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The Reading Strategies Book

Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers

Jen collects 300 strategies in support of thirteen reading goals with each strategy cross-linked to skills, genres, and reading levels. Ideal for use with reading workshop, Daily 5/CAFE, guided reading, balanced reading, a core reading program,  or any other approach.

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With hit books that support strategic reading through conferring, small groups, and assessment, Jen Serravallo gets emails almost daily asking, “Isn’t there a book of the strategies themselves?” Now there is.

“Strategies make the often invisible work of reading actionable and visible,” Jen writes. In The Reading Strategies Book, she collects 300 strategies to share with readers in support of thirteen goals—everything from fluency to literary analysis. Each strategy is cross-linked to skills, genres, and Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to give you just-right teaching, just in time. With Jen’s help you’ll:

  • develop goals for every reader
  • give students step-by-step strategies for skilled reading
  • guide readers with prompts aligned to the strategies
  • adjust instruction to meet individual needs with Jen’s Teaching Tips
  • craft demonstrations and explanations with her Lesson Language
  • learn more with Hat Tips to the work of influential teacher-authors.

Whether you use readers workshop, Daily 5/CAFE, guided reading, balanced reading, a core reading program, whole-class novels, or any other approach, The Reading Strategies Book will complement and extend your teaching. Rely on it to plan and implement goal-directed, differentiated instruction for individuals, small groups, and whole classes.

“We offer strategies to readers to put the work in doable terms for those who are still practicing,” writes Jen Serravallo. “The goal is not that they can do the steps of the strategy but that they become more comfortable and competent with a new skill.” With The Reading Strategies Book, you’ll have ways to help your readers make progress every day.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)



Jen Serravallo: Reading Strategies Book Walkthrough
Literacy Coach Video for Reading Strategies
School Leader's View of Jen's Work
Teachers Talk about The Reading Strategies Book

Sneak Preview

Sample Chapter - Introduction

A Very Brief Introduction to Principles, Research, and Theory, and How to Use This Book

When I showed an early draft of this book to a colleague, she remarked, "It's like you're making a reading teacher's version of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything!" (2008) I could see the analogy-this is a book of "reading recipes" in a way. A clear, concise cookbook is a great model for what on-the-go teachers might need to pick and choose strategies, to target what each reader needs, and to support their differentiated instruction.

You might wonder why I decided to write this book, now. Part of the inspiration came from emails, tweets, and in-person requests from the readers of some of my other Heinemann books. Since Conferring with Readers (Serravallo and Goldberg 2007), I've been asked almost daily for "More of what's on page 93," which is essentially a one-page table that includes bunches of strategies that you'd use for readers who read at level L.

And I get it-why create your own recipe for beef bourguignon when one already exists? Wouldn't it be helpful to have a big list of what someone else has already thought up? Not that any cookbook, or this book for that matter, would become a script that you'd follow like a robot-in your kitchen you might swap out the beef stock for chicken stock, or decide you like the meat browned before you stew it, or use a different type of red wine than what the recipe calls for-but it is nice to have a place to start. Like your favorite cookbook, what I've attempted to provide you within The Reading Strategies Book is a comprehensive collection of good ideas from experts that you can use right away and from which to inspire your own innovations.

So, much like Bittman just said, "Here's what I know, go to town," I'm trying to give the strategies I rely on most often over to you all. I acknowledge that this book doesn't include literally everything, just as Bittman's doesn't, but it does cover a lot of ground. I hope that I've offered a slew of helpful "reading recipes," but also helpful suggestions for how to tweak them to make the teaching your own, so that it best suits the learners in front of you. I hope that this book becomes as dogeared, sticky-noted, and coffee-stained as your favorite cookbook, but I also hope that by using this book you become ever more confident in your teaching and your ability to coach and prompt readers. I hope that one day you internalize all that's in here and outgrow it.

