One key to building strong comprehension skills is thinking about the text while you read. Good readers set a purpose, make predictions, and activate background knowledge before they begin reading any kind of text. During reading, proficient readers monitor, visualize, make predictions, summarize, and form questions as the story moves along. They reread parts of text they don’t understand. After reading, good readers reflect on what they just read, summarizing the main idea, and think about what they still want to know about the topic.
Some teachers like to ask their students: Are you thinking while you are reading? For poor readers, the answer is often, No. Good readers have a little movie, a series of images, or connecting words going through their mind as they read. They are making connections, visualizing the characters, action, and setting, and predicting what might happen next. Comprehension strategies help students develop the ability to think before, during, and after reading.
Here are some strategies to help students build comprehension skills:
Students make personal connections to text by using their background knowledge before, during, and after they read. Three common types of connections readers make are:
Teach students to ask questions like: What does this story remind me of? Has this event ever happened to me? What do I already know about this topic? Have I ever felt like this? Does this character make me think of someone? Have I ever read another story like this one?
Author schema connections are another way for students to think about the text. Ask students why they think the author presented the information in the way they did. Help student connect with the purpose the author had for writing the text, choosing the characters, developing a particular plot, or forming a particular opinion.
Much of what makes text interesting is not obvious, and requires the reader to think beyond what is explicitly stated in the text. Teach students to use background knowledge, create their own interpretations, and create personal meaning from text. The process of inferring slows down reading because a reader has to stop and reflect, reread text, converse with others, or take time away from the text to reflect or read other texts.
Imagining the story in 3-D helps bring a story to life, and enhances comprehension. Readers who have images or a little movie running through their mind as they read are engaged with the text. Comprehension increases when readers can visualize the story while reading, and are able to refer to the images after reading.
Teachers can demonstrate this process while reading out loud. During reading, stop occasionally and mention the images in your mind. Talk about the action, characters, emotion, details, and setting. Remind students of the importance of thinking while they read, and discuss how the images change during the story.
Good readers ask themselves questions when they read. Teachers can model the questioning strategy while reading a short text. These questions are a small sample of the types of questions someone might ask while reading. It is important for students to learn how to generate their own questions, as that makes the comprehension more personal and relevant.
- What is happening?
- Why did the character do this?
- Hmmm…this makes me wonder _________.
- Is this important?
- I wonder what will happen next?
Identifying Important Information
Good readers have to decide what information is relevant and helpful for determining the main idea and supporting details, following the plot, understanding the setting and characters, and understanding important facts.
Help students make these determinations by modeling examples of your own thinking while reading aloud. Talk about how you are making decisions about what is important. Continue modeling this until students are able to articulate why they think certain information in a text is important, and how the information helps their comprehension.
Good readers can identify important ideas, then restate them in their own words. Summaries can include a statement of the main idea, comments about how a story is organized, relevant themes or ideas, a critique, or even key vocabulary.
Comprehension is enhanced when readers make predictions before and during reading. Teach students to ask questions like: What do I think will happen next? This title makes me think the story might be about _________. These graphs tell me the chapter will be about ___________.
Identifying Main Idea and Details
Students can learn to identify the main idea and supporting details with short, simple passages and stories. One way to help determine main idea of a story is to teach students that each finger on one hand stands for elements of a main idea statement. Have them hold up as finger as they answer each question:
- Did What?
Once the students answer the five questions, they can put the answers together into a main idea statement. Non-fiction main idea statements are often considered the umbrella that other ideas in the text fall under. The main idea is also called the big idea
Successful reading is the result of active reading. Teaching students to become active readers will help their comprehension, and ultimately, their reading enjoyment.
If you are interested in learning more about teaching comprehension strategies to primary grade children, Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller is available at Amazon.com.
The newest edition of Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement by Stephanie Harvey is available at Amazon.com.