We use reading comprehension activities to introduce our lessons during readers workshop. These often take the form of:
How do we get the most benefit out of these key activities in grades three through six? That's our focus in this two-part article.
Sixth-graders are not too old to take part in read-alouds or read-withs. I have known teachers who think the sixth-grade attitude makes students too sophisticated for these reading comprehension activities, but in my experience its absolutely not true.
Done correctly, with the appropriate selections, they enjoy them highly and get much value from the process.
A read-aloud will most often involve a book, often illustrated, for a good reason: Since students aren't following along on their own (as in a read-with), they must be able to absorb and understand the story primarily by hearing, with illustrations providing supporting visual details and context clues.
This requires a text with a compelling story line and even some emotional hooks...which usually describes fiction.
I mean...who doesn't love a good story?
Text selection is critical; no matter how good the story is, it must serve the purpose of the lesson for which we are using it (e.g. illustrating "author's purpose").
This may seem obvious, but I must point it out: A read-alout is NOT for the teacher...it is first, last and always for the students. If you find yourself thinking, "I love this book! I want to read it to my kids," you may be putting the focus in the wrong place.
Sure, we can love the books we read in our classrooms, but only after they have passed the test of relevancy to our subject matter. That's what makes reading comprehension activities effective and not just fun.
Anticipate that your carefully-selected book will cause your students to think...and they need time to do that out loud.
This can be particularly true of a picture book. They must have time to "ooh" and "ahh" and respond to the emotion sparked by the author's words or illustrations.
Pause and let them have that response and talk about it. It accesses another region of their brain and gives the lesson even more impact on the learning process.
In the book Rudi's Pond by Eve Bunting, one of the main characters dies mid-way through the story. Rudi's friend is consumed with sadness. There is an illustration of Rudi's friend, who has crawled into bed with her parents to be held.
This picture produces a big emotional reaction in my students (it's giving me a lump in my throat now!) and they need time to talk about that.
Opportunities like this create an ideal "teachable moment." Teachers should encourage students to explore what's behind their emotions:
"Why do you think the character felt that way?"
"What would that feel like to you?"
"Why did the author choose to use those words? Or that picture?"
Of course, emotions are more than sadness. Books and illustrations can make kids feel delighted or angry or anything in between. All emotions are worth exploring during your reading comprehension activities.
NOTE: By the way, Rudi's Pond is highly recommended!
Reading Comprehension Activities at HomeWe tell our children constantly that they need to read at home, and we often hear, "But I don't have books at home."
My response? "It doesn't matter...there's always something to read at home."
Houses are filled with non-fiction text in the form of labels, information and instructions. It's as close as the back of a cereal box. Given the fact that they must become very successful with nonfiction as they get older, reading a cereal box is not bad practice.
And it's certainly better than no practice!
The attraction of fiction texts can lead teachers astray and end up shortchanging our students' reading development if we are not careful. Why?
As a very broad and undoubtedly over-generalized statement, most elementary teachers...
In grades kindergarten through three, the children are often reading books as means of both learning to read and to instill the love of reading. But starting in third grade, and definitely in grades four through six, they start moving progressively into non-fiction (including articles), which is a critical preparation for success in adult life.
As I explain in part 2, our reading comprehension activities must reflect this reality.