In order to make sense of a text, a competent reader unconsciously uses a variety of comprehension strategies. But many students need to be explicitly taught these strategies – and given opportunities to practise them – before they can be used effectively.
A mini-lesson focus on a strategy could involve a shared reading experience in which the strategy is demonstrated, followed by individual reading where students can consolidate the use of the strategy – using texts that provide specific opportunities for its application. A follow-up class or group focus on the strategy over a period of time, with constant reference and individual conference, will further serve to embed its use.
Some of the following strategies apply to the reading of any kind of text; others are more appropriate for either fiction or non-fiction.
- Identifying the purpose of reading. Am I reading for entertainment or pleasure, or am I reading for information? Does the material need to be remembered? The purpose of the reading will determine how carefully I need to read. Do I know how to skim and scan a text?
- Identifying key points in paragraphs by learning to recognise topic sentences. If I highlight the topic sentence in one colour and the additional information in another colour I am able to demonstrate my understanding visually.
- Underlining or highlighting key points while reading could help me to recall information later.
(Alternatively, teacher provision of headings and guiding questions for note-taking exercises from both print and non-print texts will help readers to focus attention.)
- Monitoring my understanding as I read will also aid understanding. Is this making sense? Am I understanding what I’m reading? How can text clues help me to understand?
- Asking questions as I read. Is this important? Why did this character do or say that? What does the author want me to think about this? Can I ask a literal question about what I have read? Can I ask an inferential question about what I have read?
Ask verb-based questions : ‘does’…, ‘is…’, ‘has…’, ‘who did …’, ‘what did…’, ‘will…’, and adverb-based questions: ‘when…’, ‘where…’, ‘why…’, ‘how…’.
(Using the metalanguage – ‘verb’, and ‘adverb’ – will allow for some incidental grammar teaching.)
- Making predictions about what might happen next in terms of plot or how a particular character might or should behave. I base my prediction on what I already know about the character or about similar texts. I revisit my prediction when I have finished reading to see whether or not I was correct.
- Making connections while reading. This post and this one explain the ‘making connections’ strategy.
- Using context clues to help me work out the meaning of a word that I don’t know. Look at the surrounding words in the same or nearby sentences. Do these offer clues as to what the unknown word might mean? (How important is this word to my understanding?)
- Visualising. What can I see in my mind when I read this sentence or paragraph? Who is in the scene? What do they look like? Where are they? What are they doing?
When conferencing with students, specifically ask them to identify and explain the strategies they used to help them to understand a text. The insights you gain from their answers can be used in a formative way.