6 Tips to Teaching Comprehension

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Comprehension, our end goal! Ultimately this is what we are working towards when we are teaching kids reading. We want to get them to a place where they are decoding individual words well enough to fluently read sentences, with a developmentally appropriate vocabulary in order to comprehend what they are reading. Everything we do, starting at the very basic level of letter sounds builds on top of each other to bring students to comprehension. So here we are, now what do we do? Comprehension is so important and ultimately our goal but how do we know we are teaching useful skills and if these skills are translating to the metacognition needed to be a successful comprehender.

Today we are going to be looking at 6 specific strategies to help teach comprehension. Teaching comprehension to our struggling readers should be explicit and not inferred or incidental. Research shows that the best way for students to learn how to comprehend text is to be taught strategies explicitly. When it comes to explicit instruction we want to first directly explain the strategy, model the strategy either in a whole group setting or one-on-one, use guided practice with the students and finally have them practice applying the skill.

  1. Creating a movie in our heads - I start by having kids close their eyes and listen to a paragraph as I read it out loud. Then I ask them to describe to me what they saw in their movie while I was reading. This will come very easily to some kids, but I have noticed with my students who also have a language disorder that this can be a very hard task simply because they do not have the language to describe the movie that was in their head.

    2. Making connections to our own life - Here I tell kiddos that we better understand what we are reading if we can imagine ourselves in the story. Or if it is non-fiction that we are reading I like to ask them based off the title if they already have background knowledge or experience with the topic. If they don't then I like to take this one step further and really push them to imagine how they could be connected to what is happening in the story.

    3. Asking questions using the 5 W's - I introduce this concept by having kids tap their five fingers, one for each W question. This adds a visual and tactile reminder to help kids make sure they are asking all five questions. The how question can of course be brought in here too, but that may be reserved for higher level students unless it is something that is explicitly discussed in the reading and not something that requires inferencing.

    4. Distinguishing what is important and what is not - So this skill can take some time to both teach and learn. Understanding the important parts of text is not simple or even very clear. I let my students know that this is a skill we are gong to be practicing and then I lean heavily on modeling the skill and having them interact with me. So, for example I would read a sentence or a paragraph and then show my thinking and say "this part sounded important to me because..." and then I might ask after reading a bit more "do you think this is important? Why?"

    5. Predicting the future - So this skill I start out teaching right away when I present my students with short passages that have a title. The very first thing I have them do is read the passage title and then predict what they think the reading is going to be about. Throughout any reading I like to stop students and ask them what they think will happen in the next paragraph or in the next chapter. This is really weaving in pausing and taking the time for metacognition. They need to slow down and really think about what they are reading and making predictions is a fun way to do this.

    6. Synthesizing and summarizing - Summarizing may come easily to some kids, but I find that for the most part this takes a lot of organization and can be really difficult for our struggling readers. I like to use story maps to help provide a concrete way for students to organize their thoughts and therefore be more successful at summarizing. Synthesizing is really when you take your summary and combine it with your prior knowledge. Remember we have discussed the importance of our prior knowledge at the making connections to your own life strategy or the predicting the future strategy so hopefully this should begin to tie together for kiddos.

If you have found these strategies to be helpful but you really want to go into more depth around teaching comprehension check out our professional development course. In this course objectives are 1. To strengthen your understanding of comprehension as it relates to the five essential components of literacy. 2. Study the background of comprehension strategies necessary for struggling or dyslexic students. 3. Discuss both formal and informal measures of comprehension proficiency that can be used in the classroom for progress monitoring. 4. Become acquainted with indicators of a dyslexic or struggling reader in the context of comprehension instruction or assessment. 5. Assimilate information on activities and accommodations to include evidence based techniques used to address the needs of struggling readers with comprehension.

With this course you also get access to our printable pdf's of a double-entry journal and anticipation guide!

Becky Newell