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Friday, June 20, 2014

Diggin' Into Next Year - Reading Comprehension

Welcome to week 4 of the Diggin' Into Next Year linky party. This week we are talking about reading comprehension.

Today I'm diggin' into the way I teach reading comprehension. This is a huge topic, so I'm just going to focus on using children's literature to teach reading comprehension. A few years ago I was taking graduate classes toward a reading endorsement and one of the professors made the observation that when children are young we just read to them with no expectation other than pure enjoyment. The only thing the child needs is to understand the story. Everything is about comprehension. However, once they hit kindergarten and first grade everything becomes about them learning to read. We don't focus on comprehension, we focus on decoding words.  At the time, I wasn't sure I agreed with her but I put the idea in the back of my head. One day at lunch a fourth grade teacher was complaining about parent conferences and helping the parents see that reading all of the words correctly didn't make their child a great reader, they needed comprehension.  It's been a few years now and I have to admit to having my share of parents who are so excited about their child's reading ability and yet decoding is the only aspect they are aware of. Comprehension has taken a backseat to purely reading the correct words. So what does that mean to those of us teaching in the classroom? I think it means that we need to make comprehension a focus - an important part of our literacy block - because once everyone reads, those who have good comprehension and higher level thinking skills are the ones who are good readers. No one will care if they learned to read before they entered school or learned to read at the beginning of second grade. 

So let's talk about using good children's literature to build comprehension. Any book that gets students thinking and talking about books is great. But these are some of my favorites that I use for specific comprehension strategies.
Inferring is taking your background knowledge or schema plus the evidence in the text to figure something out or make an inference. A doctor does this all the time - he/she takes what they already know (their medical knowledge), the evidence they have such as temperature and symptoms and use it to figure out what is wrong with you.

When you get to the end and see two little boys picking up the game, get your students to think back about what the boys' mother said about them. Now put her words and the illustration together and make an inference about how the game will end differently the next time.

Fanny doesn't come right out and say it, so let your kids infer it. Why doesn't Fanny go with her fairy godmother? How has Fanny's dream changed?

Just figuring out who the stranger is makes for a great lesson on inference.

Synthesis is when you put everything together and it changes your thinking. An engineer has to know all about trains and how to run them, but he also has to know where he is supposed to go and how to get there. By putting all of this together he can actually arrive at a new destination. When we put everything together and change our thinking, we are in essence arriving at a new destination. "A mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Justice

I hate cats - with a passion. But this is a great book for changing thinking. How do the characters in the book change their thinking about the kind of cat they have? How did your thinking about the cat's personality change?

What does your class think? Is Oliver Button a sissy? Did they change their opinion during the story?

Visualizing is getting a picture in your head. This is really important as you read chapter books aloud to your class. A gardener does a lot of visualizing before he/she even plants the first plant. For example, I have these rocks in my front yard and around the rocks is some cement curbing that makes a flower bed. I know I want the flower bed to be filled with colorful flowers all summer long. Once I have the picture of what I want it to look like, I can go down to the nursery, pick out the right flowers and plant them. 

Make a paper grocery bag book cover for this book before you read it aloud and don't show any pictures. Just let your students visualize what Emma Kate looks like. After the first reading, read it again and show the pictures. Did your students change their mind about what Emma Kate looks like? Now start the discussion and see if the discussion changes your students' ideas of Emma Kate.
Without seeing any pictures, students always think Emma Kate is a girl. After reading it with the pictures they always switch to thinking Emma Kate is an elephant, but it will take some class discussion for everyone to see that there's more going on at the end.

I love this book for Earth Day. What do you visualize the world looking like in the future?

Some questions matter more than others and helping students learn which questions help them understand is important. A scientist has to ask the right questions to help him/her discover new things.

This is one of my very favorite books. I love the illustrator - he's amazing! This book will lead to a lot of questions.

This book is also available on which is where the Screen Actor's Guild has actors reading some great children's books. This book lends itself to allowing you to delve deeper into your students' thinking by asking them some hard questions.

