Nancy Williams
Reading to Learn

Comprehension is the Key to Understanding

Rationale:  One of the most important things about teaching children to read is to make sure that they comprehend.  Comprehension is not automatic to all children; many need to be guided into learning how to comprehend.  It is important when children read that they are able to understand what exactly they are reading.  They may be able to read every word in a particular text, but it they are unable to understand its meaning, it is almost useless.  The purpose of this activity is to help children understand how to completely understand what they have read and be able to answer questions using story grammar.  With this strategy students make a map or outline of the main elements of the story which will help them with free recall and cued recall.
Materials:  A poster board with the questions (these are listed in #2 of the procedure), enough copies of Trouble River by Betsy Byars for the entire class to have their own, worksheets for each student with questions to answer, paper and pencil for them to create their own questions.
Questions:
        1. Who is/are the main character(s) in the story?
        2. Where and when did the story take place?
        3. What did the main characters do?
        4.  How did the story end?
        5. How did the main character feel?
Procedures:
1. Introduce the lesson by praising the class for the work theyâve done learning how to read.  Youâve learned so much about reading!  Think about when you started learning to read.  You learned your alphabet letters and the sounds they represent.  You learned how to blend the sounds together to read words.  Then you learned to read fast and smoothly by practicing reading the same thing over and over until it sounded like the way we speak.  Today weâre going to begin learning strategies that will help you understand and remember what you read.  Weâll begin with a strategy called story grammar or making a kind of map of the story.  That means, to answer the questions who, what, when, where, and how about the story.  Making a map or an outline of the main parts of a story makes it a lot easier to remember the story.
2. First, weâll practice with a story that everybody knows.  Do you remember the story of The Three Little Pigs?  Good!  I'll show you how to map out the story by answering these questions. (Teacher writes the answers to the first 2 questions as related to the story of the three pigs,  reasoning out loud for the students to follow.) Letâs work together to answer the rest of the questions about that story.  (Ask the remaining questions listed and write the studentâs answers on the board.  Discuss the reasoning behind their answers.  Leave the questions and answers on the board as an example for the following exercise.)
3.  (Teacher hands out copies of  Trouble River.)  On a clean sheet of paper, copy the 5 questions I have written on the board.  Leave 3 or 4 blank lines between the questions.  Then, read the story Iâve given you. I want you to read the story silently.  Remember the benefits of silent reading.  When you read silently, you can stop and look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary and you can take time to reread sections of the story that may not make sense the first time you read them.  After you read the story, write the answers to the questions about what you read.  When you finish, lay your paper and the story sheets on my desk quietly so you won't disturb the rest of the class.  Then you may read your library books silently.
4.  When all students have completed the assignment, allow them to read their library books silently for a few more minutes.  Then have them get out another sheet of paper and ask them to write everything they can remember, in story form, of Trouble River.  Tell them to include the information they had used to answer the questions but they must also include at least 2 other events from the story and at least one detail about each main character.  (Assess studentsâ work by comparing this assignment to the previous assignment.  Check to see if they included the additional information you requested.)
*Note:  Thoroughly teaching this strategy will require approximately 10 hours of instruction time in order for it to become an effective reading tool for students to remember and use on their own.
References:  Pressley, Michael, et al. "Strategies That Improve Childrenâs  Memory and Comprehension of Text." The Elementary School Journal 90 (1989): 13.

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