Reading to Learn: A Reading and Writing Pedagogy

Reading is a fundamental skill to academic success. Early reading experiences with our caregivers have a profound impact on vocabulary acquisition in our mother language, as well as our general disposition towards reading. Reading skills in a second language are likewise just as important. Struggling readers often make struggling students. Learning to Read, Reading to Learn (R2L) is the full name of an evolving pedagogy that grew out of a critical response to struggling Aboriginal students in Australia – minority and disadvantaged students who were often getting left-behind. R2L was the intervention pedagogy that was created to help level the field for both weaker and stronger students. This Research Bite will detail the R2L method (as described in Martin & Rose [2005] and Rose [2008]) and briefly look at some research on its effectiveness.

Theoretical Basis

Although R2L primarily evolved out of a need to address struggling students, it also came about as a response to whole language and process-based writing instruction in which there was indeed very little instruction in how to write; these were methods that were seen as failing students. R2L is heavily influenced by genre pedagogy, systemic functional linguistics, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (i.e. scaffolding and guided instruction) and is an adaption of Rothery’s teaching/learning cycle for genre-based writing. This cycle consists of three stages:

  1. Deconstruction – various aspects of a text are analyzed, including its
    • Field – the topic or subject which the text is about
    • Genre – the communicative purpose of the writing (e.g. narrative, argument, etc.)
    • Stages – the different moves of the text, often particular to that genre, such as thesis, argument, restatement of thesis in an exposition
    • Key linguistic features
  2. Joint construction – where students and the teacher work together to create a new text in the same genre
  3. Independent construction  – where students work on their own to create a final text of the genre being studied

The Six Stages of R2L

R2L follows a modified version of Rothery’s cycle. The modification adds in stages to help students build critical reading skills while emphasizing “guidance through interaction in the context of shared experience”, as well as a focus on writing. According to Martin and Rose (2005, p. 17):

The reading focused activities outlined here thus complement and enhance the writing focused teaching/learning cycle … providing more intensive scaffolding support for learners to adopt literate language patterns from authors of model texts. This more intensive support benefits both weaker and stronger students: all students learn to consciously recognise and use discourse patterns that are well
beyond their independent competence.

  1. Prepare before Reading
    • Students learn about the field and genre. This is often achieved by explaining the text’s field and summarizing the text.
    • Often, the teacher (or strong students) will read the text aloud in this stage, allowing students to recognize sound-spelling connections
  2. Detailed Reading
    • The text is read together, sentence by sentence, to help support understanding the text for weaker students and to help students notice linguistic cues or patterns (for both strong and weaker students). The reasoning here is that while students could certainly read a complex text on their own, reading it piece by piece can help make it easier for all.
    • This is also considered a more formal version of the “micro-interactions” that take place when caregivers read to children, so it simulates the natural literacy experiences that enrich children.
    • Affirmative feedback and positive interaction are also important at this stage
    • This is done following a sub-cycle (see Rose, 2008, p. 11 for an example)
      1. Prepare – Paraphrase the sentence in easier terms and relate the sentence to the context/previous text
      2. Identify – Highlighting wording and specific phrases
      3. Elaborate – Discuss the meaning of the words, any concepts/metaphors they represent, distinctions, usage, etc.
    • (Incidentally, Detailed Reading seems very similar to close reading)
  3. Sentence or Note Making
    • Students write the identified words and phrases on the board. It is recommended that several students go to the board and the class tells them what to write. This is an effort to keep the entire class engaged.
    • The board ends up looking like notes taken from the reading.
  4. Joint Rewriting
    • The teacher and students work together to essentially re-write the text from the notes on the board. The new text should be a simplified version of the original but retain the same genre features.
    • Although original phrases are on the board, the students should offer paraphrases and alternative wordings.
    • Grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. are also addressed at this stage.
  5. Individual Rewriting
    • Students write their own texts based on the notes and model written together.
  6. Independent Writing
    • Students are given a new text to read within the same genre/field (or they find their own) and complete the rewrite process on their own.

Does it Work?

The Rose (2008) and Martin and Rose (2005) articles describe a process with firm theoretical underpinnings, developed through classroom-based action research. They do not, however, offer evidence that R2L works. A search of the literature related to R2L reveals some research on the subject, which can shed light on R2L’s effectiveness and implementation. The following three articles indicate that R2L is effective at helping students read difficult texts while learning and applying important genre features to writing. Therefore, it is an approach to which more attention should be paid.

  • Shum, Shi, & Tai (2016). The effectiveness of using ‘reading to learn, learning to write’ pedagogy in teaching Chinese to non-Chinese speaking students in Hong Kong.  International Journal of Language Studies 10(3), 43-60.
    • The year-long research project with non-Chinese speaking secondary school students (mostly from South and Southeast Asia) in Hong Kong “suggests that students with different learning abilities are capable of composing much longer and better organized texts with genre-based schematic structure and diversified lexicogrammatical resources after experiencing R2L pedagogy”.
  • Shum, Tai, & Shi (2016). Using ‘Reading to Learn’ (R2L) pedagogy to teach discussion genre to non-Chinese-speaking students in Hong Kong. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 1-11.
    • The authors from the previous study focused specifically on the “discussion” genre, which includes: “issue proposition, two sides of arguments (arguing for/against), and resolution”.
    • The instruction involved 5 stages:
      1. Preparing to Read, Detailed Reading, and Note-Taking based on an article called “The advantages and disadvantages of studying aborad”
      2. Joint Rewriting the first paragraph only based on the notes (mostly conjunctions and transition words) applied to a new topic: “Should secondary students do part-time job” (sic).
      3. Debate on the part-time job topic, which including watch a documentary, having group debates, and writing down their opinions in an organized manner. The teacher then combined the introduction paragraph written earlier with the students’ paragraphs to make a full joint rewrite of the topic in the discussion genre
      4. Students read a new text, “The advantages and disadvantages of distributing free newspaper (sic), students reviewed the language features of the discussion genre (from stage 2), students evaluated the text following a rubric, students evaluated a previously written discussions (which were part of the pre-test) – all of this served as a review/consolidation.
      5. Students received a new text, “The advantages and disadvantages of integrated education”, and wrote their own independent discussion
    • Through pre- and post-writing, as well as interviews, the study concluded that students imrpoved their writing of the discussion genre, which included improved used of cohesive devices. In addition, they enjoyed the teaching format and found the scaffolded support very empowering.
  • Wildsmith-Cromarty, R., & Steinke, K. (2014). The write approach: Can R2L help at tertiary level?. Per Linguam: a Journal of Language Learning = Per Linguam: Tydskrif vir Taalaanleer30(1), 38-54. 
    • This study looked at R2L applied in the South African university context for isiZulu-speaking students were “underprepared” for academic study.
    • The intervention occurred during two semesters (one year) and the results revealed “an increase of between one and six levels in reading skills and showed significant increases at both the macro and micro levels of academic writing ability.”



Martin, J. R., & Rose, D. (2005). Designing literacy pedagogy: scaffolding democracy in the classroom. Continuing discourse on language, 251-280.

Rose, D. (2008). Writing as linguistic mastery: The development of genre-based literacy. The SAGE handbook of writing development, 151-166. From

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Anthony Schmidt
English language Instructor at University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Anthony Schmidt is editor of ELT Research Bites. He also has his own blog at Offline, he is a full-time English language instructor in a university IEP program. He is interested in all aspects of applied linguistics, in particular English for Academic Purposes.

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