Students in the primary grades need to build comprehension skills in order to adequately understand what they read in a text. These skills can be taught with the use of pre-reading activities, in addition to during- and after-reading activities. Graphic organisers, higher-order questioning, story boards, prediction activities, open-mind portraits, reading-response journals and summarising activities are all used to aid in the mastery of reading comprehension.
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Build comprehension skills by providing opportunities for students to build background knowledge about a subject or concept before reading a text. Use a graphic organiser to help students gather their thoughts and previous knowledge about a topic. For example, if the text to be read is about the establishment of the colonies, ask students to fill in a graphic organiser with details they know about pioneer life. They may offer answers such as "there were Native Americans," "the Pilgrims came from England," "they were farmers," and "they built their own houses." This activity allows students to apply what they already know to the new information they will read and make sense of it.
Ask students to take a "picture walk" through the text, then make a prediction about what the text will be about. A "picture walk" is simply thumbing through the book, looking only at the pictures, to try to guess what will happen in the story.
During reading, questioning is an extremely important activity. Students should be asked a variety of questions, which require more than the simple recall of information. Good questioning techniques include the use of questions that prompt critical thinking. Asking "why" and "how" draws a response that's more than just a simple one-word answer.
Students should be taught how to use context clues to understand difficult words. When encountering a difficult word, encourage students to read the sentence or paragraph in which the word belongs to try to figure out its meaning by examining the words around it and the context in which it is used. If a student gets a good grasp of this strategy, he can work through most unknown words. This builds vocabulary and reading comprehension.
After-reading activities include the completion of Venn Diagrams where students are asked to compare and contrast two things. For example, if the text is a story about a child living in China, complete a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting life in China to life in the United States. This allows students the opportunity to apply the information read in the text to the real-world.
Characterisation strategies assist students in understanding and identifying with the characters in a story, which, in turn, aid comprehension. Create open-mind portraits by folding a sheet of blank paper in half, then draw a portrait of a character of the student's choice. Cut out the portrait, leaving a flap at the top, so that the front and back sheet of the paper are still connected at the top. Open the sheet of paper up and draw symbols inside that represent the character. For example, after reading "Sarah, Plain and Tall" by Patricia MacLachlan, draw a portrait of Sarah, then open up the portrait and use symbols such as overalls (because she dressed in men's clothing when working outside, even though it wasn't acceptable at the time), a cat (because she loved her animals), and the ocean (because Sarah was homesick for her oceanfront home).
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