Can you believe how fast time flies? It must seem like just yesterday that your little cherub boarded the bus and headed off to kindergarten. Now, this same child is in middle school—or perhaps high school—and she is tackling the world of academia with enthusiasm and vigor. You may have noticed that the coursework is much more difficult and, at times, your student is frustrated or maybe even confused. You may wonder how to help him as he reads about the Revolutionary War or as he cracks open Lord of the Flies. Believe it or not, even at this age, there are ways that you can assist your students and help them to achieve academic success.

Practical Strategies

Below is a list of practical strategies that you can use to help reduce frustration and optimize success.

  1. Read, Read and Reread – Students often think that they should get the material after only one reading. This is not always a reasonable goal. Often, a second reading is necessary in order to fully grasp the content.
  2. SLOW DOWN! – Reading is not a race. Many times students want to plow right through to the end of a text simply to get it done. This rapid reading is like trying to fill a sieve with sand. The sieve cannot hold the information and it falls right through. Slow down and have your student ask, “What did I just read?” If the student does not have an answer, the material needs to be reread.
  3. Pay Attention to Text Features – Once your student has finished reading a chapter or short story, ask him the title of the selection. Often students do not know because they did not pay attention to the text feature of the title. Instead, they bypassed this very important information and went straight to the text. Authors use things like titles, headings, margin questions, charts and graphs to help students understand the main idea of the selection. By ignoring these clues, students are missing important information.
  4. Monitor Your Movie Camera – Literature is meant to paint a picture--or create a movie -in the reader’s mind about the events depicted. When your movie no longer matches the literature, then you need to go back and reread. To help, ask your student to describe what she has read. If she cannot answer, go back to the text.
  5. Read with a Pen or Pencil in Hand – Readers should be prepared to interact with the text while reading. This means that they are making notes about information as they move along. Students can use sticky notes to help in this process.
  6. Find the MAIN IDEA – Nonfiction contains a main idea. (IN fiction this is generally called the theme.) Your student should be able to locate the main idea in a paragraph. Before reading the entire selection, stop after each paragraph and summarize the main idea.
  7. Have a Dictionary Handy – Encourage your student to skim the selection to identify unknown vocabulary and then look-up them up. Even though cell phones can be a distraction, this would be a great time to encourage your student to use this technology to help them with school work.


The Purdue Online Writing Lab – or OWL
This is an excellent resource for students who are writing research papers, questioning grammar rules, or citing outside sources. The OWL attempts to provide information to help developing writers.

SparkNotes & CliffsNotes
These websites provide a detailed summary and analysis of many pieces of literature. These cites also provide quizzes and potential essay prompts for students to help them as they read. Neither Sparknotes nor Cliffsnotes is designed to replace the actual reading of the novel, these cites are helpful in answering questions that may arise as students read.

Visuwords is an online graphic dictionary that provides not only the meaning of the words, but also parts of speech and much more information. This is perfect for visual learners.

PBS Poetry Everywhere
This is a great cite for students learning about poetry. The students can listen to actual poets as they read their works out loud. There is also a place to view poetry that has been animated. This cite makes poetry relatable and interesting for students.

This is a great website for current events and information on contemporary topics.

Project Gutenberg
This is a great tool for students. The site offers free access to literary classics. For an idea, here are a few available downloads:

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1194)
  2. Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (563)
  3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (481)
  4. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (408)
  5. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (386)
  6. The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by Oscar Wilde (375)
  7. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (369)
  8. A Doll's House : a play by Henrik Ibsen (365)
  9. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (364)
  10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (351)
  11. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (335)
  12. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (313)
  13. Il Principe. English by Niccolò Machiavelli (307)
  14. The Albigensian Heresy by Henry James Warner (295)
  15. Jane Eyre: An Autobiography by Charlotte Brontë (281)

Guide to Grammar and Writing
Comprehensive grammar and writing website 
fun grammar site

Shakespeare Resource Center

Elizabethan Life Compendium

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