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Teaching reading in secondary school subjects

How can we support students to read like subject experts in secondary schools?

There are three main things to know about reading in secondary schools.

1. Reading is different in each subject area / discipline

Each subject has its own specialised texts that students need to read, such as these examples:

· Science – experiment reports, graphs, tables, research papers

· History – sources, text books

· Geography – field reports, graphs, data, case studies

· English – novels, poetry, plays

· PDHPE – graphs, data, case studies about health, reports about health

· Music – descriptions of music

· Visual Arts – reviews of art, artist statements

· Languages – descriptions of places, travel ads, dialogues.

Each of these has a range of different genres (or purposes). You can find out more about genres in this post.

Each subject area teacher needs to teach reading, because each subject has special texts, a special array of genres, and special ways of communicating.

2. There's a difference between teaching reading and testing reading

If you're reading around the class, please stop!

Just because students can read out loud, it does not mean that they understand.

Reading around the class is testing reading. This means that the students who can read and understand, do. The students who can't understand what they're reading don't learn anything from the process.

If students can do it on their own, they don't need to be at school to do it. So what do we do instead? (See below on scaffolding reading).

3. Reading involves many skills and different aspects of literacy

There are multiple skills involved in reading, including understanding the context, decoding, predicting, comprehending, learning vocabulary and remembering. Reading involves understanding the purpose and context of what is being read, knowing the meaning of words on the page, knowing what to do with what is read, and also being critical readers (Freebody & Luke, 1990).

That's a lot!

There is no evidence to support the teaching of vocabulary or of reading comprehension as stand-alone activities. Instead, vocabulary and reading and writing should be taught together, in disciplinary contexts. Future blog posts will cover vocabulary and comprehension, and more on subject area reading. The scaffolding steps below can help you get started.

Effective scaffolding for reading

The steps in scaffolding can be shown like this:

I do: the teacher models or shows how
We do (I lead): the teacher leads the class to use different reading strategies and read together
You do (together): students work together in pairs or groups on reading activities
You do (alone): the student reads independently

These steps for scaffolding reading can be shown in the table below:


Faculty planning for reading:

Discuss answers to these questions at the next faculty meeting:

- How can we curate the texts we are asking students to read in the next unit of work? What are the most important readings?

- Can we provide a template or practise reading strategies for articles/ case studies etc?

- Could we provide a selection of good articles that students can choose from so they don’t waste time looking at the wrong sources?

- Could we model reading the sources using I do, We do, You Do (in the table above)?

- What reading strategies could teach students for particular texts we are asking them to read in the unit



detailed reading


using graphic organisers

note taking (using a template)

noting references.


Freebody, P., & Luke, A. (1990). Literacies programs: Debates and demands in cultural context. Prospect, 5(7-16).

Rose, D., & Martin, J. R. (2012). Learning to write, reading to learn. Genre, knowledge and pedagogy in the Sydney School. Sheffield & Bristol: Equinox Publishing Ltd.

To reference this blog, please cite:

Weekes, T. (2021, September 27). Teaching reading in secondary school subjects. [Blog post]. Retrieved from:


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