Help Readers “Get It”
Are you in need of reading comprehension strategies and sample lesson plans to help your struggling readers “get it”? Many students can read the words but they just don’t understand the meaning. Whether it is kindergarten or high school reading strategies, it’s up to the teacher to help those struggling readers do what the good readers do. One way to bridge the gap between decoding and comprehension is to teach
reading fluency activities
. But teaching comprehension is also about directly teaching students how to understand better using what we call reading comprehension strategies.
I’ll bet you are a good reader. For example, you think about what you are reading. If you don’t understand, you probably go back a bit and reread. You also think, wonder, and question about what you read. These are actually some of those reading comprehension strategies we need to teach some students. You do this automatically, but they don’t. In fact, a struggling reader might think that rereading is cheating and that a good reader never does that.
You will know if students need help with comprehension if they cannot answer comprehension questions. But it’s not enough to simply ask those questions. The students who don’t comprehend well need strategies. They can learn to be readers who are aware of their thinking while they read. And you need to model the these strategies frequently.
So what are some of the top comprehension strategies for both fiction and nonfiction reading strategies?
The background information, or the schema, a reader brings to the text is often more important to comprehension than what they are reading. Experiences and sociocultural backgrounds all affect comprehension. Each person interprets the same text a bit differently. It is your job to assess and activate the students’ prior knowledge. Activating or even creating the prior knowledge is one of the most crucial reading comprehension strategies you teach as a great teacher.
You brainstorm or write about what is known, use graphic organizers, read other materials on the same topic, front-load vocabulary, and utilize anticipation guides. You can ask students to talk to each other about what they know about the new words or topic and they can jot down some of these things.
Think of prior knowledge as a series of hooks. A reader needs the hooks on which to connect new information. The more unfamiliar the text, the less hooks there are. You must help create the hooks to help make the connections.
You can preteach some of the content in the chapter. You can choose just a few important concepts before they read in order to help them understand some of what is unfamiliar.
This is one of the most common reading strategies used at the start of reading something. It can be used from the youngest non-reader to the oldest reader. As soon as the picture on a book cover is seen, one’s prior knowledge is activated. A prediction occurs about the topic, the content, and the purpose to the reading.
The good readers continually think about what they are reading. They revise their predictions as they read. Emergent readers make predictions as they listen to stories. Older readers can be taught to predict with non-fiction text.
If students continue reading, even after something doesn’t make sense, then teach them how to predict or anticipate what will come next as one of their reading comprehension strategies.
Remember, the reader needs to be looking for the meaning and not just be making unreasonable guesses.
Previewing is one way that many teachers may assume and take for granted. Do you teach your kids how to use the textbook at the beginning of the year? Do you go over where the table of contents, the glossary, and the index are and how they are used? How about the text features in each chapter, like tables, framed text, headings, diagrams, timelines, and illustrations? Some of you high school teachers may not think you need to teach these types of reading comprehension strategies. Think again.
A student reading a textbook often reads in order to finish, not necessarily learn anything. Teach your students over and over so that you engrain habits of reading comprehension strategies like previewing.
Another type of previewing is thought of like a guided tour of a chapter. The students who have trouble understanding will be given guidance in learning what is most important within a particular chapter. You point out important features and topics. This is one of the reading comprehension strategies that trains students to notice the special features and structures, like cause/effect or compare/contrast.
Questioning is one of those mental processes that happens very quickly. You do this all the time, but you probably don’t notice. A reader who questions concentrates and thinks about what he’s reading. Reading comprehension strategies, like questioning, need to be taught, especially to the lower skilled reader.
You will know if you need to teach the questioning reading comprehension strategy if the student reads aloud without correct phrasing or intonation. You will also know you need to teach questioning if they cannot answer questions about what he reads.
Questioning can be in the form of wondering about the topic or clarifying in order to understand. As the teacher, you can model out loud how you question and then answer your questions. Assure the students that even adults ask questions when they read. Then, you can have students practice asking questions.
Sticky notes are a tool you can use to practice questioning. I have used these in my own textbook reading and actually wrote down my questions. I found that writing my questions helped me think more about the text. The sticky notes were helpful at a later time when I discussed the chapters with others. Even writing down a question mark or the word, “huh?” is a question.
Practice this reading comprehension strategy with easy text. Then move on to harder text. Students can stop and write down their questions as they think about what they are reading.
Note to High School Teachers: Do you think you can’t take the time to do some of these reading comprehension strategies because you have to get through your content? Are you thinking that this is the job of English teachers and elementary teachers and that the students should already know how to do this? If your students need help reading, then it’s now become part of your job. The time you take teaching reading comprehension strategies will help your students with the content you teach.
The reading comprehension strategies of questioning and monitoring go hand in hand. Questioning is a kind of self-monitoring. It’s a type of talking to oneself. And that’s basically what monitoring is. A reader monitors when he changes his predictions. Monitoring asks, “Did that make sense?” Monitoring can be hard to teach because it happens so fast in the mind and we can’t see it. Plus, each person’s thinking is different and it takes active reading.
