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Posts in category Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension

I’ve done it so many times: come to the end of a paragraph on the web or in a newspaper when it has dawned on me that I wasn’t sure what I had just read. I’d go back, slow down, and reread the paragraph. Ah! That’s what I just read! Slowing down and thoughtfully rereading the text is the major reading comprehension technique I use on a daily basis. It really is amazing how much you can miss when you aren’t totally engaged in the reading process. You can be whizzing along like a reading champ and encounter a quote where the author only uses the person’s last name. Suddenly you find yourself wondering, “Who is this person? Is she important? Where did I miss reading about her?” I’d have to back up, find the first time the person was mentioned, and figure out what was important to know about her. When you’re doing homework, not paying complete attention can add extra minutes and effort that you just don’t have time to spend.

We’ve talked about vocabulary skills and fluency; two of the most important parts of comprehension. Vocabulary tests have been worrying kids for over a century while the importance of fluency in reading has slowly become a major concern of teachers all over the world. Let’s regroup a little bit and revisit their definitions:

Vocabulary
  • Listening Vocabulary: a broad set of words that students can understand on a basic level
  • Speaking vocabulary: words a student uses in regular conversation
  • Reading vocabulary: words a student can understand while reading
  • Written vocabulary: words a student can use correctly in writing
Fluency
  • Speed: The child reads at an acceptable rate of speed that is not too fast and not too slow,
  • Automatic: The child reads with accuracy so that unknown words do not break the flow, and
  • Expressive: The child reads aloud with the high, medium, and low pitches you would expect to hear.

Helping Your Child at Home

Reading comprehension is the ability to read either silently or out loud and understand what is being read. It isn’t enough to just start reading and plow through. But what can you do to help with comprehension? Edutopia, produced by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a fantastic web site with the stated mission of “improving the K-12 learning process through innovative, replicable, and evidence-based strategies that prepare students to thrive in their studies, careers, and adult lives.” A case in point is a very rich page full of tips and resources for helping your child become a lifelong reader and learner. You’ll find links to apps designed to build comprehension, articles that give you insight into creating a home library and resources to help you enjoy books with your kids.

One resource I like are the graphic organizers which enable you and your child to put down in writing the thought processes associated with reading comprehension. A little more than halfway down the page you’ll find the KWL Chart. This really useful tool has three columns that you and your child will fill out:

  1. what do I already Know: Help your child discover what s/he already knows about the subject of the text
  2. what do I Want to find out: Help your child ask questions that will provide a focus  while s/he is reading
  3. what did I Learn: After the reading is done, help your child summarize what s/he learned by putting it into their own words

Comprehension Techniques You Can Use

Reread the text: This is my “go-to” technique. You might think it would be obvious to go back and take another swing at the text, right? Well, sometimes students will just keep on reading whether they understand the material or not. Your child needs to be accountable for the material s/he reads. Have your child read and read again. Then, try these techniques:

  • Make Connections:
    • Text-to-Text: Does this story relate to another story you have read? What characters from other stories remind you of X?
    • Text-to-Self: How can you relate to this story? Have you ever felt the way X does?
    • Text-to-World: How does this story relate to ‘a current event’?
  • Summarize: What were the main ideas in this story/chapter? Can you describe what happened in this story/chapter using only three sentences?
  • Predict: What do you think will happen next? What do think X will do next? How do you think this problem will be resolved? Why do you think so? What did you read in the story that lead you to this prediction?
  • Visualize: Close your eyes. Describe the setting. What does X look like? Try sketching a highly descriptive reading passage.
  • Clarify/Ask Questions: Encourage your child to ask questions when confused about a character or the plot. What just happened? Why did X behave that way?

Suggested Books

These books cover a wide range of reading levels but each one of them can be useful primarily because they are so engaging! There is quite a mix of historical fact and historically based fiction here. For instance, would you expect your doctor to hand you a lotion of boiled milk and cow manure? Or offer to rub butter mixed with gunpowder on your jaw? Reading all about the secret, smelly lives of the colonists will really get your child paying attention to what they read. Or what was life like before Columbus? Or what where the lives of the people who settled the lands of the Louisiana Purchase? And do buffalo still roam? These books are sure to get your child asking questions and reading for answers.

Resources

Here is a list of the links mentioned in this page: