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Teaching Reading Comprehension

As more teachers are teaching reading strategies (all helpful) to help students access, understand, and analyze text independently, let’s not overlook the obvious: How to Improve Reading Comprehension.

As a reading specialist, I am constantly surprised by teachers who tell me that they have never learned how to teach reading comprehension or think that reading strategies alone will do the job. If you’ve never learned how to teach reading comprehension, the following advice and FREE Resources are just what the doctor ordered.

Despite what many believe, reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, and not just caught.

A reader’s comprehension of any text (narrative or expository) depends upon the quality of the internal dialogue between the reader and author. “Talking to the text” significantly increases reader comprehension and promotes retention as well. Tons of reading research on this. Check out my Pennington Publishing Blog for dozens of articles on this. However, reader-author dialogue is not a skill acquired by osmosis. It requires instruction and practice. Doesn’t everything?

The most effective approach to helping students learn to interact with the text is to teach students how to begin and carry on the conversation with the author. Specific cueing strategies prompt the reader to talk to the text and the author. These cueing strategies assign readers a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain interactive dialogue with the text.

I’ve developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with narrative and expository text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Teaching students to question the text they read by prompting themselves with the SCRIP strategies will help them understand and better remember what they read. Click here to get three great resources absolutely FREE: 1. SCRIP classroom posters 2. Five one-page fairy tales to teach each of the SCRIP strategies 3. SCRIP bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Here’s how to use those resources: Do a Think-Aloud to teach students how you carry on the conversation with an author. Start with the each of the five fairy tales to focus on one SCRIP strategy per lesson.

  1. Tell students that you are going to demonstrate what good readers do as they silently read.

    1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets for Grades 4-8 Teachers

    Every teacher needs back-up!

  2. Read a few lines out loud and then alter your voice (raise the pitch, lower the volume, or use an accent) to model what you are thinking. Stop and explain what the voice altering meant and keep this voice altering consistent throughout the Think-Aloud.
  3. Prompt your dialogue with the focus SCRIP strategy. Use this specific language of instruction.
  4. Don’t over-do the amount of your Think-Aloud thoughts. Once or twice per every paragraph is about right. Don’t interrupt the flow of the reading.
  5. Have students read the same fairy tale as a “pair share.” One student reads a paragraph out loud and does a Think-Aloud, referencing their SCRIP bookmark to prompt their dialogue with the author. Then the next reads a paragraph, etc.
  6. De-brief. Ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts (and theirs) rather than just by passively reading without talking to the text.
  7. Select your own reading and do a Think-Aloud, using all five of the SCRIP strategies

Mark Pennington provides teacher-created and kid-tested assessment-based curriculum to help students “catch up while they keep up” with grade level instruction.

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Re-think to Increase Comprehension

Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets to kill off reading comprehension problems. Poor comprehension tends to be self-perpetuating because a reader’s approach to acquiring meaning from text is habitual. Bad reading habits are reinforced each time a reader reads an online post, book, or magazine unless unless those bad reading habits are replaced with good  reading habits. Good reading habits can be taught and reinforced with specific cueing strategies. The cueing strategies provide readers a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain active dialogue with what the author says and means.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Here is a nice set of SCRIP Bookmarks for you to download, print, and distribute to your students.

To improve reading comprehension, both good and struggling readers can practice these cueing strategies. Reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, not just caught. Developing readers do not have a priori understanding about how to understand and remember what they read. Thus, teachers and parents play a crucial role in helping to develop good readers.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog while they read is vitally important. Cueing strategies prompt the reader to dialog with the text and the author. Check out how to get developing readers to carry on this conversation here.

Re-Think to Improve Comprehension

The third cueing strategy in the SCRIP comprehension strategies is Re-Think. Re-Think means to look at a section of reading text (narrative or expository) from a different point of view to see if a different meaning is intended by the author, other than the one intitially understood by the reader. It requires and re-thinking.

People who play board games are accustomed to looking at things from different perspectives. In Boggle®, Risk®, Settlers of Catan®, or Scrabble®, players know that seeing things from the opposite side of the game really changes how the player understands or plays the game.

Unlike the summary and connect cueing strategies, in which the reader needs to divide a reading into meaningful sections for the reader to pause to summarize and make connections, the Re-think strategy has the reader pause when the text following the section is confusing or seems inconsistent with the previous section.

Since teaching the Re-think cueing strategy is the focus of this article, let’s work through a teaching script to teach this Re-think cueing strategy.

Old Woman Young Woman perspective

Re-think means to re-read a section of the text to look at things from a different point of view. When you start reading text which seems different than what you have been reading or if you get confused, don’t keep on reading in the hope that you will catch on to what was meant. The author may actually be saying something different than what you first thought. Or first impressions aren’t always accurate. When we look from another point of view, we oftentimes find a different truth.”

“When you reach that point in a reading text, go back to re-read the last part of the section that you completely understood and then read into the confusing section. Ask how the author may mean something different than what you first thought. In other words, re-trace your steps. Your mom helps you do this when you lose something. She asks, ‘When was the last time you remember having it? What did you do next?’ Do the same in your reading when you get lost; go back to the point where you weren’t lost and then re-read the confusing text.”

“Also, when you re-read be especially alert to overlooked transition change words, such as although, but, and however or negative words or prefixes, such as not or un. These words or word parts can be extremely important to a correct understanding of what the author intends to mean.”

“Let’s take a look at a fairy tale that many of you will have read or heard about and practice how to re-think some confusing passages.”

Here is a one-page version of “Little Red Riding Hood” for you to download, print, and distribute to your students. Have students read, break the reading into sections, and complete the summaries and connections in their heads. Direct students to answer the Re-think questions. Share out the summaries, connections, and Re-Think answers. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Re-think Comprehension Strategy, using Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale to illustrate this strategy. The storyteller first reads the fairy tale without comment. Next,  the story is read once again as a think-aloud with interruptions to show how readers should re-think sections of the reading as they read to monitor and build comprehension.

If you have found this article to be helpful, check out the next comprehension strategy, “Interpret,” and the resources to teach this cueing strategy.

The author, Mark Pennington, has written the comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards, and the accompanying 54 take home decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These books include teenage characters and themes and are perfect for older readers.kids

 

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