As you teach this reading comprehension strategy, you are helping students become aware of their thinking. You are teaching them to pay attention to when they don’t “get it” and to identify the hard parts that create difficulty.
First, teach the students about the inner voice or conversation that is in their heads when reading. You can do this by reading a story aloud. Talk about your thinking you do while reading the story. Give examples about what you think or what kinds of questions you ask in your mind. Model the connections to the text, the world, or in your personal life that you make as you read the story. Include parts where you get stuck and don’t understand something. Write these thoughts and questions down on sticky notes.
Eventually, include the students in the thinking. Ask for their thoughts, wonders, opinions, and questions. Guide them to questions and thoughts about characters and the theme of the story. Have them write down their thoughts on the sticky notes. After finishing the story, kids can group together to share their thoughts and questions.
A next step in using monitoring as one of your reading comprehension strategies is to model what to do when they don’t get the meaning. For example, if the story or text is too hard, show students how to think about what they already know about the subject. This may create a hook to connect the new and unfamiliar information. Also, go back and reread and ask, “Do I get it now?” Read a little slower.
You can analyze your own thinking in order to understand monitoring better. Read something unfamiliar or difficult. Try noticing what you are thinking. Become aware of your own inner voice and questions. What do you do when you don’t understand? These are the techniques you help your students practice and learn.
Have you heard of text coding as one of the reading comprehension strategies? Basically, you come up with about 3 symbols for students to use to monitor their reading. As they read, they “code” the text with sticky notes or by writing in the margins. For example, your 3 symbols might be a) a question mark for a question, b) a plus + sign for “that’s new information I’m adding to my knowledge, and c) an exclamation point that means, “I already knew that!”. Get the students to do this on a regular basis. It helps them become aware of their thinking and gets them in the habit of noticing their thoughts.
When the students monitor, then they can apply other reading comprehension strategies, like questioning, visualizing, and inferring.
The reading comprehension strategy of visualizing is all about creating images in the mind. It’s the mental movie that plays while someone reads. People who comprehend well visualize. But then there are those who find it difficult.
In order to visualize, a reader uses background knowledge that connects to the descriptive language in the text. So remember to activate the prior knowledge before reading! If you use a narrative or vivid story, you may find this comprehension strategy easy to teach. Picture books are a great place to begin teaching visualizing as one of the students’ reading comprehension strategies.
Visualizing is also connected to emotions. The descriptive language helps a reader imagine through the senses what is happening to characters. Visualizing draws a person into the story.
Some of my reading students have a lot of trouble with visualizing. They need very simple lessons that involve picture books, familiar settings and language, and drawing their own pictures. Although this may seem like a very simple task, do not take anything for granted with your struggling readers. If a student does not understand the meaning of words, he can’t visualize.
When you teach visualizing as one of your reading comprehension strategies, you will eventually want to teach it with informational text. Making illustrations and creating diagrams or maps are ways to visualize information. You help students see on paper the facts. If students make these types of diagrams repeatedly, they will eventually learn to see these things in their minds.
A note about timelines: Not all students have timelines and calendars in their minds. Some cannot visualize “yesterday” or “next week” let alone 100 years ago. Just like you use a calendar, the more you use a timeline, the better students will learn to visualize time and related events. They will learn to connect “now” with “then”.
The reading comprehension strategies of inferring and visualizing are related. Inferring is the ability to understand what the author means when the meaning is not directly stated. When students visualize, they have to infer a meaning in order to form a picture in their minds.
Inferring demands that the reader uses his prior knowledge, along with the author’s words, to predict meaning. Struggling readers often have trouble “reading between the lines”. They can’t think beyond the text.
Some reading comprehension strategies are harder to teach and need a lot of emphasis during lessons. Inferring is one of the reading strategies that might be taught after students have had lots of practice with some of the other reading comprehension strategies.
So how do you teach inferring? First of all, readers must understand the meaning of inferring, or reading between the lines. They must understand that the author has a message that isn’t always stated. The author wants the reader to think about the meaning based on certain descriptions. For inferring to take place, the reader must be an active reader who continually reads for meaning.
Then, choose a short passage or chapter from a book that the students are already reading. They will already be familiar with the story. If you are teaching kindergarten reading strategies, you can teach inferring with a picture book and go page by page. Tell the students that they are going to learn how to infer or read between the lines. Always begin with your own modeling of the skill. After reading a few sentences, talk through your thoughts. Continue with more sentences, allowing students to help talk their thoughts about the meaning. Once students catch on, allow them to show that they can infer independently.
While inferring, students use the reading comprehension strategies of visualizing, background knowledge, and predicting. They use context clues to figure out meaning. They must use any background knowledge with the context clues in order to predict what the author means. They create pictures in their minds when inferring the meaning of unfamiliar words.
Wow! There are quite a few reading comprehension strategies to teach! You might want to check out a book by Stephanie Harvey
Strategies That Work,
, by Gerald Duffy. Or just keep looking through this site for more information and ideas!
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