Don’t Teach Strategies: Searching, Self-correcting & Confirming (part 2)

In part 1 we explored the idea of teaching strategies versus teaching for strategic activity and looked closely at self-monitoring and cross-checking.  In part 2 we will continue to explore the notion of helping our students build an effective processing system.

“Decision processes that happen in the head” will serve as my overly simplified definition of the term strategies.  While we are not able to put into words what exactly goes on in a child’s head as they read we can observe the overt behaviors that early readers display.  When taking a close look at a child’s reading behaviors we are able to develop a hypothesis about how the child processes text.

We aim to support our students with growing a network of strategic processing that they can apply to novel situations.  Working toward encouraging strategic activity with our students enables our students to use various sources of information when reading, provides our students with a variety of options for problem-solving beyond “sounding out” words, and supports students in actively evaluating their own responses to confirm or disconfirm their reading.

In this post, we will examine the strategic actions of searching for information, self-correcting errors, and confirming (or disconfirming) responses.


What is it?

When the reader actively looks for information that will help him/her with problem-solving.

Why is it important?

Readers need to be able to search for more information in order to problem-solve, monitor, cross-check their reading, and make self-corrections. Readers need to flexible in their searching in order to use various sources of information. When readers do not have certain pieces of knowledge or when they are not fast and fluent with what they know it becomes more difficult to search for information.

What does it look like?

Readers search for both visible and invisible information when reading.  Readers stop to problem solve or reread using any of the information listed below to assist them in their reading.

searching for info

How to Encourage Searching Behaviors

Having students reread many texts will help to build and extend language structures to make students more familiar and flexible with language.  Supporting our readers with automaticity with letter/sound knowledge and word reading makes it easier to search using visual information.  Keeping the meaning of the text in the forefront through conversations before and after reading promotes searches for meaning.

searching 1

searching 2


What is it?

The reader’s ability to notice errors, search for more information, and make another attempt that fixes the error.

Why is it important?

Self-corrections are so powerful!  We are more effective when we attend to self-corrections than to errors.  Marie Clay writes that “an absence of self-correcting reduces the learner’s opportunities for initiating, forming, practicing, extending, and refining a network of strategies” (2001, p. 203).

What does it look like?

The student stops reading, searches for information that he/she uses to make an exact match to what is written in the text.  Self-correcting behaviors change as readers become more experienced.  We can see young readers self-correct overtly while more proficient readers do the work in their head. Self-corrections become faster and closer to the point of error over time.

How to encourage self-correcting behaviors

Teachers should reinforce monitoring and encourage the child to use more sources of information.  In Becoming Literate, Clay cites McNaughton’s research that showed that readers became more efficient when the teacher allowed the student to read to the end of the sentence rather than interrupting the reading at the point of error (p. 337).  When we let the child read to the end of the sentence we give them more opportunity to find the error on their own, we don’t interrupt the flow of the story, and we are provided with more information to use for decision making on how to best support the child.  In order to develop the child’s ability to self-correct, we have to provide the time for them to notice, search, and fix the error without interruption.

self correcting


What is it?

When the reader evaluates his/her decision to confirm or reject a response.

Why is it important?

Readers need to be able to verify their own responses to decide if they are right or not.  The act of confirming their reader changes passive students into students who actively search for information.

What does it look like?

One of my favorite resources to use when thinking about students confirming/disconfirming their reading is an article written by Lori Fitzgerald called Teaching Students to Confirm Using Sound and Letter Knowledge.  If you are a member of RRCNA you can access the article in the Members Resources section under Journals.  Although the article is specific to using letters and sounds to confirm Fitzgerald does go into detail about confirming in general.  Fitzgerald points out that in order for students to verify their responses they need to know how to evaluate their reading and what to do if they decide that they made an error.

evaluating responses

How to encourage confirming behaviors

We need to be sure that we are leaving opportunities for the child to check their own reading.  Don’t fall into the trap of nodding or shaking your head when your student looks at you.  Definitely, do not say, “Yes!” when your student is right or “Oops!” when he/she makes a mistake.  Resist giving your student a big smile for accurate reading (no fist pumping either!)  All of those verbal and nonverbal teacher responses take away that golden opportunity for the child to actively check his/her own reading.

We should be sure that our student knows how to evaluate his/her responses.  We can not expect that our student will know how to coordinate everything that goes along with a “slow check” if they have never demonstrated an understanding of this type of behavior.  We can teach our student that rereading while thinking about the story is a great way to check that everything makes sense.  We can show our student how readers listen to themselves while they read to see if everything is sounding like how people talk.

In Summary

There is no prescribed sequence for teaching students to be strategic readers.  We can keep in mind that a child will be less likely to make self-corrections if he/she is not monitoring and evaluating their reading in some way.  A student will struggle with being able to monitor and self-correct, and evaluate their reading if they do not know how to search for more information.  We can start to see how these strategic actions work together.

An effective literacy processing system has a network of strategic actions working together in a coordinated way.  Teachers look for evidence of strategic actions through closely observing reading behaviors while listening to students read. It is important to take note of what behaviors students control, partially control, or do not yet control. This will help to inform future teaching decisions.

More resources on prompting language:

Within these two posts on teaching our students to be strategic readers, I have included some of my favorite prompting language.  If you would like to read more about what prompts you might use to work toward particular strategies I recommend any of the following resources:

When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works by Irene Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell

Fountas & Pinnell Prompting Guide 1

Clemson University has some great guided reading videos on prompting for independence

If you are a Reading Recovery teacher or have the 2nd edition of Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals you will find suggestions for prompting language in Section 5 Reading Continuous Texts, Whole Stories, and Information Books.  Take a look under the procedures throughout this section.



Clay, Marie. Becoming literate: The Construction of Inner Control.  Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann, 1991.  Print.

Clay, Marie.  Change Over Time in Children’s Literacy Development.  Auckland, New Zealand:  Heinemann.  2001.  Print.

Clay, Marie M. Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals (2nd edition). Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2016. Print.

Fitzgerald, Lorianne.  “Teaching Students How to Confirm Using Sound and Letter Knowledge.”  The Journal of Reading Recovery  Fall (2013):  17-23.  Print.

Fountas, Irene C. and Pinnell, Gay Su. Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades (2nd edition). Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2017. Print.

Fountas, Irene C. and Pinnell, Gay Su. When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2009. Print.

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