Place Markers: An Effective Reading Strategy Tool for Distracted Readers

AUTHOR: Holly Salas, Instructional and Write for Texas Coach

Teaching children to read involves countless variables. However, strategies to teach comprehension, fluency, accuracy, etc., cannot be effective with students who are disengaged. Teachers regularly instruct students who are sleepy, ill, hungry, disinterested, or distracted. Often, a student’s distractibility is the result of a disability. Whatever the reason for distractibility, teachers must accommodate a student’s attention to instruction in order for quality reading development to occur. Teachers often have difficulty getting students to follow along while reading silently, as well as while listening to another reader. “The child’s difficulty in making left-to-right tracking movements while reading…disrupts sequencing of letters and syllables in words…and the inability to keep place also shows up when someone else is reading” resulting in reversal, rotations, inversions, omissions, substitutions, additions, etc. (“Visual-Spatial Dyslexia,” p.8 (n.d.)).

Teacher-monitoring for substantive comprehension breakdowns such as text inconsistencies, sentence scrambling, and misunderstanding with background information is difficult enough without the teacher’s ability to first monitor if the student is even attending to the text in the first place. For an already distracted student, the practice of interrupting reading for during reading strategies can further displace students from the meaning of text and impose a time-limit pressure that breaks down comprehension and enjoyment. “Heavy time pressure should not be imposed to individuals if they are to accurately complete important reading tasks” (Cauchard, Cane, & Weger, 2012). Metacognitive reading tasks are most effective when a student’s engagement with text is facilitated even while reading is stopped.

Before implementing other reading strategies, teachers need something that will help students focus. Only then will teachers be able to facilitate learning and assess ability. The place marker is a simple, minimal-preparation strategy with multiple implications that not only enables educators to modify and accommodate for students, and even assess the students’ task-compliance, but also provides opportunities for higher-level instructional strategies that scaffold students from decoding to comprehension to complex analyses. Although educators may purchase from a ubiquitous selection of marketed reading strategies and tools for engagement, the place marker requires no cost and almost no preparation. And because some students have difficulty transferring multiple reading strategies to settings outside of the classroom, establishing a procedure for the use of place markers allows for year-long instruction and may even facilitate independent reading for the student following graduation.

There is a seemingly limitless body of literature surrounding metacognitive monitoring, especially among distracted readers. From Mackey’s small-scale, easy-to-follow qualitative study (1991) that draws conclusions following Before, During, and After reading strategies, while accounting for context, content, and time; to Pan, Tsai, and Chu’s close look at fine motor skills within children with autism, children with ADHD (inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/ impulsive, and combined), and children without disabilities (2009), it is within a teacher’s own practice that she is best able to collect data for an isolated, a single reading strategy and its implications for large-scale conclusions.

Though conducted in the United Kingdom, the focus of Gillies and Robinson’s research on art-based strategies is particularly noteworthy (2012), because of its acknowledgment of the creativity within reading comprehension and beyond. Like the arts, reading and writing involve a human’s knowledge prior to the academic literary task, and that knowledge endures long after the academic setting, if not for the rest of the reader’s lifetime.

During a 2014 professional development research project at a Texas high school, teachers were asked to monitor the use of place markers as a during-reading strategy for a three-month period. Following data collection, teachers reported that 98% of students were less distracted than without the use of the place marker and that 98% of students transitioned more successfully back to reading after reading had been interrupted. The procedure:

  • enables distracted students to attend to the task.
  • creates student accountability.
  • facilitates before-, during-, and after-reading strategies.
  • enables students to self-monitor.
  • enables students to reflect on learning and evaluate progress.
  • enables the educator to monitor and track student compliance.

How it works:

  • Provide each student one place marker, three sticky notes, and an intentionally chunked or excerpted copy of a text, for multiple readings.
  • Instruct students to put a place marker under the title and read along until the teacher says, “Stop.”
  • Remind students that it’s important that the place marker follow along with the reader’s voice.
  • When all students have place markers ready, begin reading aloud the first chunk or excerpt of text.
  • After students complete the first section of text, say, “Stop. Leave your place marker where you stopped reading.”
  • Instruct students to write a brief summary or draw a picture of what was just read and give the summary or picture a one-word title or caption. Provide two minutes. Model and monitor.
  • Return to the text and read the next text excerpt. Say “Stop. Leave your place marker where you stopped reading.”
  • Continue through the end of the text, spiraling into independent reading, with teacher-directed stops. The goal is for students to eventually monitor their own reading by stopping at text points he or she deems significant.
  • Follow activity with Think-Pair-Share activity.

