Functional reading and its practices


Kid reading zoo map

Since everyday activities can be rich in dealing with various texts of practical meaning, it can be claimed, that there are some reading skills what have extreme meaning to the life of every person. Competence to work successfully with printed media, phone messages, advertisement and others texts of that kind is though to be basic text-coping skill. That results in security and simplicity of life.

“Functional reading” typically refers to the ability to read and comprehend written material for practical or functional purposes. This means being able to understand useful information from various types of texts, such as signs, labels, instructions, forms, manuals, emails, and other written materials that are encountered in everyday life.

Functional reading skills involve more than just decoding words; they also encompass understanding the context, meaning, and implications of the text. Individuals with functional reading abilities can effectively gather information, follow instructions, make informed decisions, and engage in tasks that require reading, such as filling out forms, understanding medication labels, navigating public transportation systems, and following recipes.

These skills are essential for independent living, education, employment, and participation in society. Functional reading goes beyond reading for pleasure or entertainment and focuses on the practical application of reading skills to carry out tasks and solve problems in various real-world situations.

How to teach functional reading skills

Teaching functional reading involves a structured approach that focuses on practical applications of reading skills in real-life situations. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to teach functional reading:

Assessment: Begin by assessing the learner’s current reading skills, comprehension level, and any specific areas of difficulty.

Identify Goals: Determine the specific functional reading goals for the learner. What practical tasks do they need to be able to accomplish? This could include tasks like reading labels, following recipes, understanding public transportation schedules, or completing forms.

Contextualize Reading Material: Choose reading materials that are relevant to the learner’s goals. Use real-world texts such as product labels, grocery lists, street signs, and other practical documents.

Decoding Skills: Teach or reinforce basic reading skills, including phonics, sight words, and word recognition. Focus on building their ability to decode words accurately.

Vocabulary Building: Introduce and teach vocabulary words that are commonly encountered in the learner’s daily life and tasks.

Comprehension Strategies: Teach comprehension strategies such as identifying main ideas, extracting relevant information, and understanding context. Use questions to check their understanding of the material.

Visual Aids: Use visual aids like pictures, diagrams, and real objects to enhance understanding. This is particularly helpful for learners who may have visual learning preferences or difficulties.

Repetition and Practice: Repetition is key to reinforcing functional reading skills. Provide ample opportunities for the learner to practice reading in different contexts.

Real-Life Practice: Encourage the learner to apply their reading skills in actual situations. Accompany them on tasks like shopping, using public transportation, or reading instructions, and guide them through the process.

Feedback and Support: Provide constructive feedback on their reading efforts. Highlight their successes and areas for improvement. Offer support and guidance when they face challenges.

Adapt to Individual Needs: Every learner is unique. Adapt your teaching strategies to accommodate different learning styles, abilities, and preferences.

Consistency: Consistent practice and exposure are crucial for skill development. Encourage the learner to continue reading regularly to maintain and enhance their functional reading abilities.

Teaching functional reading is a gradual process that requires patience and understanding. By tailoring your approach to the learner’s needs and focusing on real-world applications, you can help them develop practical reading skills that improve their independence and daily functioning.

Some activities used by our language teachers:

  1. Word Rhythm exercises – Students divided into groups of 3-4, a text about everyday life (biology, geography, physics, religion, etc). Give students 10-15 min to read the text and find out the most important information, give them 5 minutes to make a word map on the board and let them explain the main idea of the article to other students.
  2. Book a la Carte – Everyone prepared a short play about a book and prepared a drama performance. Group work.
  3. Book covers – Using digital tools pupils recorded their own voices reading a book and other pupils painted what they understood of the book they listened.
  4. Blind date with books/short stories – wrap books in paper to hide their covers — hence the “blind date” — and decorate the wrapping with enticing facts, hints about the plotline, or the books’ first lines. Read the stories and have a discussion about them. The main ideas, characters, etc.
  5. 10 minutes reading – the idea is to start small, encourage them to read more and to have a habit to read every day. Can be done in a classroom, in a lesson, during a break, in a bus, etc. Reading improves writing, grammar, and spelling.


17 Literacy Strategies for Teachers To Use in the Classroom

Berry, Marilyn. 1984. HELP IS ON THE WAY FOR: Reading Skills. Chicago: Children Press

Tools and Strategies to Help You Teach Functional Reading.