intervention strategies reading

As a reading intervention teacher, you start where it matters most (or so you think): with the data. You sort the test scores and identify each students’ gaps. You look for commonalities and groupings and eventually you feel energized because you have a data-informed decision you can move forward with. So you make your plan for instruction – you’ll teach vocab strategies on day 1 week 1. You’ll hit main idea and key details next. Then you’ll work on theme or central idea – and the list goes on. But six weeks in, six months in, even several years in, the data doesn’t change. Sound familiar? I’m here to tell you that after six years of doing this: I had enough. Here’s why I stopped drilling reading skills in my intervention classes and what I do instead.

Teaching Reading Intervention: A Holistic Approach

First of all, let me tell you that teaching reading intervention in K-5 is a completely different ball game than teaching it in a middle school setting. I’ve taught both. It’s not the skills, those remain largely the same. It’s student attitudes and beliefs about reading that changes.

Unfortunately, our students in reading intervention can recite what main idea is. They can list vocabulary strategies. They can define theme and conflict and character traits. But putting it together in a meaningful way with a complex text that may or may not require a high level of background knowledge is typically where these kids fall short. Because we work so hard (and for so long) at drilling these skills, students lose their love for the sport. It’s no longer the source of adventure, joy, and knowledge that it was when they first entered the educational system.

My goal was to reignite that spark.

So I took it back to where it all begins – with a good book. I found novel sets for a tried-and-true favorite – Holes. I downloaded the audiobook, and we began reading. In a 60 minute period, we spent a good 25 minutes listening and following along every day. Students could get comfy and lay down or sit anywhere in the room while they listened as long as they weren’t distracted or falling asleep.

After reading, we would rotate through two stations in the remaining time. One station was iReady (a school-requirement) and the other station was a novel based connection. Here’s what that looked like.

Upgraded Novel Studies: An Integrated Approach

I incorporated novel-based skills each day of the week. Generally, it looked like this:

  • Monday:
    • 20-25 minutes in novel
    • Station 1: iReady
    • Station 2: Novel-Based Vocabulary
  • Tuesday:
    • 20-25 minutes in novel
    • Station 1: iReady
    • Station 2: Novel Based Literary Skill (Characterization, Conflict, Setting, etc)
  • Wednesday:
    • 20-25 minutes in novel
    • Station 1: iReady
    • Station 2: Nonfiction Paired Passage (Build background knowledge)
  • Thursday:
    • 20-25 minutes in novel
    • Station 1: iReady
    • Station 2: Novel-Based Writing
  • Friday
    • 20-25 minutes in novel
    • Novel-Based STEM Challenge

A Few Quick Tips

Depending on what was happening in the novel, we would move some stations around (ie: nonfiction passage on Monday instead of Wednesday). I always kept the STEM challenge as a “Friday Fun-Day” activity. I did this for a few reasons:

  • Students had to work towards it. My school requires 45 minutes of active iReady time. They had to meet their minutes in order to do the STEM challenge.
  • It gave them something to look forward to.
  • If there was a holiday or no-school, we didn’t lose valuable time spent in the novel.

As for the timeline – I try to keep time spent with one novel to four weeks or less. Anything more than that is painful. I divide up the audiobook hours by how many days I have to teach it and that determines our daily listening time.

Why do I use an audiobook? I enjoy listening, too. I love to read-aloud, but 20-25 minutes makes my throat dry, and also? Book readers are fantastic. Kids love them.

A Final Word

If you are worried about administrative support, I strongly encourage you to make your case for reading. Read and share books like:

Just remember – many administrators are not former-reading teachers. They do not know the progression of reading and rely on boxed-curriculum or systems to be effective. It is our responsibility to propose new ideas that are backed by decades of research on reading instruction – but to also listen to our gut when we feel that we are missing the mark.

What I most want you to know is this:

The majority of my students have experienced the most growth out of any of our reading and math intervention students, building-wide, for nearly two years. I am talking 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade reading and math students. Over 100 students each year. I am frequently asked to share my processes and mentor other intervention teachers in the building. But my secret is always the same: We just enjoy good books.

Here’s my complete Holes unit for intervention. I’m working on putting together a few more of our favorites – but it takes time to make them share-able. ๐Ÿ™‚

Let me know if you have any follow-up questions in the comments below, or feel free to reach out at I’m always up for a good conversation about teaching reading to middle school kids. ๐Ÿ™‚

All the best, Natayle