|Classroom Environment||Lesson Structure||Assessment||Sample Comprehension Lessons|
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is there a best order to teaching comprehension strategies?
- A lesson with every stage of gradual release of responsibility takes time! How do I fit this in if I … teach guided reading groups every day…or use a workshop model…or have specific phonics or basal reading requirements?
- Vocabulary development is essential to comprehension. How do I teach vocabulary in the context of these comprehension lessons?
- Many of my students are off-topic or don’t say much during Turn and Talk. What do I do?
- Can I read the whole story first and then go back and model, so I don’t interrupt the flow of the story?
- How do I grade comprehension lessons?
- What do I do with all the sticky notes?
- How long should I keep my anchor charts up in the classroom?
- How can I incorporate technology into these lessons?
- Do comprehension lessons help children develop beginning reading and writing skills?
There is not one prescribed sequence to teaching strategic thinking. It is essential for children to learn that proficient readers use all their reading strategies when and if they need them. Therefore we suggest starting by teaching children that there are many types of thinking that proficient readers use. (See Sample Lesson, Monitoring.) Then, whenever we focus on a specific strategy, we continue to incorporate other strategies that naturally enhance our understanding.
Building and Activating Schema, Asking Questions, and Visualizing are all strategies that many teachers find are successfully taught early in the school year. Children need to understand that they have background knowledge and to use it effectively for all their strategies. Asking questions is a great motivator for reading, builds on children’s natural curiosity, and puts the child in the driver’s seat of his or her own learning. By making mental pictures, children can express and draw their thinking long before they can write about it in words.
Later strategies might include Inferring, Determining Importance, and Summarizing and Synthesizing. Inferring relies on an understanding of schema and is often used to answer our own questions, so it follows well from these strategies. We discuss big ideas of a story and important learning in nonfiction from our very first lessons of the year. However, more focused studies of Determining Importance and Summarizing and Synthesizing are usually more effective when students know how to incorporate all their other strategies to help them.
We also consider how to put the strategies into authentic contexts in deciding when to teach them. As recommended throughout these modules, it is most effective to embed strategy instruction in meaningful units of study. We build lessons on using specific strategies to meet the demands of the topic or genre, and also as we see needs arise from our interactions with the children.
All aspects of a strategy do not need to be taught consecutively. For example, we might introduce asking our own questions with picture storybooks at the beginning of the year, and then later explore ways we answer our own questions in a science or social studies unit where children are doing research to learn information about a particular topic.
Optimally, if the entire school is teaching strategic thinking, children in first grade and above come to us with some knowledge of strategies already. This makes it easier to move more quickly through basic instruction in what the strategies are and focus on using them as needed to support deeper understanding as we read.
Sample Lessons to view: Monitor
- Watch the Guided Practice 1 lesson clip. Notice how the teacher demonstrates how she uses different types of thinking, chooses children to share who bring out different types of thinking, and uses her anchor chart to emphasize that readers use a variety of strategies.
- In the Guided Practice Teacher Commentary, Ms. DuBose talks about how she decides which strategies to focus on next based on what she has seen in the lesson.
2. A lesson with every stage of gradual release of responsibility takes time! How do I fit this in if I … teach guided reading groups every day…or use a workshop model…or have specific phonics or basal reading requirements?
Usually we teach a full comprehension strategy lesson, as shown in this module, when we are introducing a new strategy, or a specific aspect of that strategy, with new text. Then children need lots of practice using these strategies as they read, listen to, or view texts. Some days we could simply remind children of what they have learned and send them off to apply it. Or we could teach a mini-lesson on some aspect of using the strategy that we noticed, from the children’s work in previous lessons, would be helpful. We teach strategic thinking in science and social studies, and encourage children to apply it when they read at home. Our goal is for the time that children spend actively and independently reading to continually increase, and to become the longest segment of any reading instruction.
3. Vocabulary development is essential to comprehension. How do I teach vocabulary in the context of these comprehension lessons?
