Teaching Tuesday: Comprehension Basics

If you're serious about teaching reading comprehension, like you're an actual teacher or you're homeschooling, you have to read Mosaic of Thought and Strategies That Work. I recommend them to anyone who's trying to help kids to learn to read, but they should be mandatory for anyone who's teaching kids to read full time.

If, however, you just want to help your kids be better readers, you can just keep some stuff in mind. That stuff being the high points from the aforementioned books. One key to teaching reading comprehension is to do it while you read aloud with kids. Talk them through your thinking process as you decipher a new word or predict how to solve a book's mystery; chapter book series (like my beloved Harry Potter, or a classic like The Chronicles of Narnia) are especially helpful in prompting discussions like this.

Here's a quick and dirty guide to reading comprehension strategies:

  • Making connections (known as "activating schema" if you have a ph.D in education): This is when readers are able to connect prior knowledge to what they are reading. This can be as simple as recalling a trip to a farm while reading "The Brown Cow," or as complex as relating Latin root words to the spells in Harry Potter. 
  • Questioning: This is NOT answering the "so-called" comprehension questions that accompany so many reading "comprehension" worksheets. This is encouraging kids to ask questions about the text as they read and have them frequently pausing to determine whether their questions have been answered. For younger kids, you can use the pictures of a book as the jumping off point, "What do you think is happening in this picture? What do you think will happen next?" 
  • Visualizing: Creating a picture in your mind as you read. One fun thing to do with kids is to read them a picture book without showing them the pictures, then have them draw their own pictures of the important parts of the books. Then reread the book showing the illustrator's pictures and discuss the different ways people can visualize the same words. 
  • Inferring: This strategy extends questioning; it is how you find the answers to those questions. When inferring, readers might use context clues to find the meaning of a new word or draw a conclusion from the clues left by the author. Inferring also overlaps with making predictions based on what has previously happened in the text and/or pictures. 
  • Determining Importance: Remember last week's comprehension trick? It was about reading the questions before doing the actual reading, so that you'd know what to pay attention to as you read. Good readers know their purpose for reading; whether it's to answer questions on a standardized test, learn about an historical topic or to find out what Harry Potter will do next. 
  • Synthesizing: This is the holy grail of reading comprehension. To synthesize you must not only understand what you've just read, you must connect it to your prior knowledge (aka schema) well enough to remember it in multiple situations over time, not just for the five minutes it takes to fill in the bubbles on a standardized test. 
Do you feel slightly overwhelmed just reading that list? Now you know why teaching comprehension is so flipping hard. However, you don't have to discuss all these strategies with your kids. Really. You just need to read to them (even if they seem like they can read well on their own) and talk to them about what you're reading. Talk about your thinking as you read. 

Little kids especially are fantastic at making connections, but often we shut them down because we just want to be done reading Hop on Pop for the eight hundredth time. But if we encourage them to connect the hopping with the book with the hopping they did on the playground, they'll get into the habit of making connections before they even learn how to read independently. 


Leslie said...

I love that you're posting this stuff. Reading is so crucial.

Capri said...

Right in the developing years, parents should always read to their children regularly at least once every day and preferably story books. Phonics and reading comprehension are really important for toddlers, it helps them learn on how to read as they grow up.