Just as Bittman includes recipes for stir-fry, though he certainly didn't invent the idea of a stir-fry, the strategies I've crafted in this book stand on the shoulders of decades of research and master teachers from whose work I've been fortunate to learn. I've tried to offer thanks to these greats by "tipping my hat" to them when I could. Although I fear there are places where I've forgotten people, or haven't properly credited the absolute origin of an idea, I feel grateful to be a part of a profession where there is so much sharing and comingling of thinking that one can imagine this would be a hard thing to do.

Click here to download an extended sampler of this book.

Goal 1: Supporting Pre-Emergent and Emergent Readers

Strategy On every page, try to sound like a storyteller. You can look carefully at the picture to say what the character is doing and what the character is saying.

Teaching Tip You can teach this to readers who are reading a familiar story as a way to prime them to try to remember what characters say and do. This also works well in a book that is unfamiliar. In the example that follows, I’m imagining (or inferring) what a character is saying. In the actual story, the character doesn’t say anything on the first page.


Goal 2: Teaching Reading Engagement

Strategy Make very small, short-term goals for yourself (such as jotting on a sticky note or reading a few pages). As you read, and as you accomplish each goal, move your arrow sticky note up the ladder. When you get to the top, you’ll “party”—have a short celebration you and I have agreed to.

Teaching Tip The idea behind this strategy is that you’ll be breaking down something that feels far away and possibly insurmountable to a student who is currently having little success with reading for a long period of time. The “ladder” makes the longer stretch of reading into a series of short-term goals with a reward. In essence, each move to a new “step” will be a reward in and of itself as it is a visual representation of progress toward a larger goal.

Over time, as a student becomes more capable with the current series of steps, you’ll want to help him or her modify the tool to add a new challenge. For instance, if a child first planned to move up the ladder for every three minutes of independent reading, then once the child is able to accomplish that with independence you may decide to increase the short-term goal to five minutes. Or perhaps you’d want to add three more three-minute steps on the ladder to increase the amount of time before the “party.”

In any case, the goal is not for the child to become dependent on this ladder to read independently—quite the opposite. You want to increase the amount of time or length of the task until it’s just one step: read for the entire independent reading period. At that point, the party ladder can be eliminated as a tool altogether.


Goal 3: Supporting Print Work

Strategy When you’re sure you know what’s happening, but not what the word is, try to come up with a few options that would make sense. Use the information you have so far, and the information in the sentence you’re trying to figure out. Say, “It could be ____ or it could be ____ or it could be ____.” Then, check the letters of the word to see if it matches any of the words that would also make sense in that spot.

Lesson Language Let me show you how when I come to a word I don’t know, I make some tries at the word, using what makes sense, then check the letters to see what word also looks right (Reading fromThose Shoes,page 6 [Boelts 2009]):

"They have an animal on them from a ____ I don’t think any kid ever watched."

I could read up to that word and figure out what kind of word it might be. “Hmm. I think it is going to be a word that is a thing. Let me think about what I know from the whole sentence, and everything so far. It has to be something that has to do with an animal, and it says watched. Hmm. So it could be play or show or TV show—no that wouldn’t work, TV show is two words. Hmm. Let me look at some letters.

I could look at the start of the word:
c-a-r. Car. What word starts like car and could make sense there in the sentence? Something you watch. Like a show. Maybe it could be car... cartoon! That’s it.


Goal 4: Teaching Fluency

Strategy It’s important that when you’re practicing reading smoothly, you are focused on what’s happening, what you’re learning about, or the meaning the author is trying to get across. Depending on the type of text, and the topic, you may change your voice. Have a voice in your head saying, “What’s this about?” and make sure your reading matches the meaning.

Teaching Tip The lesson that follows is an example of noticing character emotions to match intonation and expression. This lesson can also be modified to work with other genres. For example, the way it sounds when a person reads nonfiction might be to read it in a, “Whoa! I never knew that!” kind of voice. You could teach a lesson where you show examples of you reading a persuasive piece and a narrative piece and discuss together how your intonation sounds different based on the genre. You will notice that some of the Prompts may work better for narratives, while others will work best for informational texts.