IMPORTANT: While students are writing, use teacher moves to check for understanding and collect data.

Before testing out the place marker theory with your own distracted students, reflect on your current practices:

  • What strategies are currently in place for enabling distracted students to attend to the task?
  • What strategies are currently in place to create student accountability?
  • What strategies are currently in place to enable the teacher to monitor and track student compliance and understanding?
  • How effective is each strategy in aiding students to visually attend to the text?
  • What strategies are currently in place to facilitate before-, during-, and after-reading textual interactions?
  • What strategies are currently in place that enable students to self-monitor?
  • What strategies are currently in place that enable students to reflect on learning and evaluate progress?

Before setting up the procedure with students, glean some information on their attitudes about their own reading. Consider asking the following questions:

  • Do you consider yourself a good reader, a fair reader, or a poor reader (circle one)? Why?
  • When do you most enjoy reading? Why?
  • When do you least enjoy reading? Why?
  • Where do you most enjoy reading? Why?
  • Where do you least enjoy reading? Why?
  • Why do you read?
  • Does reading make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable (circle one)? Why?

Collecting Data:

While monitoring, consider using a qualitative data analysis protocol such as the following:

  • Student is more, less, or just as distracted from text, using the place marker, as he/ she normally is during reading. Explain (body language, posture, eye tracking, expression, other unexpected physical reactions…?):
  • During the Stop-and-Jot activity, student transitions to task and then returns to text more quickly than without the use of place markers, at the same rate of speed as when reading without the use of place markers, or more slowly or disjointed than when reading without the use of place markers. How do you know?

The following Observation checklist may also assist in your data collection.

Student: __________________________________ Date ______

Please place a check in the box (more, just as, or less) that corresponds to the blank within each box to the left. Use the space to jot down observations (body language, posture, eye tracking, expression, other unexpected physical reactions…):

During reading, the student is __________ distracted than without the use of a place marker.
After Stop-and-Jots, the student transitions back to text  _________ quickly than without the use of a place marker.
The teacher-participant is _____________ successful in student reading compliance than without the use of a place marker.


1 Sponge Activity Before Reading Essential Question Quick WriteExamples:

“What happens to a person who always feels alone, even with those closest to him/ her?”

“Why do fractions matter in daily life”

“Why should we understand how organisms, places, and ideas have changed over time?”

“How do climate and natural resources affect the way people live and work?”

5 Min.
2 Set Induction Anticipation Guide 3 Min.
3 Pre-assessment of student understanding of the lesson concept/process/skill K-W-L:“Based on my prior readings (equations, lab results, etc.) what do I know about the _______________?” 3 Min.
4 Large Group Instruction Teacher reads aloud the first paragraph/ excerpt. Teacher models use of the place marker and where to put it. When she/he says “Stop,” the teacher also models summary or picture with one-word caption. Teacher monitors. 10 Min.+ 1 min. feedback
5 Independent or Group Work Students read silently, using place marker. Teacher says Stop. Students complete a Stop-and-Jot with one-word caption. Teacher models and monitors. 10 Min.
7 Evaluation –Post assessment of concept/ process/ skill K-W-L“Based on my prior readings (equations, lab results, etc.) what do I know about the _______________?” 3 Min.


Cauchard, F., Cane, J., & Weger, U. Influence of background speech and music in      interrupted reading: an eye- tracking study. Applied Cognitive Psychology, Appl.       Cognit. Psychol. 26: 381–390 (2012).

Gillies, V, & Robinson, G. (2012). Developing creative research methods with challenging  pupils. International Journal of Social Research Methodology. 15 (2).

Mackey, M. (1991). The association between reading strategies and reading histories of          adolescents: a qualitative study. University of Alberta (Canada): ProQuest. UMI          Dissertations Publishing.

Pan, C., Tsai, C., and Chu, C. (2009). Fundamental movement skills in children     diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity          disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 39 (12), 1694-1705.          Visual-Spatial Dyslexia (n.d.). In A 2 Z of Brain, Mind and Learning. Retrieved     February 9, 2014, from

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