Comprehension! The Key That Opens Our Minds

Cindy Crenshaw
Reading to Learn:  Comprehension Strategies

Rationale:  In order to gain insight while reading one must be able to comprehend.  However, students often fail to comprehend (and remember) what they have read.  Because of this, teachers have been given comprehension strategies that can be taught to children in order to give them a helping hand.  One such strategy is called story-grammar.  The following activity will show children how to use the story-grammar strategy to help them comprehend what they are reading.

Materials:  You will need two copies of ten different conventional stories (The Orphan Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown, Oliver Finds a Home by Justin Korman, Bambi by Felix Salten, Paul Revere by Irwin Shapiro, etc.) that the children will find interesting, Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (with highlighted passages for modeling), a question-answer sheet, and a pencil.

Procedure:  1. Explain to the boy's and girl's that today they will be learning a strategy that will show them how to go about comprehending what they read.
2.   Have each child come up and choose a book from your selection (There should be two children throughout the room with the same book).  Next pass out two question-answer sheets to each child.  Tell the children to put the book and one of the question-answer sheets under their desk to be used at a later date.
3.  Explain to the children that you want them to listen to you read Charlotte's Web.  Tell them that after you read for a few minutes, you will stop, think about the first question on the sheet, and then answer it.  Explain that you want them to answer the same question at their desk.  You will do this throughout the reading of the book.
4.  Now begin reading.  After reading a few paragraphs (Read only the highlighted passages for modeling) ask the children to answer the first question: Who are the main characters?  Give them two or three minutes to answer, and then read on. After you have read a few more passages, ask them to answer the second question: Where and when did the story take place?  Continue this until you have read the entire story and the children have answered the other three questions consisting of What did the main characters do?, How did the story end?, and How did the main character feel?  Be sure to let the children know there is no right or wrong answer for the question How did the main character feel? because itís is an open-ended question (Depends on readers interpretation of the story).  Now have a class discussion about their answers.
5.  The second part of the lesson requires the children to read silently (which is very good for a lot of reading skills such as fluency and comprehension) at their desk for ten minutes. (Model reading silent by telling the students to read by thinking the words in their head without saying them out loud).  Ask the children to take out the book that they choose earlier along with the second question-answer sheet.  Explain to them how you will set a timer for ten minutes, during which time they are to be reading the book they choose.  When the ten minutes are up, ask the children to answer the first question on the sheet in front of them.  Give them ample time to reflect on what they have read and then set the timer again.  Do this throughout the entire book. (You may want to choose shorter stories or treat this as a daily but weekly, meaning they work on the same books all week, assignment).
7.  When the children have finished the book and answered all the questions, have them pair up with the other person in the room who read the same book.  Explain how you want them to discuss their answers with each other.  If there is a disagreement among them, tell them to talk it over to see why.  This will help them see how someone else came to their conclusions.  Don't forget to read silently along with the children. (You may want to have one of your students read the same book that you are reading and then discuss it with them.  If you do this, write your answers in their language).  (This will keep them from feeling over-powered).
8.  For a review you can ask the children what five questions they should ask themselves, while reading, to help them comprehend what they have read.

References:  Pressley, M., Johnson, C. J., Symons, S., McGoldrick, J. A., & Kurity, J. A. (1989).  "Strategies That Improve Childrenís Memory and Comprehension of Text.  The Elementary School Journal, (1990, Pp. 3-32).

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