What To Do When Students Face Roadblocks

At one point or another, we’ve all asked students to read a paragraph or two independently and been baffled by some students’ struggle to summarize what they’ve read. Students struggle with this skill for a variety of reasons, but one common roadblock to comprehension is often students’ limited academic vocabulary.

What research tells us about vocabulary instruction is that providing students with a list of words to reference or memorize is not a solution to this common struggle; it is merely a band-aid.

In order to empower our students to endure and surmount vocabulary-based challenges, content-area teachers must model strategies for attacking unknown words and phrases. Teaching students to not only identify their roadblocks, but to engage with the word or phrase systematically, provides students with a transferable skill.

Try modeling (and asking students to model) use of these strategies for solving unknown words or phrases:

  • Break the word down into parts (prefix, suffix, root word)
  • Connect to prior knowledge about word parts
  • Reread and read beyond the unknown, looking for clues
  • Make a prediction about the word’s meaning and plug it into the sentence
  • Reread the sentence to confirm that the predicted meaning make sense
  • As a LAST RESORT, look up the meaning of a word

This list makes a great classroom poster to be referenced each time students encounter unknown words/phrases that act as roadblocks to their comprehension.

So the next time you ask students to read a bit on their own, start the post-reading discussion with: “What roadblocks or unknown words did you encounter?” and be sure to reference your strategies poster as you work with students to uncover the word’s meaning!

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