This book is fabulous for lots of comprehension strategies. Try letting your students ask and answer questions in a class discussion. Perfect for around MLK Day.

This book brought a lot of great discussion. Would you want to go to recess at 20 below? Why or why not? Also perfect for opinion writing. This book came with the Comprehension Toolkit (seen below).

Good readers have to learn to be metacognitive - they have to think about their thinking. I am constantly telling my students that the most important thing about reading is their thinking. The best way to introduce this concept is to simply stop and talk about their thinking throughout a story.

Just stop and talk about why it's a terrible day and whether Alexander is overreacting. 

Great conversation starter about what we do when we get mad.

This is a pretty simple text, but provides a lot of discussion about why things happen and how kindness can change things.

This book is also perfect for so many other comprehension strategies. It's a true story about a little girl who gets mailed to her Grandma's house in Idaho. It's one of my favorite stories.

Schema or Background Knowledge
Everyone has different experiences and those experiences help you comprehend the world around you and the books you read. Each of us has a suitcase full of experiences, but they are all different.  So our connections to stories will all be different. I like to start by using books that my students can make connections to.

Almost all of your students will have a connection with a visit from relatives or a time they visited relatives.

Difficulty making friends is a common problem for most kids, so lots of connections. But it also gives you a chance to talk about how the actions of each person affects others.

Depending on where you live collecting fireflies may be an easy connection. But regardless of whether you have fireflies in your area, what child hasn't tried to catch a bug?
Determining Importance
A student who graduates has learned to determine importance. They have taken classes in every subject and learned what is important in many subjects and now are going to have to make decisions about their life based on what is important to them. Click here for a post I previously wrote on my favorite way to introduce determining importance.

This is a great book for introducing determining importance in reading fiction plus it has a great message for the kids to discover.

This may be my newest favorite book. It has such a great message about accepting diversity. Perfect for determining importance.

And finally some of my favorite teacher resources for comprehension instruction:

The Comprehension Toolkit - Available in an upper and lower elementary version

And for some real tangible lessons to introduce the comprehension strategies:

The books I've already talked about are ones I use year after year. Those aren't going to be changing. Leaving time for good class discussions helps build comprehension. Students need time to discuss their thinking,  justify their ideas, disagree with others and listen to the ideas of their classmates. The real learning can and should take place through classroom discussion. So I am going to make sure to leave time everyday for good literature and discussion.
Anyone else feel crunched for time? I know that by the time I read, we discuss, kids respond to the literature and then we come back to share, I feel like I have wasted too much time. Wasted is the wrong word, because building comprehension and higher level thinking skills is never a waste of time but with so much to teach and so little time, I need to make the best use of time. Next year I want to give all of my time to the literature and discussions. I want to have the students respond to the reading and share their thinking in partners. I'll still have them turn it in to me, but I can read through everyone's response in 5 minutes after school. So I'll be working on helping them learn to meet and discuss their writing with a partner from the very start of the year.

Thanks for stopping by. I'll be back next week for week 5 of the Diggin' Into Next Year linky party with a post about the organization of the literacy block. I tried something different for the second half of the year and I'll be blogging about it. Hope you're having a great summer! You may want to head over to Where the Magic Happens to find some other blogs that have linked up to talk about reading comprehension.


  1. I love all the books that you shared and the wonderful anchor charts! Great job breaking it all down! I loved reading this post :)
    Differentiation Station Creations

    1. I almost didn't show the anchor charts - they are so faded. Poster board fades so fast! I keep thinking I will make new ones and never get to it. The next ones will be electronic - no more cricut cutting!

  2. Another fantastic post! Thanks for sharing books you like to use for each strategy!
    Deb @ Not very fancy

    1. Thanks, Deb! I wish my list had been twice as long. My little students needs lots of practice using strategies.

  3. The books you listed for each strategy are great! I'm going to make a note of these for next year! Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thanks. I feel like I'm always looking for books that fit each strategy and it's practically Christmas when I find a perfect one!