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Instruction in Second Grade and Beyond

To become life long readers, children in second grade and up need excellent instruction and experience with a wide variety of engaging texts. Here is a list of recommended areas for reading instruction in second grade and beyond.

Children who are not decoding and comprehending well at the end of first grade need immediate special attention.

By the end of first grade, with high-quality instruction and any necessary tutoring or other assistance, most students should, in fact, be able to decode virtually any phonetically regular short word with short or long vowels and read a large number of high-frequency sight words. If children have developed good decoding skills in first grade, further instruction in phonics is needed, but limited.

By the time children enter second grade, they also need to have solid comprehension skills, both for understanding material they read on their own and for material that is read to them. They need to be able to understand a beginning second-grade text they haven't seen before, and they need to learn to monitor their own comprehension for confusion and uncertainty.

As they progress through second-grade and beyond, children need to develop a real joy of reading and to read a wide variety of materials, expository (nonfiction) as well as narrative. Through such reading, children will develop greater fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge, comprehension strategies, and writing skills.

Instruction needs to be concentrated on:


At this point, children should read quality literature appropriate to their current reading levels, both in school and at home. Basal programs, student readers, novels, anthologies, and other sources of good reading material can all be used. The goal increasingly becomes for children to develop a real joy of reading that propels them to read frequently and widely.

Expository text (content knowledge)

In most schools, reading instruction has traditionally focused overwhelmingly on narratives. Yet children also need strong comprehension strategies for science, history, geography, and other content areas. These are important in their own right, of course, but take on additional importance in reading development.

Research finds that one of the best predictors of reading comprehension is background knowledge. Obviously, it is much easier to comprehend narrative text such as the Diary of Anne Frank if you know about the Holocaust, or to comprehend To Kill a Mockingbird or Sounder if you know about the history of the American South. It makes sense both to infuse expository material into reading instruction and to teach effective reading comprehension strategies and study skills during social studies and science periods.

Reading comprehension

Everything teachers do in reading class and beyond should be designed to build children's ability to understand increasingly complex content of all sorts. Children need to learn reading strategies known to enhance comprehension and retention.

For example, children can learn to scan material before they read, to predict what will happen in the story and to recall background knowledge about the topic discussed in the material.

While reading, they can learn to look for characters, settings, problems, and problem solutions, to summarize main ideas, and to monitor their own understanding (for example, regularly asking themselves whether they understand what they are reading).

After reading, children can be taught to make charts, webs, outlines, and other representations of the content. They can generate questions for other children, or write their own reactions to stories or factual material. They can summarize or retell stories to partners or to the teacher. They can be taught generic reading comprehension strategies such as finding the main idea, starting with simple paragraphs and moving to more complex material.

All of these strategies help build reading comprehension skills that will work with any reading material, not just the particular stories or content children are reading.


Children's vocabulary can be built by teaching specific words that appear in students' texts, giving students opportunities to use these words in a variety of contexts, and teaching students dictionary skills. We want students paying attention to and liking words.

While research shows some benefit of direct instruction on vocabulary development, it also finds that vocabulary growth is heavily influenced by the amount and variety of material children read.

Nevertheless, the power of home and school reading for vocabulary building are strongly influenced by the support and encouragement that students are given for attending to and learning about new words as they read. A good practice, for example, is to ask students to note three new words of their own choice in the course of their reading and then to set aside some time to collect, discuss, and revisit such words, extending and clarifying their usage and meanings. In addition, vocabulary will be boosted as children become fluent in using and understanding multi-syllabic patterns.


Research on creative and expository writing finds positive effects of writing process models in which students work in small groups to collaboratively plan, draft, revise, edit, and publish individual compositions in various genres. Specific instruction in writing for different audiences and purposes (such as persuasive argument, description, and giving directions), as well as instruction in strategies that enrich and clarify language expression, is essential.

Language mechanics skills, such as capitalization, usage, and grammar, can be directly taught and integrated into students' own writing through the editing process. For example, students might study proper use of adjectives and adverbs and then write descriptive compositions. An editing checklist would add correct use of adjectives and adverbs as a criterion for review in a peer-editing process.

Cooperative learning

Cooperative learning can be very effective in upper elementary reading and writing instruction if it is properly used. In general, students should work in groups of four to five members that stay together over a period of six to eight weeks. The groups should be able to earn certificates or other recognition based on the degree to which all of their members have mastered the material being presented in class.

For example, the teacher might present a lesson on main idea and then let students work in groups to practice that skill. Groups should be set up to help all members master material, not to make it possible for any child to do his or her group's work. At the end of the period, the children might be individually assessed on main idea, and the group could receive recognition based on the total score of the members' quizzes.


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Excerpted from: Second Grade and Beyond. (June, 1998). Every Child Reading: An Action Plan. Learning First Alliance. Reprinted with permission.

Copyright © 1998 by the Learning First Alliance. Learning First Alliance member organizations include: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Council of Chief State School Officers, Education Commission of the States, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Education Association, National Parent Teacher Association, National School Boards Association. For more information, see www.learningfirst.org

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"Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky, My pile of books is a mile high. How I love them! How I need them! I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them." —

Arnold Lobel