The other day, I started a mini series on reading comprehension strategies and you can read about the profiles of a poor, good, and great comprehender here in relation to the steps in the reading progressions.
I want to talk more about the Great Comprehender and the strategies that she uses.
One of the hidden gems in the Learning Progressions resources is the concise list of reading comprehension strategies. This list is based on the same research that underpins the progressions and it’s pretty comprehensive.
Unfortunately, it’s buried in the Background Reading book that no one ever reads. You can access it online here if you want. Or you can just read my plain English version below.
Here’s what you need to know about reading comprehension strategies. To be honest, many of these overlap – or at least the skills required to do them overlap. Think of these as tools that you are trying to put in your learners’ toolboxes:
- Make connections: The Great Comprehender knows how to link what she already to knows to the new information she’s reading. As a tutor or a trainer you can set up the conditions for this.
- As the trainer or tutor you need to think of ways to activate your learners’ prior knowledge. Asking questions is a really simple and effective way to do this.
- Predict: The Great Comprehender makes predictions about what’s in a text she’s reading. As she reads she checks this prediction and revises it or confirms it against new information. These kinds of predictions or informed guesses can be about any aspect of the text (the kind of text, the structure, the subject, the context, the task, etc).
- As the trainer or tutor you can model this kind of prediction by picking just one or two things and doing it together with the learners. E.g. “I want you to try and guess what this is about while you’re reading” Or: “I want you to try and work out for me what it is you’re reading here”
- Identify the main ideas: The Great Comprehender can figure out what the key idea is in a text. She needs to draw on past experiences and prior knowledge of how texts work to do this. This means that she has been exposed to lots of different texts and text types already. It also means using inferencing skills (reading between the lines), making guesses about the text, synthesising and summarising information, and determining the relative importance of different bits of information in a text.
- This skill really brings together a lot of different reading comprehension strategies that are discussed under other points.
- One thing you could do is get your learners to practice using a highlighter or pen to identify, underline or circle what they think is key information.
- Another thing is to model and then practice identifying different kinds of information in a text and then ranking these in terms of importance from high to low.
- Make use of text structure: The Great Comprehender uses what she knows about text structures to make sense of what she’s reading. In other words, she can identify that it’s a complaint letter, so she’s looking for the problem and possibly thinking of what a solution might be.
- As the trainer, you can help your learners by explicitly teaching them about the structures of different text types. For example, you can show how newspaper articles often state the main idea in the first sentence.
- Or you can show how you can often get the main idea of a paragraph from the topic sentence at the beginning.
- Or just look at the headings in a text or all the bold type.
- Read between the lines: This is what people mean when they talk about inferencing. The opposite of inferencing is identifying explicit information. In other words, if it’s explicit you could put your finger on it in the text. If it’s inferencing, it’s not actually there in black and white. Instead, you have to form an opinion or have a guess about something using clues that the writer has left in the text.
- As the trainer or tutor you can help practice inferencing skills by writing comprehension questions that require inferencing. See my posts on hacking reading comprehension for more on this.
- Visualise: Make a picture in your mind. I’m not sure if this one sounds a bit woo woo or not… but this is what the Great Comprehender does. Great readers construct mental images to represent the information and ideas that they are trying to process. Mental images help people see patterns as well.
- As the trainer or tutor you can talk about what you see in your own mind, and you can also work with metaphors. A metaphor is a mental picture. I started with one at the beginning of the post. If you know what it is tell me in the comments.
- Ask questions and look for answers: The Great Comprehender is constantly posing and answering questions while she reads. It doesn’t matter what these questions relate to: meanings of words, the structure, what’s coming next, personal relevance. This kind of question asking and answering helps the Great Comprehender make smarter guesses, inference better, and summarise
- As the tutor or trainer you can model this process before you set a reading text. You can pose the questions, you can get the learners to start generating the questions, and you can stop and review as they read.
Here’s some other things to think about with regards to the Great Comprehender:
- She knows when comprehension breaks down and what to do about it.
- She is very conscious and aware of the strategies that she’s using.
- She figured out some of these strategies on her own, but she had some great teachers as well who taught them to her explicitly.