Using the reading strategy: Making connections

For parents
This builds on last week’s blog which explored how you can improve children’s comprehension by asking them to ‘make connections’.

Text-to-self connections
As you read to or with your child you can demonstrate this strategy by thinking out loud, making your own connections. For example,

‘I think I saw a monkey like that at the zoo.  I remember that the zoo-keeper was feeding him lots of vegetables.’
or
‘I can remember when my mother did something like that!  I was very cross!’
or
‘This reminds me of …’

(But, of course, don’t overdo it.  If you’re reading with your child the strategies that you demonstrate shouldn’t take away from the pleasure of the reading itself.)

After you have made a connection as you think aloud, you could go on to say something that helps your child to understand the value of the connection:

‘So I already know what monkeys eat.  But I don’t know where they come from, or how long they live.  Let’s see if this book tells us about that.’
or
‘That helps me to understand how the girl in this story feels’.

 When you do this, you’re showing your child how to make connections that help reading comprehension.

Choose books that reflect close-to-home experiences, ones with which the child can identify, so that you have an opportunity to encourage the making of connections.  You can prompt your child to make his/her own connections by asking questions such as

  • ‘Have you ever felt like that?’
  • ‘Has anything like that ever happened to you?’
  • ‘Why do you think X behaved like that?’
  • ‘How many different kinds of  (dogs/spiders/whatever is the focus of the informative book) do you know?

And to make sure that they understand how the connection helps them to understand, you can ask:
‘How do you think that will that help you to understand this book/character?’

At first they might not be able to do this, but with frequent practice and assistance from you they will come to see how making connections helps their understanding. Good readers often make the connections unconsciously, but some children will need help to do so.

Text-to-text connections
You can assist your child to make text-to-text connections by choosing:

  • books by the same author that have the same character
  • short stories of a similar genre (adventure, horror, comedy, mystery etc)
  • poems that follow a similar theme (eg poems about animals or a similar idea)
  • books by the same illustrator (eg Shaun Tan, Graeme Base)
  • books that provide different versions of familiar stories (eg The Three  Little Pigs)
  • resources that present comparable information  (eg a couple of books on whales or dinosaurs, two websites on the same topic).

When reading with your child, ask questions such as:

  • Do you think that Harry is different in this book?  Why?  Why not?
  • Isn’t this book a bit like that other one we read?
  • Which book/website do you think is more useful to you?  Why?
  • Which Anthony Browne book do you like best? Why?
  • What are some of the things that are the same/different about these two stories?

Text-to-world connections
It is only to a very small extent that our own experience helps us to learn about the world, the people in it and the events that occur.  Most of what we learn about the world we learn from books, magazines, television programs, film and the Internet.

So for readers to be able to make text-to-world connections, they need a reasonable knowledge of the world.

  • Have conversations with your children about (appropriate) things that happen in the news.
  • Encourage them to watch documentaries appropriate to their age group and talk about what they have learned.  Re-telling in their own words what they have read or viewed is another strategy that can be used to help develop understanding.
  • When reading a book with your child, ask questions such as
    – Have you heard this idea before?
    – Have you heard about this problem before? What do you remember about it?
    – Is this what happens in the world?  Would people really behave that way?  Does this make sense?
  • Make your own text-to-world connections in order to demonstrate how it is done:
    – This is like what I heard about on the news the other night …
    – I read about this in the newspaper …

Teachers try to develop these text-to-world connections in all aspects of the curriculum.  Helping your child to build his or her background knowledge in order to be able to develop these connections will increase understanding in many school subjects.

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Helping your child to prepare for a return to school

For parents

It might seem a little early to be talking about this topic, but actually the beginning of the new school year is now fewer than three weeks away. 

How can you help your children to get ready to go back to school, to start on the ‘right foot’ and set themselves up for successful learning in 2013? Here are some suggestions:

  • Consider involving your children in the practical aspects of getting back to school  – making stationery and textbook purchases,  organising their uniform, schoolbag, lunchbox, drink container etc. Children can make and check lists and investigate relative costs online.  By involving them in these activities you encourage independence and acceptance of responsibility – both of which are qualities that you want them to have when they’re at school.
  • If you haven’t already done so, set up a learning zone at home – somewhere that your children can use when they do their homework.  Involve them in planning what needs to be in the learning zone – for example, a wall calendar on which they can note when schoolwork needs to be completed, perhaps a computer, pens and pencils, adequate lighting and shelving and a display board. (If your child is older and has a school diary, emphasise how this is an important tool to help them to organise their learning.  Explain that you want to work with them to check their diary each day and help them to use it efficiently. This is not a punitive exercise.  Rather it’s a way of developing the necessary self-management skills that assist learning.) 
  • Encourage your children to think about what they would like to achieve at school this year.  Use the SMART acronym to help them develop some goals: the goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-boundFor example, I will use the wall calendar to mark the dates of spelling tests or I will practise using reading strategies when I am reading. (The reading strategy should be named and a specific time allocated to practising it – perhaps a week or two.)  
    Display their goals somewhere in the learning zone so that they can be reminded of them and revisit these goals each week to revise as necessary.
    Avoid setting too many goals. You want to make it possible for your children to experience success.
  • Talk with your children about returning to school.  Sometimes there are certain anxieties that need to be aired.  Discuss these and ask your children to suggest strategies that they might use to cope with certain situations.  Children can be reassured and empowered by this process.
  • Help your child to feel motivated and confident by talking positively about the return to school.  It’s a new year, full of new opportunities  – rather than an unfortunate end to a holiday period.
  • Resolve to be actively involved in your children’s learning.  A general question such as ‘How was your day?’ or ‘How was school today?’ will inevitability elicit a closed response such as ‘OK’ or ‘’Boring.’  Make your questions specific:  ‘What were you learning in your English/Maths lesson today?’ ‘Do you think you were successful in learning that?’  ‘Do you need more assistance to help you understand?’ Emphasise what they learned, rather than what they did.