Teaching Adults to Read Courses: Introduction and Establishing Instructional Routines

Hi Everyone,

Today begins our month-long look at highlights from the newly updated Teaching Adults to Read (TAR) courses. There are two courses: Teaching Beginning and Intermediate Readers and Teaching Advanced Readers. These courses, designed for instructors, provide teaching guidance for beginning, intermediate, and advanced level students using evidence-based practices. Course participants will be able to define the four components of reading, give specific diagnostic assessments in each component, use the results to inform instruction, and use reading level appropriate materials, approaches, and activities in instruction.

One instructional practice suggested in the course is to create instructional routines in the classroom. An instructional routine is "an established pattern or teacher/tutor and student activity used when teaching and learning new content. Instructional routines structure time, materials, and interactions in predictable and effective ways" (TAR course). Since reading is such a complex process, establishing routines let instructors break their reading instruction down into the four components. This allows students to gain mastery in each area and in reading as a whole.

Routines also allow for explicit instruction to take place, enable learners to gain confidence, and make planning and teaching time more efficient. 

Want more information about instructional routines? Dr. Susan Finn Miller led an interesting discussion on this topic with guest subject matter expert Stephanie Sommers in 2019

  • How do you use instructional routines in your classes?

Thanks in advance for your comments,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 


Hello Steve and all, One routine that I include in every class is teaching Tier 2 vocabulary. I use what I call Vocabulary Workouts to give learners practice actually using the words several times in speaking and writing in personally meaningful ways. Making learning relevant to learners' lives is a great way to solidify learning. 

For those who may not be familiar, Tier 2 words are general academic words that learners are likely to encounter frequently when they read.  We definitely want to focus on words for direct instruction that have high currency. For me, it's important to draw the Tier 2 words I teach from the materials we are reading or viewing. 

In my practice, I have used one Vocabulary Workout in each class. Here's a link to an example Vocabulary Workout for the word policy.

I have created Vocabulary Workouts for all the words on Sublist 1 of the Academic Word List. If anyone would like a copy of these workouts, please email me at sfinnmiller@gmail.com, and I'll be happy to share the workouts with you.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Thanks for your outstanding post Susan! The vocabulary workouts you referenced for Tier 2 words are wonderful! Each one has a clear definition, contextual examples, conversation practice, and writing practice.

Getting back to instructional routines, I used to think they stifled creativity. Now I think they give instructors parameters in which to be creative. The course recommends three tips for establishing routines:

"1. Set a Purpose: Start each lesson with a reading purpose (e.g., find information.) This helps to focus on the component of reading being taught.

"2. Be Explicit: The research is clear that learning to read, especially for struggling or low literacy learners, requires explicit instruction.

"3. Adjust Teaching and Learning Based on Formative Assessment: Formative assessment practices are ways both the instructor and, via self-assessment, the learners, gather evidence of learning in order to adjust teaching and learning practices." (TAR Course)

Need a refresher on explicit instruction? The course provides one! Please see the diagram below:

Provides a graphic of the gradual release of responsibility model

                                                                                                                                  (TAR Course)

  • Who else would like to weigh in on how they use instructional routines to teach reading skills?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 

Steve, I so appreciate your distinction between stifling creativity and being creative within parameters of a routine. One of the things I often hear from teachers who are new to teaching with an instructional routine is that the students get bored, so they need to provide more variety in their lessons. When I ask the students, though, they disagree! They like knowing what they will be doing every day in class and what they can expect to do during class time. The content they are trying to master is challenging enough without having to worry about an ever-changing process for learning it. 

When I share this information with teachers, I ask them, "Is it you who is bored with this routine? Does it seem like you're doing the same thing over and over again? Is it possible that you find it boring because you already know the content and you're able to apply the strategies yourself?" Usually they acknowledge that this is true. That allows us to revisit the reasons instructional routines are important--both for our students and our teachers. In the future, I'll include your ideas about "creativity within parameters" to that discussion!


I very much agree with your comments about routines.  

There is so much to teach and learn to read effectively and the complexity of skill-building requires so much brainpower, that we need to simplify and routinize where possible so we can help students focus on these things.  Students really do appreciate the routines.  The "variety" comes when they interact with different texts, different partners, and different skill-building activities.

Hi Steve and all, I vividly recall facilitating a training some years ago that focused on the importance of routines.  A light bulb went on for a particular participant who had experience as an elementary teacher. She suddenly realized that routines would be just as valuable in an adult basic education class as they had been in her elementary classroom-- (as long as those routines were adult appropriate.) 

Routines can play an essential role in supporting learners' comfort level. When learners know what to expect, they are more likely to be ready for learning.

What's more, routines save the teacher precious planning time. That's a bonus!

It's great to hear that the online course models the highly effective "I do, we do, you do" routine. 

Cheers, Susan 


Your comments about routines saving planning time and helping students be ready for learning!

I love your vocabulary workouts.  I also have a daily vocab routine based on the STAR/Evidence-based reading instruction institute that has students do a short task with higher productivity/critical thinking demands. 

I also use other routines: fluency/timed reading sessions twice a week, collaborative oral reading in small groups two to three times a week, and KWL charts to prep for and reflect on comprehension.

What I really want to share is that routines are great for students but save my life by keeping me organized and attentive to all the elements of reading instruction!


Joanne Carlisle has some comprehension workbooks with exercises that I use as templates to make lots of the same kind of thing. 

A decade or two ago I put together some vocab. exercises based on greek and latin roots -- I should make 'em printable and OEr and share them and if we get a blizzard or lockdown that'll happen...   http://resourceroom.net/Comprehension/wordparts/index.html