When we teach children to monitor their own comprehension, we teach them to ask their own questions about unfamiliar words or concepts. This greatly simplifies the teachers’ task in teaching vocabulary through reading. Rather than front loading a lot of vocabulary, we can integrate learning about it into the lesson itself.
- Connect and Engage: Turn and talk about background knowledge. When children turn and talk about what they know already about a topic, we learn what vocabulary they already know, and what concepts they have without the precise words to explain them. We use this information to guide the words we directly teach. Children can also share relevant words they know with their peers, increasing motivation to learn and remember them.
- Model and guide thinking about vocabulary. Teachers often model and guide thinking about vocabulary that will be new to students. For example, in the Asking Questions sample lesson, the teacher reads a caption with the word “barnacles” in it and asks the children what questions they might have. Almost every child can be heard exclaiming, “What’s a barnacle?” Teachers include multiple meaning words and idioms in their modeling and guiding. In the Schema sample lesson, the teacher wonders what is meant by the word “plates” in relation to volcanoes. We teach children that using context to figure out a word meaning involves inferring – combining our background knowledge with the clues in the text.
- Explicitly define key words. We usually explicitly explain:
- The strategies themselves, and important words related to them – e.g., background knowledge, infer, etc. It is helpful to keep anchor charts with information about these strategies posted.
- Key concepts – e.g., what is a butterfly house in the synthesis lesson.
- With English language learners, we pre-teach more vocabulary as needed to be sure children can make meaning from the text.
- We might keep a word wall or have children keep a vocabulary journal or section of a journal for words related to a specific unit of study. They add these as they notice their importance to the study.
Sample Lessons to view: Schema
- Review the Connect and Engage lesson segment for how vocabulary related to volcanoes surfaces through the teacher’s interactions with children as they turn and talk.
- Review the Guided Practice 1 lesson segment for how the multiple meanings of the word “plate” are explored.
Like everything else, productive turning and talking takes modeling and lots of guided practice. Most of Part 6, Peer Interactions, in the Classroom Environment section is devoted to developing Turn and Talk as an effective practice in the classroom. Some key points:
- Teach Turn and Talk from the beginning of the school year and use it every day across all subject areas.
- Create, refer to, and update a Turn and Talk anchor chart.
- Discuss problems with the children and brainstorm solutions.
- Don’t expect every child to be on task every second. Sitting quietly looking at the teacher is no guarantee that a child is really learning either; in fact, it is less likely that learning is taking place in a totally passive stance.
- Listen to and talk with the children while they Turn and Talk, and share their thinking as examples to others.
Sample Lessons to view: All the Sample Lessons use Turn and Talk throughout.
- Engagement and Independence: Classroom Environment, Part 6, Peer Interactions.
- Monitor Your Thinking Connect and Engage classroom video and teacher commentary.
5. Can I read the whole story first and then go back and model, so I don’t interrupt the flow of the story?
The reason we usually think aloud while we first read a text is to show children that proficient readers actually do think while they are reading. Our reactions are more genuine when they occur right as we are first encountering the text.
However, we do want to be sure that we don’t interrupt a good book by too much talking! This is one reason to carefully plan think-alouds, so that we stop at places where we, and the children, will naturally have questions, exclamations, concerns, and feelings to express. We also plan so that we don’t stop too often. In the lessons using picture books (Monitoring and Synthesizing), the teachers only stopped 3-4 times throughout the book. With nonfiction, we often don’t read an entire book, but simply choose excerpts to illustrate how we use the strategy. (See Schema and Asking Questions Sample Lessons.)
There are times when we might choose to think aloud after reading the entire text. This is usually our practice with poetry. In the Inferring Sample Lesson, the teacher and students read the complete poems before analyzing them. We want children to absorb the rhythm and sound of poetry on an initial read. Also poems are often so short that children won’t have enough meaning in an isolated line or verse to think about it without reading the entire poem. In the Determining Importance Sample Lesson, it would have been difficult to decide what was important without some background knowledge about the subject of the biography. So the teacher reads the entire biography before going back to distinguish important information from interesting details. These are decisions we make based on the purpose of the lesson and of our modeling.