Goal 5: Supporting Comprehension in Fiction-Understanding Plot and Setting

Strategy When you retell, think about the problem (uh-oh), how the problem gets worse (UH-OH!) and how the problem gets solved (phew!). Use a story mountain with these parts to retell, touching the parts of the mountain as you go.

Lesson Language A story goes like this. (Draw a story mountain.) Uh-oh (problem), UH-OH (problem worsens), UH-OH! (problem worsens), and the problem gets solved (phew!). If I were going to retell Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds (Adler 2004), I would start off with the uh-oh—the problem. In this story, the problem is that someone steals diamonds from the jewelry store at the mall. The problem gets worse and worse—UH-OH and UH-OH!—when Cam and Eric go looking for the thief. They are in a dangerous situation outside the house where the thieves are, and even worse when the baby starts crying and they get pulled inside the house. But then the police show up (phew!), and the criminals are caught and taken away by the police.


Goal 6: Supporting Comprehension in Fiction-Thinking About Characters

Strategy Craft a theory about your character by compiling all the smaller ideas you have. Look across character’s traits, wants, desires. Pile them up. State a bigger theory about who the character really is or what she or he really wants, not just in one spot but as a pattern across the text.

Lesson Language In more complex books, characters also get more complex. In one scene or one place in the book, the character may show one side of his or her personality. You may have an idea in that spot about who that character is. A little while later, the character may act another way. It’s the pile of all these thoughts you have here and there that will give you a bigger theory. For example, in The Great Gilly Hopkins (Paterson 1978), we first meet Gilly, who is brash, rude, and really hard to handle. She talks back to adults and frightens some people. Later in the book, we notice how she longs for her mother, and she acts desperate, and much more mild. Toward the end of the book, we see her as a caretaker when Trotter and William Earnest are sick with the flu. We may start to pile these details about her together to get a theory. When does she act one way? When does she act another? It seems like she’s rude, you might say, to keep people at arm’s length. She wants to protect herself, so she’d rather people leave her alone than try to love them and get hurt. She’s already been abandoned by her mom, and she can’t take that kind of heartache again, you might theorize. She acts tough to protect herself, although she’s really soft on the inside.


Goal 7: Supporting Comprehension in Fiction-Understanding Themes and Ideas

Strategy Read the back cover blurb. If you read it before reading the story, you might have a hunch about what theme or two might be in the story. If you read it after or while reading, you can think about what happens in the story and how the blurb connects. Then ask yourself, “What does this story teach me?”

Lesson Language Back cover blurbs often give the reader a gist of the story—just enough to entice us to really want to read it and find out what will happen. Listen to this blurb from the back of Julian’s Glorious Summer (Cameron 1987):

Bicycles—shiny, whizzing, wobbly bicycles—scare Julian more than lions or tigers. But how can he tell that to his best friend, Gloria? She can already ride with no hands. So instead of telling the truth, Julian makes up a little fib. And he almost gets away with it—until his little fib backfires and Julian finds himself in the biggest, most confounding fix ever.

Doesn’t that sound like a great story? It makes me want to read it to find out what the biggest fix ever is going to be. But even before reading, I have a hunch that something about the importance of being honest with your friends might come up in this story. I got that hint because I know that he’s struggling with telling Gloria a fib that ends up backfiring, which means it’s going to be a problem for him—and we know that problems are often also clues to the lessons characters learn.


Goal 8: Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction-Determining Main Topic(s) and Idea(s)

Strategy Be aware of the author’s reason for writing and any potential bias that comes from that. First, learn about who the author is (from an author bio included in the book). Then, consider what stake the author has in the topic based on his or her background. As you read, consider what facts are being included and what is being excluded. Consider if there are any “opinion words” being used alongside the factual information.

