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The Reading Coach

Teaching Reading
By Example


"It's almost impossible to catch a cold from someone who doesn't have one. And it's almost impossible for a child to catch the love of reading from a teacher who doesn't have it." -- Jim Trelease, (From The Read Aloud Handbook)

Even with frequent changes in education policy, strategy, philosophy, and politics, one constant truth remains: a teacher's example has a powerful influence on his or her students. If as educators we say we want all students to be readers, yet we do not let them see that reading is important to us, we send a mixed message. Disadvantaged students, in particular, might never understand the power of the written word if we do not open that door for them.

The following questions will help you examine your own "reader profile" and gain fresh ideas for putting the power of example to work in your classroom:

Do your students see you as a reader?
If students see their teacher as a reader, they are more likely to see themselves as readers. When you have "Drop Everything And Read" (sustained silent reading) time for your students, what are you doing? Are you grading papers, talking, or scolding students? If so, the message sent is that reading is important to students, but not to you. Pick up a book and read too. Occasionally build a sense of community by having students share information about their books. Be enthusiastic when you share your current read.

Do you build in breaks daily to read aloud both fiction and non-fiction books and print materials?
Modeling and demonstrating are two of the most powerful teacher-centered approaches educators can use. When you study the civil rights movement, for example, read Patricia McKissack's Goin' Someplace Special, or one of Mildred Taylor's novels for a close-up, personal look at history. (Your media specialist can give other suggestions.) Share a magazine article relating to science. The daily e-mail newsletter from the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse highlights not only education headlines, but also "Math, Science and Technology in the News." Sign up and begin every day by reading an article.

Do you model good fluency (language flow and expression) AND self-correction when reading aloud?
Show students how you do it. Have them sit on the edge of their seats and tell them to "read like you talk." Fluent readers and those who practice self-correction comprehend more readily.

Join the Discussion

Click here to go to the Education World Language Arts message board and share your experiences, questions, and suggestions about literacy.

Do you share the strategies you use as a good reader with students?
Ask yourself what you do when you read. Dr. Lea M. McGee, professor of early education at the University of Alabama, puts it this way: "If getting meaning out of text is second nature to you, ask yourself how you learned to do it. Then ask 'how can I transfer that to my students?' Take it down to a very basic level." Questions you might ask include:

  • What do these words make me think about?
  • What images do these words create in my mind?
  • What do I already know or want to learn about this topic?
  • How do these words relate to me, my world, and other stories I've read?

How can my example help older students or those who are more advanced in reading?
If you teach comprehension strategies through direct or explicit instruction, also show how those comprehension strategies can be used in other situations. For example, remind students to use visualization (as discussed in my May, 2004, Education World article, Opening the Door) when they prepare a book report. Use baking a cake or taking notes to give kids insight into the meaning of synthesizing. (Chapter 10 of the classic Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Ann Goudvis, contains more ideas). Using such integrations daily, even if only for 5-10 minutes at a time, will, as the year progresses, set a tone for applying skills and strategies.

Finally, ask yourself: Do I cultivate my 'reader within?
Many adults (including teachers) restrict their understanding of reading to the classroom, instead of using reading as a tool to understand and navigate life. Choosing the latter is how we create lifelong readers.


The International Reading Association has encouraged many of its state and local affiliates to establish Teachers as Readers book clubs to encourage teachers to enjoy quality literature. Read professional materials (visiting Education World counts!) -- whether in a group or individually -- to keep growing. Read newspapers, magazines, and books. The investment will be reflected in the enthusiasm and interest in reading you radiate.

As 19th century author John Ruskin reminds us, "Teaching is painful, continual and difficult work to be done by kindness, by watching, by warning, by precept, and by praise, but above all by example."

About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller has a library science degree from Florida State University. Her writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections,, Education World, Family Network, and BabyZone. Click to read a complete bio.