Activities To Help With Reading Comprehension

Teach children prediction and visualization skills to enhance textual understanding.

Reading comprehension strategies help children become fluent readers who can explore the meanings of texts and reflect upon their own understanding. Effective teaching of reading comprehension should focus upon vocabulary development, the use of prior knowledge, prediction skills and visualization of links between prior knowledge and new concepts that arise from the text.

Vocabulary Development

Children should learn phonics skills and acquire a sight vocabulary of high frequency words to enable swift decoding of words in a text. Children who can quickly decode words understand texts more readily than those who become stuck upon words as they read. Teach phonics strategies such as knowledge of letter sounds and blending by using phonics teaching schemes, such as “The Phonics Handbook” by Sue Lloyd. Make flashcards to improve children’s sight vocabulary by printing off and enlarging a list of the first 100 high frequency words, which you can obtain from the High Frequency Words website. Use the flashcards for regular sight vocabulary practice. Identify and discuss the meanings of unfamiliar words in a text prior to any shared, guided or individual reading sessions to extend children’s vocabulary knowledge. Each child should keep his own “Vocabulary Journal” in which he quickly notes any unfamiliar words as he reads. Encourage children to look up an unfamiliar word in a dictionary or thesaurus and write a sentence that uses the new word in context to reinforce their learning.

Prior Knowledge

Use shared reading or guided reading activities to stimulate children’s awareness of their own prior knowledge and ideas to help them comprehend the text. Draw children’s attention to the front cover of a book to read its title and to look closely at any illustrations or photographs. Invite children to describe their initial responses to the front cover and any ideas they might have about the content of the book. In its publication, “Understanding Reading Comprehension,” the Department for Education and Skills, or DfES, recommends that you select a key word from the title of the book and let children draw pictures or make brief notes about it by giving them sentence starters, such as “This reminds me of…” Encourage children to relate texts to their own personal experiences by offering their opinions on decisions made by characters, or by explaining their choices of favorite characters or incidents from the story.

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Prediction Skills

By encouraging children to predict the content of a text, or what happens next in a story, teachers can help children maintain their focus on reading for meaning. The DfES explains that children should “consider the reasons for their predictions, look for evidence in the text and revise their initial predictions if necessary.” Use shared reading lessons to demonstrate some of your own predictions about an unfamiliar story by writing them on the whiteboard at intervals during the story. Draw attention to evidence that supports your predictions to clarify your reasoning. Read an unfamiliar and exciting story to the children, and pause at regular intervals to let them offer their ideas about what might happen next. Encourage independent readers to keep a “Reading Journal,” in which they can note ideas and predictions at the end of each chapter in the story.

Visualization

Teach children visualization techniques to prevent “passive reading” and to enable children’s active, reading for meaning and emotional involvement with texts. The DfES recommends that you model visualization techniques during a shared reading session: “Read aloud from a fiction or non-fiction text; talk about the ideas that you had while you were reading and ask children to think of the picture that they have in their heads.” Read another chapter or section of text to the children and then place them into pairs to discuss their mental images with each other. Let children draw pictures of characters, diagrams of events or maps of journeys that take place within the story to deepen children’s textual understanding.

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