Lesson Language The book Face to Face with Whales by Flip and Linda Nicklin (2008) at first glance looks to be a straightforward book about whales—there are photographs, lots of facts. But I wonder if the authors have a certain perspective on the issue that will shape the kinds of information they include? One look at their bio tells us that they live in Alaska and Hawaii, two places good for viewing whales. OK, good, that helps to make them experts on the topic. I also see they’ve written four other books about the subject. Again, all signs point to expert. At the end of the bio, it says, “He is active with Whale Trust, a conservation and research organization.” If I thought about that, what kind of person would join the Whale Trust and what kind of slant might they have on the topic? I think someone who loves the creatures and wants to do all they can to protect them. Let’s look inside to see if there are any opinion words that go along with that idea. I see on page 5: “I’ve been lucky to spend my life with whales” and excited on the next page: “They are better swimmers than we are” and thrilling. The author is clearly excluding any details that would make you feel terrified of these large creatures and is including details and opinion words to lead you to believe they are beautiful, fascinating creatures, a perspective that goes along with his bio!


Goal 9: Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction-Determining Key Details

Strategy After reading a fact, stop and think: “Does this fact support the main idea of this page (or section or book)?” If it doesn’t, it may be that the author included something interesting, but that isn’t necessarily important to understanding the main point of the page (or book).

Lesson Language For information to be considered a key detail, it has to be a detail that connects to the main idea that the author is presenting. In most nonfiction books, though, the author fills the pages with information that is important (or key) and also information that is meant to wow, amaze, gross out, or otherwise keep the reader reading. It’s all great information because it keeps us reading and engaged. However, when we go to summarize a text, we need to sort through all the information and just present what’s most connected to the main idea. For example, if I’m reading the section “Harsh or Heroic?” in a book about the Middle Ages and I read “Joan of Arc was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake” I might think, “Whoa! I can’t believe that. Things were crazy back then” (Kenney 2007). Though I’m interested in that fact, I also have to figure out if the detail is also important, so I have to check to see if it connects to the main idea. The main idea of the page is that although the times of castles and knights seems exciting, few had power and many lived harsh lives. The fact about Joan of Arc is certainly loosely related, but I think there are other facts in this section that better connect to the main idea. I’d file this one away as interesting, but not important to the main idea.


Goal 10: Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction-Getting the Most from Text Features

Strategy Read the heading or subheading that’s causing confusion. Back up to a title or heading from earlier in the section. Think, “What can I infer this section might be about, based on what the whole book or section is about?” Read on to gather information from that section. Go back and reword the confusing heading in a way that is clearer.

Lesson Language Some headings and subheadings are like the boldest, clearest traffic signs: They tell us exactly what’s to come and help us navigate the text. Other headings and subheadings, however, are worded in a less clear way. The author may have been clever or creative, but it’s leaving us a bit confused! When you notice that the heading or subheading is written in a way that can’t literally mean what it says, you’ll have to infer the meaning. Often, you won’t be able to fully infer the meaning until you read the whole section and then go back to the heading to think about it. For example, in Bobbie Kalman’s What Is a Primate? (1999), I came to the section called “Thumbs Up!” and thought, “What could this section be about?” I backed up to the larger section that this smaller section was in—the title was “A Primate’s Body.” So then, I started thinking that “Thumbs Up!” must be about how thumbs are important to primates. I then read the section to check to see if the details matched.


Goal 11: Improving Comprehension in Fiction and Nonfiction-Understanding Vocabulary and Figurative Language

Strategy Find or figure out the definition of the word. Think about the context. Ask yourself, “What’s the feeling, mood, tone, or connotation of the word, based on how it’s used?”

Lesson Language Words that authors use may have a denotative meaning and a connotative meaning. That is, when we look up a word in a dictionary we can find the technical definition of the word, but the word may also carry some unofficial meanings, or layers of meaning, as well. We can read alert to descriptive language that might communicate something deeper than what the word literally means. For example, the words youthful or juvenile both mean young, but carry different layered meanings. Youthful is often positive, and communicates a “full of life” kind of feeling. On the other hand, juvenile usually is used in a negative way to communicate someone who acts young and immature when they should act more mature. You can stop to think about why the author chose the precise word she or he did, and what that word choice is helping you to understand about what’s being described.


