YARC strategies for learning

In the ideal situation, a child who is experiencing difficulty learning to read will be identified early and appropriate support given in the classroom. If the difficulty persists, a staged process of management is recommended, as below:

  1. classroom support and monitoring, ideally with input from home
  2. withdrawal for small group teaching
  3. withdrawal for individual support
  4. placement in a special unit (or rarely, in specialist schools)

The most effective approaches to early intervention for children at risk of reading difficulties contain the following elements:

  • training in letter sound knowledge
  • teaching concepts of print
  • training to manipulate the phonemes of words
  • applying letter and sound knowledge to word reading and writing (phonics)
  • reading text at an easy level (for reinforcement, practice and confidence)
  • reading text at an instructional level (to practise decoding words in context, with teacher support)
  • writing a simple story (could be just a few words or one sentence, with support)

When difficulties persist to secondary school age, intervention becomes a matter of urgency. For such students, the logistics of when and how best to deliver support is always a concern and usually decisions should be taken by a school’s Inclusion or SEND team.

YARC provides information about a student’s decoding skills and reading comprehension skills. For students with reading difficulties, it will be important to examine their profile of strengths and weaknesses to determine the most appropriate next steps. The below interventions are relevant to both secondary and primary school pupils.

Multiple strategy teaching

There is a large research base on reading comprehension intervention which has been reviewed by the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000). The NRP was set up in the US in 1997 to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read. The report produced by the NRP highlights seven strategies that are effective in improving reading comprehension:

  • comprehension monitoring (using self-monitoring techniques to assess understanding of text)
  • co-operative learning (working with peers in small groups to support one another’s understanding and approach to reading)
  • graphic and semantic organisers (using diagrams to organise ideas, develop understanding and support memory for text)
  • story structure
  • question answering
  • question generation
  • summarisation

Self-regulated strategies

Students can learn to use these strategies independently, to aid reading comprehension:

  • Re-read: encourage pupils to read the passage a second time, thinking carefully about what the words might mean, to help respond to a reading comprehension question.
  • Look back: ask the student to identify a key word in the question before scanning the passage for either this key word or a related synonym; once identified, the student should look at the sentences surrounding it to help answer the question.
  • Mental imagery: encourage students to imagine images to accompany the passage; by creating mental representations of the passage, pupils provide themselves with cues to jog their memory.
  • Think aloud: ask pupils to pause their reading at different points in the passage; when they pause, ask what they are thinking about, guiding them where necessary.
  • Self-explanation: ask pupils to explain a section of text; by doing so, they make inferences, resolve inconsistencies and create rich representations of the meaning of the passage.

Inferencing activities

Inference-making activities can help students to make gains in reading comprehension ability. An effective method used by Yuill and Oakhill (1988) consisted of three components:

  • Lexical inferencing: a student picks a word from a sentence and then explains what information it provides about the sentence and the passage as a whole.
  • Question generation: different question types are introduced to the student (who, what, why etc.) and examples of each question type are given; students are then asked to formulate their own questions about a passage.
  • Prediction: the student reads a passage in which some sentences have been covered; they are then required to guess what each hidden sentence might be, based on clues from surrounding sentences.

Vocabulary teaching

The relationship between vocabulary and reading is well established and there is evidence to suggest that many children who have reading comprehension difficulties also have weak vocabulary skills. Consequently, intervention may be usefully targeted at improving students’ vocabulary skills.

Figurative language activities

Students who have reading comprehension difficulties may also find understanding figurative language challenging. As many texts contain figurative language, activities to promote understanding of the subtleties of figurative phrases may benefit reading comprehension skills. Resources available to support understanding of figurative language include:

  • Smart Chute Cards: sets of illustrated cards that can be used as the focus of discussion including Idioms, Jokes and Riddles, Proverbs, Sayings and Clichés.
  • Don’t Take it so Literally! Photocopiable Activities for Teaching Idioms (Legler, 1991): a collection of idioms with illustrations that can be explored at three difficulty levels.

Monitoring reading interventions

It is good practice for there to be reviews of progress towards educational objectives at least once per term within schools. In the case of complex problems of which reading impairment is only one component, multi-professional assessment is often needed. The management of any co-occurring difficulties might be necessary to safeguard reading development. Formally, there should be a multi-professional review of such learning difficulties on an annual basis.