See Assessment, Evaluation.
- First of all, use them to discover more information about how your students are learning to think. Analyze what they learned from the lesson, where they need more support, and what they are ready to do next.
- Post children’s sticky notes on anchor charts. Displaying both the teacher’s thinking and the students’ thinking sends a powerful message about the importance of all the children’s thoughts.
- Place some examples of children’s thinking in portfolios or in your anecdotal records. These will help you notice how the children’s thinking is evolving over time, as well as how they are growing in expressing their thinking. These samples are also helpful for parent or team conferences.
- It is helpful to give students a blank sheet of paper on their clipboard, and have them write their name on the paper. Then attach the sticky notes to the paper, instead of directly on the clipboard. This makes it much easier to collect the notes and save them.
- Have children place their sticky notes in a journal when they are studying a particular topic, so they can keep a record of their growing knowledge.
- Send some examples home for parents to see.
Sample Lessons to view: Each sample lesson includes a section on Analyzing Student Work, showing different ways to learn from what the children write or draw. The student samples from Monitoring, Schema, and Asking Questions are from sticky notes.
- See Assessment: Analyzing Student Work
Charts that help children understand the meaning of a strategy and how to use it are helpful as long as students need assistance in applying the strategy. Charts about turning and talking and sharing protocols are also good to keep up as reminders, and to add to as the students learn new ways to communicate with each other. Some anchor charts related to a specific topic or unit of study might stay up through that unit.
Sample Lessons to view: Anchor charts are used in every Sample Lesson.
- See also Part 5: Physical Environment of the Engagement and Independence: Creating Classroom Environment for teachers’ discussion of how they use their anchor charts.
Technology offers many opportunities to enhance students’ participation and learning in comprehension lessons. With Edmodo, Kidblog, Padlet, or other platforms, children can share their thinking and get feedback, with and from their classmates, and with people around the world. They can enter their thinking on iPads or other devices, and project it simultaneously for discussion by the whole class. Technology offers multiple options for children to express their thinking: digital art kits, voice to print programs, and multimedia presentation modes. These promote participation by children at all stages of learning to read and write, as well as offering variety and exploring digital literacy. And kid-safe search engines and internet sites open up worlds of interactive learning to young students.
We keep in mind that the purpose of using technology is to support student learning, by providing additional options for children to explore and share their thinking and expand their knowledge. This doesn’t mean replacing books, turn and talk, sticky notes, and anchor charts, but using alternatives as well. Excellent ideas about incorporating technology in meaningful ways into comprehension lessons are found in Connecting Comprehension & Technology by Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis, Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke (Firsthand Heinemann, 2013). Many examples from Kristin Ziemke’s first grade classroom are featured in this resource. Also see Katie and Kristin’s blog https://innovateigniteinspire.wordpress.com.
Yes. Comprehension lessons do not replace guided reading groups for beginning readers. However, they do provide authentic purposes for children to use their budding literacy skills. Strong comprehension strategy instruction, especially when children use their strategies throughout the day, often helps to accelerate growth through reading levels.
- Children build confidence in their literacy skills because their thinking is honored and respected, regardless of their current reading level. Over and over we see children who struggle with learning to decode but are excellent thinkers. Recognizing their strengths encourages them to see themselves as readers, and therefore to embrace reading and read more.
- Children often have support from peers in reading more difficult text. This gives them exposure to the vocabulary and concepts in these texts, and to interacting with harder words.
- Children make attempts to read and write words because they want to use them to express their thinking. They return to the text to copy words; they look at the anchor charts and other charts around the room; they use the strategies they have learned in guided reading to stretch sounds, use analogies, etc. These experiences give them practice looking closely at words, thinking about how they work, and writing.