Goal 12: Supporting Students' Conversations

Strategy Each member chooses her or his best thoughts on sticky notes and stacks them in a pile on an individual square of the playing board. One member selects an idea and places it in the center. All members of the club think about, focus on, and talk about the idea in the center. Move on to a new idea when there is nothing left to say about the one in the center.

Lesson Language Create a playing board with a spot for each club members’ stack of sticky notes and a square in the center. The first person takes his or her best sticky note, reads it, and moves it to the center square. The idea in the center is now “in play.” All club members try to focus on talking about the one idea that is “in play” for as long as possible. When it feels like the idea is talked out, then a different club member takes a new idea from his or her pile, reads it, and moves that one to the center so that it becomes “in play.” If at any time someone forgets about what the focus of the conversation is, you can look back at the center of the playing board for help.


Goal 13: Improving Writing About Reading

Strategy Take several of your best ideas that you recorded on sticky notes as you read. Put them on an open page and look across them. Try to make connections between the ideas—either by putting them together, comparing the ideas, or contrasting the ideas.

Lesson Language To take the thinking you do in the moment on a page and grow it into something larger, you can try to put ideas together. Sometimes you’ll put them together and merge them into one greater idea. For example, if in one part of Freedom Summer (Wiles 2005) you noted “I think the spongy tar is a symbol” and in another place you noted “The narrator seems to admire John Henry,” you might put those ideas together to grow an idea that incorporates both, such as “It takes a lot of courage to go against the grain, to not be stuck in what everyone expects or thinks of you.” You might also put two ideas alongside each other and realize that you have something to say that brings about the differences in the idea. For example, if you said, “There is such disrespect in this place and time” and “The narrator seems to admire John Henry,” you might see the difference here is between the children in the story, like John Henry and the adults, who are really the ones who perpetrate the negative stereotypes. The point of all of this is that by trying to see the relationships between your ideas, you’ll hopefully develop new thinking.


Getting Started
Goal 1: Supporting Pre-Emergent and Emergent Readers (20 strategies)
Goal 2: Teaching Reading Engagement: Focus, Stamina, and Building a Reading Life (27 strategies)
Goal 3: Supporting Print Work: Increasing Accuracy and Integrating Sources of Information (23 strategies)
Goal 4: Teaching Fluency: Reading with Phrasing, Intonation, and Automaticity (21 strategies)
Goal 5: Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Understanding Plot and Setting (28 strategies)
Goal 6: Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Thinking About Characters (24 strategies)
Goal 7: Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Understanding Themes and Ideas (24 strategies)
Goal 8: Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction: Determining Main Topic(s) and Idea(s) (23 strategies)
Goal 9: Supporting Comprehension in Nofiction: Determining Key Details (20 strategies)
Goal 10: Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction: Getting the Most from Text Features (22 strategies)
Goal 11: Improving Comprehension in Fiction and Nonfiction: Understanding Vocabulary and Figurative Language (24 strategies)
Goal 12: Supporting Students' Conversations: Speaking, Listening, and Deepending Comprehension (21 strategies)
Goal 13: Improving Writing About Reading (23 strategies)

In Depth

What I've provided you with in The Reading Strategies Book is a comprehensive collection of good ideas from experts that you can use right away and from which to inspire your own innovations.

The thirteen chapters that follow are thirteen of the goals I find I most commonly match readers to in grades K-8. The first step is to make sure that you are matching the right goal to the right reader. It is for this reason that every chapter starts off with a brief overview of what the goal is, for whom the goal is most appropriate, and how to assess with that goal in mind. You can read across all the beginning sections of the thirteen chapters that follow to get a crash course in formative assessment and/or pick up a copy of either my Literacy Teacher's playbook series or Independent Reading Assessment series for more guidance on formative assessment.

After you've done some formative assessments, you may realize that a student could benefit from more than one goal. In fact, this is likely! To know where to start, I will share what I would generally advise, though nothing that follows is a hard-and-fast rule as every reader is unique and reading is not a perfectly linear process.

— From the Introduction


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