Content Reading: An Essential Skill for Advanced Print Literacy

The issue

The current reading achievement statistics for deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children indicates that over half of DHH high school graduates struggle to develop reading comprehension levels commensurate with those of a typical 4th grader. Coincidentally, there is a school of thought around the idea of the “fourth-grade slump” (when students begin reading to learn, shifting away from formal reading instruction, or “learning to read”). Fourth grade seems to be the pinnacle year when students are also interacting with informational texts more frequently. These texts are structured differently than narrative texts and require additional strategies beyond those taught when learning to read (e.g., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

What we know

Content area reading skills are those skills that help support reading comprehension and understanding of content in areas such as mathematics, science, and social studies. Content area reading is often associated with advanced literacy, which is an important component of success both in and out of the classroom setting. Helping students develop advanced literacy skills, such as content area reading skills, may help in closing this achievement gap. The types of texts that are considered content or informational texts include textbooks (e.g., mathematics, science, social studies, etc.) as well as articles and magazines, particularly those with an educational focus. The skills required to navigate these types of texts include:
  • Activation and Building of Background Knowledge (having some sort of prior knowledge on the subject and building on that knowledge through discussions, experiences, and viewing images and videos prior to reading)
  • Awareness and Ability to Use and Navigate Text Features (attending to and interpreting additional visual information such as bolded text, headings, images and captions, charts, and graphs)
  • Ability to Identify Text Structures (determining if a text is organized sequentially, as cause and effect, as descriptive, as compare and contrast, or as problem and solution).
  • Understanding of Content Specific Vocabulary (words that are specific to an academic domain such as mathematics, social studies, or science, and are integral for understanding content).
  • Ability to Make Complex Inferences (seeing things from the author’s point of view, making predictions, and the ability to develop thoughts and opinions based on learned information).

What we don’t know and implications

Very little is known about how teachers of the deaf incorporate these skills in the content areas, particularly in the upper grades. A dissertation study conducted in 2014 suggested that teachers of the deaf do not incorporate the skills needed for successful content reading at high levels of intensity or for long durations and that the primary focus was on content knowledge versus reading comprehension. It is recommended that parents and teachers begin teaching DHH children the skills of content reading as early as possible. Some tips and strategies include:


Before reading a content area text:

  • Activate background knowledge by asking a question such as, “Where have you seen this before?” or “Do you remember when … ?”
  • Identify the structure of the text (cause/effect; problem solution; sequential; compare/contrast; etc) and make that structure explicit. For example, in a text structured as cause/effect, identify and explain which portion(s) of the text identifies the causes and identify and explain which portion(s) of the text identifies the effects. You may rely on headings and other text features (see below) when doing this.

Before reading and during reading a content area text:

  • Build on background knowledge by resolving any misconceptions. Make connections from the content discussed in the text to the world around them. This can be accomplished through discussion or by having an experience (e.g., field trips, science experiments, hands-on learning, etc.).
  • Identify and discuss any vocabulary specifically related to the content (content-specific vocabulary), especially words in boldface type. Make sure these words are understood within the context of the content you are reading. It may also be beneficial to identify any multiple meanings that may be encountered when reading texts in other genres or subject areas.
  • Point out and elaborate on text features (images, headings, maps, charts, graphs, etc.)
  • Ask higher-level questions (see Bloom’s) to help support inferencing and comprehension.

Posted on Jan. 17, 2020 by
Michella Maiorana-Basas
Flagler College


Further reading