Top Five Ways to Improve Your Basal Reading Program

If you’re not satisfied with your current basal reading program, here are five things you can do to improve it.

Basal reading programs can seem daunting to customize and adapt, but simple actions can go a long way to improving the quality of the program for your students. Here are five things you can do to adapt your basal reading program to better meet the Common Core State Standards:

  1. Make sure the texts you read are worthy of student attention – You can assess the stories in your basal to make sure they are high quality and support the learning goals you have for your students. Using a qualitative analysis rubric will help you perform an analysis of complexity, but you should also trust your gut reaction when you review a story. The stories you love, that your kids love; the ones that offer good information – those can stay. If in doubt, remove it and replace it with something you know is good.
  2. Ensure that each lesson includes text-dependent questions – Have you analyzed a text, found it worthy, but don’t think the accompanying questions and activities do enough to steer students back to the text? Consider using one of the teacher-created Basal Alignment Project adaptations to replace the questions and activities that accompany a text. If you can’t find replacement materials for the text you want to use, you can access the Complete Guide to Creating Text-Dependent Questions to develop your own questions.
  3. Connect reading, writing, speaking, and listening – Many basal readers will have strong stories and good questions, but when it comes to having students practice writing and engage in discussion, often the prompts are completely disconnected from the story (or could be answered without comprehending the text). Students should practice writing and speaking about the same topic they’ve just read about – it’s how they interact with the text (and will be expected to interact with texts in college and future careers). If the discussion and writing prompts are disconnected from the text, rewrite them yourself to allow students to continue engaging with the text while practicing speaking and writing skills.
  4. Focus on strategically chosen vocabulary – As a teacher, you want to be aware of the vocabulary words that matter most: words that help students understand the story better; words that are useful across all content areas, adding to a student’s lifelong vocabulary. Some basal readers may devote attention to words that are not high utility words. They may be tier one words (that a student will likely already know through daily conversation) or words that are below grade level. Your reader may also ignore important tier two vocabulary words that may initially appear straightforward until you consider that the word has multiple definitions, and that a student may not be familiar with how the word is used in the context of the story. You can use the Academic Word Finder to pinpoint grade-level-appropriate, tier two vocabulary, but as the classroom teacher, you know your students’ vocabulary best and should make the final decision about where you need to devote time and attention.
  5. Build knowledge whenever possible – As you complete a story in your basal reader, consider whether there is an opportunity to dig deeper and build students’ knowledge on a particular topic. Is this a topic your students seem particularly interested in? Does the story relate to information that may be useful to them later? Does the story have relevance to science or social studies? If so, consider spending more time here than you might normally. Look through the supplementary materials provided by the publisher or search the internet for an engaging website, video, or infographic that students can explore to build knowledge on that topic more deeply.

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About the Author: Student Achievement Partners is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving student achievement through evidence-based action. Founded by some of the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards, the organization works closely with educators and other partners in the education field ensure the promise of the Common Core is realized in classrooms across the country.