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Scene 1, Take 1 - Ten Tips for Comprehension Building

Studies indicate that good readers - those who understand, remember, and apply the written word - interact with the text by creating "movies" in their minds as they read.  In contrast, struggling readers do not. For some, this occurs naturally while others must be explicitly taught this skill. Today's Winsome Way will give you ten tips on how to develop this ability (note - #4 is simple magic!). 

  1. Read high quality literature* to your children. Use books with no or few illustrations or resist showing the illustrations immediately as you read choosing instead to discuss what the children "saw" in their minds. 
  2. Instruct the children to imagine the characters, setting, and plot as you read (they may close their eyes if that helps, and you may choose to focus on only one element at a time).
  3. Ask the children to fill in the blanks about details as they imagine them. Exchange "notes" among the children and yourself - describing what the characters and setting look like in each person's mind. 
  4.  Encourage the children to draw while you read. You may guide this by asking them to illustrate main characters, a scene from the story, or their most exciting/favorite part. Let the children tell about their drawings and display them when possible. Experiment with different media (crayon, colored chalk, pencil, markers, paint, etc.).
  5. As you read, pause to use the five senses to detail the sounds, sights, textures, smells, and tastes in the story.
  6. Let the children take the parts of main characters and reenact the story while you read or after the story session has ended.
  7. Interact with the story by recreating something the characters have done such as cooking a dish they've eaten, making a prop from the story, or taking an excursion to replicate something the characters did.
  8. Invite the children to dress up as one of the characters. Avoid making costumes for them - rather, allow their own imaginations to lead the way.
  9. Now and then, leave the children with a cliff hanger by stopping before the story or chapter has ended. Ask the children to tell, write, or draw what they think might happen next. You can even have them jot their ideas on paper to be collected and read in the future. Afterward, compare their versions with the author's.
  10. If there is a suitable video adaptation of the story/book, consider watching it (or a portion of it) with the children, comparing and contrasting how the two versions are alike and different from each other and from the children's imaginings.

Be prepared to help the children work through any insecurities they may have about being "wrong" (ie. different from the illustrator's depiction). Remind them that the activity is not an art lesson, but rather an exploration of the text. Explain to them the reason behind these exercises. Whenever possible, model the activity. Stick with it! I have found even the least confident "artists" or "movie directors" enjoy these comprehension builders and benefit from them as well.

*When my children were ages 7 and under (7, 4, 3, and 2), I began reading to them as a group but always selected books with the older children in mind (sometimes paraphrasing as I read for the sake of little ones' attention spans). We usually read one chapter a night, so they had to retain what we had read previously. Books such as these had very few illustrations, but the discussions we enjoyed as we went along were rich with imagery.

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