Now that your child “has broken the code” and can efficiently use phonics to figure out the words, it’s time to be certain your reader is grasping what is read.
Sometimes students become “word-callers”. Word callers can read and call out almost any word because they are “masters” of using their knowledge of syllable types, but they do not make meaning of what they are reading. Word-calling is not really reading.
What is reading comprehension?
Reading is actually “thinking”. Reading gives us something to ponder. For example, reading provokes suspense, emotion, and vivid imagery.
You might not realize it, but readers often have internal conversations as they read. Here are a few examples of what a person who reads might be thinking about as they engage with the text.
“I think --- will happen”
“This reminds me of a time in my life when….”
“This character reminds me of…”
“This information makes sense and expands my understanding of….”
“I was surprised when….”
“I knew … would happened because…”
How can you help your child build comprehension?
Someone once said, “Reading is to the mind, what exercise is to the body.” We must work on all aspects of reading. This includes reading comprehension.
So how do you start?
First of all…. start at the sentence level. Ask, what would you draw to match this one sentence? It helps readers focus on important details. Complex sentences include adjectives and adverbs that increase imagery. Point out these words and ask the reader to close their eyes and visualize the sentence.
Here’s is an example:
The furry brown puppy barked excitedly at the newborn baby.
Talk about the what the sentence is mainly about. What does the puppy look like? What is the puppy doing and how? What is the puppy barking at? What does the baby look like?
Try this technique with sentences like these:
The small boy saw a big red bike in the dusty driveway.
The slimy eel slithered between the brown rocks.
The black sky was dotted with the blinking lights of fireflies.
Shimmering sunshine reflected on the still blue water.
Now it’s time to get into the thick of it: Understanding Narrative Fiction. Most narrative fiction stories follow a predictable pattern. Here are key ingredients for most fiction stories.
MAIN ELEMENTS OF NARRATIVE FICTION STORIES
An action that starts the problem
Character feelings about the problem
A plan to solve the problem
Attempts made to solve problem
Finally, a resolution. The problem is solved
Ask your learner to read a short story. If this is difficult, you can read the story to them. Then, have them retell the important parts. Use these prompts if needed.
Who are the most important characters?
Where did the story take place?
What started the problem for the character?
How did the character feel about the problem?
Tell me about the plan to solve the problem? What did they try?
How does the story end?
Talking to your children about the books they read is one of the best ways to strengthen reading comprehension. When learners participate in critical thinking to discuss a book, comprehension builds.
Here are a few questions to help learners think critically about what they read. They are grouped by questions to ask before, during and after reading. They are taken from Questions to Support Comprehension
Before your child reads a book, ask:
Why did you select this book?
What makes you think this book is going to be interesting?
What do you think the book is going to be about?
Does this book remind you of anything else you’ve already read or seen?
What kind of characters do you think will be in the book?
What do you think is going to happen?
While your child is reading a book, try asking:
Will you catch me up on the story? What’s happened so far?
What do you think will happen next?
If you were that character, what would you have done differently in that situation?
If the book was a TV show, which actors would you cast in it?
Where is the book set?
If the main character in that story lived next door, would you be friends?
What does the place look like in your head as you read? Would you want to visit there?
Did you learn any new words or facts so far?
After your child has finished a book, ask questions like:
What was your favorite part of the book? Why?
Who was your favorite character? Why?
What was the most interesting thing you learned from the book?
Why do you think the author wrote this book?
Would you have ended the book differently? Did it end the way you thought it would?
Did the problem of the book’s plot get solved?
If you could change one thing in the book, what would it be?
Another way to increase comprehension is to focus questioning on the elements of a thorough retell or summary.
Use these ideas to get started.
Who is the main character?
What does the main character look like?
What do you know about the main character?
Which character would you choose for a friend? Why?
Where and when does the story take place?
How much time passes in the story? (day, week, year)
Is the setting a real place?
Does the setting impact the character actions?
How does the story begin?
What happened to cause the problem?
How did they attempt to solve the problem?
How does the story end?
What is this story mostly about?
Tell about the whole story in just a few sentences.
Can you think of 5 words to capture the essence of the story?
Can you summarize the story using this format?
Somebody_______ (characters) wanted _______ (problem)
After your child is done reading the book, ask higher level questions:
So now that your learner understands the overall gist of the story, it’s time to dig deeper and have them grapple with it. Asking questions that require them to think beyond what is actually in the print invokes inference, analysis, synthesis and critique.
Do you think the character SHOULD have….?
Why do you think ____ did that?
What is the character feeling and how do you know?
What did ____ make you think about?
Who are the most important characters?
Who are the least important characters?
How did the author make the story interesting?
How would this story be different if it occurred in a different setting?
How has your thinking changed after reading this text?
What did you learn?
Did this text remind you of anything in your own life?
What was interesting, scary, amazing?
How do you feel about the story?
Is this story believable? Why or why not?
What is the genre of this story? How do you know? (examples: fiction, non-fiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, mystery)
What does the author want you to think about? What is the author’s point of view?
What if your child can't answer the questions?
If your child is struggling to answer the questions, you can model it for them. This looks like reading the book and pausing frequently to point out what you are noticing.
You might say:
This character was introduced first - they must be important.
Here is says they are at home and playing in their backyard. I think
that is the setting.
That sounds like a problem in the story. I'm wondering how they are
going to solve it.
Oh, I think I know what might happen! I'm predicting that...
I thought it was so funny when...
Why is reading comprehension important?
Sometimes parents hear their children reading and comment to themselves, “They sound wonderful. They get all the words right and read a good pace.” But remember, comprehension is the point of reading. Accurate decoding and fluency are critical skills that allow the reader to focus on comprehension, but they are not the whole picture.Comprehension questions are used to increase children's understanding of the text to help them become active and engaged readers.
Remember, reading is thinking. It goes beyond just getting the words right. Reading provokes us to grapple with new thoughts and synthesize new ideas and learning. Take time to read aloud to your learner and ask comprehension questions. Take time for readers to answer comprehension questions after their own reading too.
Most of all…..everyone needs to enjoy a good book!
“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” -Garrison Keillor