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Successfully Engage Your Students with These Comprehension Strategies

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young student reading

Now may be a good time to accomplish some general instructional housekeeping duties that tend to grow stagnant as the school year draws closer to the middle point. By now, routines are established, as well as rules, and procedures memorized. Even more, as a language arts teacher, by this time of year, your learners have seen virtually the same strategies each time you begin a literature study. Now is the perfect time to freshen up and revive classroom routines, but to also breathe life into your instructional strategies. This time of year is when we need easy-to-implement new strategies that don’t require additional preparation time, and that will effortlessly fit into tomorrow’s lesson plans. In that spirit, here is a list of four reading comprehension strategies to try in your next reading session.

1. It All Adds Up

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for my sixth graders is to find and relay textual and inferential evidence to support their central ideas. As the year progresses, and the readings become more challenging, this task doesn’t get any easier. To combat the frustration, this whole-class strategy helps all my readers stop, think about, and organize the information they’ve read. After students have finished reading an excerpt, chapter, article, or short story, they jot down the central idea. As a class, we discuss the central idea, and then everyone is given time to go through the reading once more to find evidence to support it. I walk around the room to monitor responses, answer questions, and provide individual assistance. As a class, we share our evidence. I keep track of the evidence on a giant poster, and then we rank each piece of evidence from the strongest piece to the weakest. Together, the evidence should all “add up” to the central idea of the reading. Oftentimes, students are required to use the evidence and main idea notes to construct a brief summary as their exit ticket.  

2. Stop and Jot

This simple strategy provides all learners the opportunity to pause during a reading to think, respond, and write a few notes. As the class is reading a selected piece, ask them to pause a few times during the reading to jot down a few notes about what they’ve read so far. Readers may record, but are certainly not limited to, a personal opinion or connection, a central idea, or a piece of information they feel is important. The objective is to scaffold readers into thinking about their reading. Notes may be shared among partners or as a whole class.

3. Picture Preview

Used as a pre-reading strategy, a picture preview allows pupils to make predictions about a reading based on the contents of a photograph or illustration. For example, to introduce Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I divided the class into four groups. I handed each group copies of a photograph that depicted scenes of Victorian England. Each group’s picture was numbered one through four, and the pictures rotated to each group. On a separate handout, learners noted their observations about each picture in the provided space. After observations were recorded, learners independently wrote a short paragraph stating their predictions. As a whole class, predictions about setting, characters, and story plot were shared.

4. Yes I Understand, But…

Having the ability to conduct a close reading is a literacy skill that many middle schoolers need to practice. This particular strategy can be used during a class reading time, specifically an informational article. I like to incorporate this activity with argumentative articles. As pupils are silently reading, they need to carefully choose at least two places where they pause and compose the following statement: “Yes, I understand (topic of reading), but (state a different or conflicting point of view).” As they move through the reading, their statements may change or be confirmed as information is received. At the conclusion of the article, a class discussion, or partner discussion provides the format for sharing the various statements and how individuals’ thoughts and opinions changed or were confirmed through textual evidence.

More Reading Lessons:

Learning the Comprehension Strategies

This resource teaches and provides practice for six reading comprehension strategies. Using model texts to help model each strategy, readers are given great examples and practice opportunities.

Reading a Dialect

The worksheet provided for here allows readers to comprehend a British dialect. The general structure of this resource can be modified to fit other language studies.

Context Clues Worksheet

Here is a worksheet that provides pupils with practice using context clues. Use this as a quick review of the concept, or to reinforce the idea of context clues. 

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