Classroom Environment Lesson Structure Assessment Sample Comprehension Lessons


Reading Comprehension 1

As an adult reader, I think all the time while I read. And I have found, even with kindergarten children, if I’m very explicit in explaining to them the types of thinking I do as an adult reader, and that that’s the same type of thinking they should do as a little reader – I’ve found that when you expose them to that kind of terminology, that kind of thinking, then they get it. And when they get it, it really boosts their comprehension immensely.” -Irby DuBose, Kindergarten Teacher, Darlington, SC

How to Use This Module

The Reading Comprehension module is designed to support teaching children in the primary grades to think and understand as they read, listen to, and view texts. In the 1970s and 1980s, many educators and researchers recognized that reading comprehension was not a set of discreet skills that could be taught sequentially through workbooks and worksheets. They studied what proficient readers actually do in order to read effectively, and found that they exhibit specific kinds of thinking as they read. (See image below.) This module features video clips of effective ways to teach children to use these research-based comprehension strategies as they interact with text.

Before studying the Sample Comprehension Lessons, we recommend viewing and discussing Engagement and Independence: Creating Classroom Environment, Lesson Structure, and Assessment. (For teachers new to this type of instruction, Assessment may be more beneficial after the first strategy has been studied.) Return to any of these introductory sections over time as questions arise from classroom practice. You may have studied Engagement and Independence in the Guided Reading Module. If so, it will be helpful to review parts of it, especially Part 6: Peer Interactions, in which teachers present their perspectives on Turn and Talk, a critical element in comprehension lessons.

Reading Comprehension 2Each Sample Comprehension Lesson in this module, one per comprehension strategy, is taught in a kindergarten, first, or second grade classroom in South Carolina.

Children need explicit instruction in what the strategies are and how to use them. However, strategies should not be taught in isolation, or as ends in themselves. Usually this instruction works best in the context of a unit of study around a topic or genre. For example, in the sample lessons you will see children studying Determining Importance to help them understand what’s important to remember in a unit on Famous Americans. Learning to infer is embedded in a poetry unit. We always keep in mind that proficient readers use a combination of strategies as they need them to support their understanding.

Reading Comprehension 3The introduction to each strategy includes: what the strategy is, why we teach children to use it, how we teach various aspects of the strategy, and information about the sample lesson. We suggest reading and discussing the Introduction before viewing the video clips of the sample lesson, and returning to it during the Final Reflections.

To build expertise in teaching strategic thinking to beginning readers, we need to notice and appreciate the small shifts in children’s behaviors that signal growth in becoming thinkers. We also need to learn to respond with teaching moves and language that encourage their development. The questions posed before each video clip are constructed to support this reflective teaching, as are the Facilitator Notes for leading Professional Learning Community discussions. A segment in each sample lesson also includes examples of the students’ work, and ideas for analyzing them. (See the Assessment Section for more background on how to support students in their comprehension journey.)

Reading Comprehension 4The sample lessons are based, some more directly than others, on lessons described in The Primary Comprehension Toolkit by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, or Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller. We highly recommend using the works of these educators as guides to comprehension instruction.

We are greatly indebted to Irby DuBose, Melody Blackwell, and Apryl Whitman for opening their classrooms to this project. They represent the tremendous opportunity, despite all the hurdles to teaching in our time, for teachers to fully engage young children in becoming literate.

To learn more about the research, history, and context of teaching strategic thinking, see overall Suggested Readings.


Harvey, S. and Goudvis, A. (2008). The Primary Comprehension Toolkit, Heinemann First Hand.
Miller, D. (2012). Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades, 2nd ed., Stenhouse.
Pearson, P.D., & Gallagher, M.C. (1983). The Instruction of Reading Comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology 8.
Pearson, P.D., Roehler, L.R., Dole, J.A., Duffy, G.G. (1992). Developing Expertise in Reading Comprehension. In Samuels, S.J. and Farstrup, A.E. (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, 2nd Ed., International Reading Association.