NSW Centre for Effective Reading

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Middle years

Middle years students bridge the Primary and Secondary years spanning from upper Primary, Year 5, to Junior Secondary, Year 9.

The expectation is that all students in these years will read to learn from content area texts.

In the Middle years texts become more complex and the concepts expressed become more complicated and abstract.

Students who have difficulty comprehending such texts and who cannot grasp the meaning of new words and concepts will no doubt find learning difficult.

While the materials presented in this section of the website are specifically targeted at Middle years students with reading difficulties they are also relevant for all students.

All struggling students need direct and explicit instruction in:

  • vocabulary
  • comprehension
  • motivation and engagement.

Some struggling students need direct and explicit instruction in:

  • advanced word study
  • fluency to promote comprehension.

It is suggested that the materials could be used as:

  • the basis for professional learning in the area of reading difficulties
  • strategies to be implemented by individual class/subject teachers and support teachers or by a grade or faculty group.


Good readers read more and become better readers. They are exposed to and learn more words. On the other hand, poor readers read less and are exposed to and learn fewer words. As a result, they do not become strategic readers. Stanovich (1986) termed this phenomenon the Matthew Effect—the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Vocabulary introduction (PDF 60KB)

Vocabulary strategies

Vocabulary instruction can be divided into three areas.

Additive vocabulary

 Selecting words (PDF 383KB)

Generative vocabulary

 Examples and non-examples (PDF 68KB)

 Using context (PDF 58KB)

 Teaching word parts (PDF 134KB)

 Context and word parts (PDF 62KB)

Academic vocabulary

  Pre-teach vocabulary (PDF 53KB)

  Semantic maps (PDF 155KB)

(Boardman, Roberts, Vaughn, Wexler, Murray & Kosanovich, 2008)


As text becomes more complicated in the middle years and high school, and as the demands for learning from text (particularly information texts) increase, students must become more sophisticated in both the range and the flexibility of their reading comprehension strategies to maintain or accelerate their level of reading proficiency (Duke & Pearson, 2002,  in Academic Literacy Instruction for  Adolescents, 2007,p.9).

Instruction in reading comprehension strategies is helpful for all students, particularly for students with learning difficulties (Gatjria, Jitendra, Sood & Sacks, 2007, 2011; Vaughn, Gersten & Chard, 2000).

Comprehension introduction (PDF 55KB)

Comprehension strategies

Comprehension strategies are employed before, during, and after reading. Effective readers automatically employ strategies to understand what they are reading. Struggling readers, however, need explicit instruction on how to use strategies to assist them in understanding what they read as well as ample practice at both guided and independent levels, in using these strategies with a variety of texts

 Strategy instruction (PDF 51KB)

 Main idea (PDF 132KB)

 Summarising (PDF 82KB)

 Fix up strategies (PDF 275KB)

 Integrated strategies (PDF 43KB)

Assistive technology


Assistive Technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the capabilities of people with disabilities, including students with reading difficulties, to function at their fullest potential as independently as possible.


Assistive Technology in the classroom (PDF 85KB)


For reviews of a range of products see: EduApps - free software


Although the words motivation and engagement are often used interchangeably, they are not always synonymous. Whereas motivation refers to the desire, reason, or predisposition to become involved in a task or activity, engagement refers to the degree to which a student processes text through the use of active strategies and thought processes and prior knowledge (Kamil et al., 2008).

Adolescent struggling readers often lack motivation to read (Morgan & Fuchs, 2007), impairing their comprehension, hampering their ability to develop effective reading strategies or to learn from what they read, and thus limiting their exposure to important content-area information, world knowledge, and vocabulary. In school, these readers face increasingly difficult reading material and classroom environments that tend to de-emphasise the importance of fostering motivation to read (Guthrie & Davis, 2003). Outside school, struggling students generally do not read for pleasure and may avoid potentially embarrassing situations that involve public disclosure of their reading difficulties, such as applying for a job or pursuing a driver's license. Finding ways to motivate and engage students in reading is an essential part of adolescent literacy instruction.

Motivation and engagement (PDF 54KB)


Good readers are fluent readers. They decode words automatically and continuously group and regroup words in ways that promote understanding. Fluent readers are able to devote time and effort to understanding what they are reading (Shinn & Good, 1992).

It is necessary to read frequently to expand the sight vocabulary readers need to read fluently, and this is one area where struggling readers fall behind. Fluency does not 'cause' comprehension; however it is a necessary component of successful reading. Fluency instruction can assist struggling adolescents who are not fluent readers (Rasinski, Padak, McKeon, Wilcong, Friedauer, & Heim, 2005).

 Fluency introduction (PDF 67KB)