often pause during read, and say in their head, “They text says ___, so I think ___.” This inference works with figuring out unknown words. It works when making predictions. It works when drawing conclusions. It is one of the powerful reading strategies for transitional readers!

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Making Connections

Engaged students love making connections. You’ve seen it. They can’t wait to interrupt your read aloud because what you’re reading reminds them of a previous experience.

What is this? Students make connections anytime they connect prior experiences with current learning. It’s powerful because students are literally forming neural pathways that enhance retention, build meaning, and forge new understandings.

Transitional readers will find this the easiest strategy to use. Give them this sentence stem:

“____ in this book reminds me of ____, because ____.”

During read alouds have it posted above you. Model using it two or three times, and your students will be ready! They will quickly learn to speak in this complete sentence. The sentence stem requires students to reference the text, connect it to prior knowledge, and then explain the connection! That’s a powerful thinking strategy for young readers.

Transitional Readers Need Reading Strategies
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Characteristics of Transitional Readers

As you move young readers through the early stages and to the fluent stage, the transitional stage is the best time to teach these comprehension strategies. Strategic readers will outperform non-strategic readers at the fluent stage. The difference may not show up in the next few months, but they become increasingly evident in the long-run!

Let’s conclude with a few characteristics of transitional readers to remember their learning needs:

  1. Levels H-M
  2. Comfortable reading silently, rarely need to whisper read.
  3. High-frequency words are automatic.
  4. Multi-syllabic words are attacked using word knowledge.
  5. Less reliance on graphics and illustrations.
  6. Know how to pull meaning from multiple sources: text features, graphics, bold print, and genre.
  7. Learning how to check for comprehension.
  8. Learning comprehension strategies.
  9. Reading short chapter books, difficult picture books, and a variety of genres.

Thanks for reading this post on reading strategies for transitional readers. Below are two resources you might find useful. If you found this post helpful, please share it using the social media buttons below or at the top of the post. What strategies do you use with transitional readers? How do you help students get to these reading levels? What challenges do you face? I’d love to hear what strategies you use with transitional readers!

More Strategies for Transitional Readers:

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