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Predictograms Improve Reading Comprehension

By Mary Blow on November 9, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

This week, I started my Cinderella unit, which is based on Cinderella tales from around the world. The anchor text is the 1812 version of Cinderella by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The text is challenging, but the content is engaging. I have found that students put more effort into reading challenging text if the topics are engaging. Fairy tales, originally meant for adults, intrigue middle school students. Students are surprised that there isn’t a fairy godmother or a magical pumpkin in the versions we read. They are also shocked to learn that a stepsister, under her mother's order, cuts off her toe so her over-sized foot will fit into Cinderella’s dainty gold slipper.

What can we infer from this story about the values of the German culture? Ultimately, my students learn that fairy tales provide a window into other cultures. They conclude that people around the world, despite cultural differences, share many similar values, such as loyalty, kindness, honesty, and love.

This post includes a download of a SMART Board predictogram activity.


IMG_5455 Overview

During the Cinderella unit, we read variations of the Cinderella story, analyze the cultural aspects of each one, and then write an essay comparing and contrasting the literary elements of two fairy tales. We read the first tale,"Cinderella" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1812), as a whole class because I want to teach my students how to use context clues to learn unfamiliar words and how to read complex sentence structures. The students select a second tale they would like to read. On an index card, they list their top three choices from my extensive collection of Cinderella picture books. I sort the students into mixed-ability groups of four to five students, giving each student at least one of their top three choices.


Predictogram_fictionModifying Predictograms for Fairy Tales

Predictograms are used to sort vocabulary words into categories according to literary elements such as setting, characters, conflicts, and resolution. However, since our goal is to write a compare and contrast essay on the literary elements of fairy tales, I modified the categories slightly, so that mine are setting, conflicts, protagonist/actions, antagonist/actions, resolution, and other/culture. Separating the character category into protagonist and antagonist illuminates the theme of good versus evil. Adding a cultural category fosters an understanding of the universal messages of fairy tales.


IMG_5445Predictogram Vocabulary Strategy

Predictograms teach students how to utilize context clues to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words when reading fiction. It is a graphic organizer for sorting words into categories according to the elements of plot. Prior to reading, the students are introduced to the words. I say each word and they repeat it. This way, they learn to pronounce the word correctly and they access their aural vocabulary, which is larger than their visual vocabulary. Many students may not recognize the word, but they may have a sense of the meaning from hearing it in conversation. They must use their knowledge of root words and word structures to “predict” the meaning and sort the words into categories (see illustration above). There are no wrong answers, as we are simply predicting.

Prereading_predictgramStudents work in small, mixed-ability groups to sort the words. It is surprising how in-depth their conversations become as they share their knowledge of word structures and their life experiences with the words. I give them ten minutes to sort the words, and then we meet as a whole class and create a class predictogram, sorting the words on a SMART Board Cinderella predictogram. We do not move anyone’s predictions out of a box, but we can put words in more than one category. The illustration to the right depicts a word sort at the prereading stage. Notice how much they learned by studying word structures and recalling life experiences.

While I read, the students highlight the words. To begin, I model how to use context clues to learn the meaning one of the words. I show my students how to use the “Fall Back 1; Jump Ahead 2 Rule.” When I come to a word I do not know, I go back one sentence and forward two sentences to figure out the meaning. For example, on page 1, the first word on the list is pious. In the fairy tale, the dying mother says to Cinderella, "Dear child, be good and pious, and God will always take care of you, and I will look down upon you from heaven, and will be with you." I engage in a think-aloud, saying:

If the mother is dying, she certainly isn’t going to ask her daughter to misbehave, so pious must mean something good. The words “good” and “God” suggest there is a positive connotation to the word pious. There is a comma after pious, which indicates that the author is giving me a clue to the meaning of the word. So, pious must have something to do with being faithful to your religion.

Cinderella_predictogram_ans I continue reading without stopping, and the students highlight the vocabulary words as we come to them. Highlighting as I read also ensures that they are following along and learning how to read the punctuation in complex sentence structures.

After they finish reading, they engage in a final evaluation of the words and add words to additional categories. At this point, dictionaries are still not allowed. They must rely on context clues and word analysis. As a whole class, we discuss the meaning of the words and their rationale for sorting each word into one or more categories. All rationales are open for debate. When we are finished, they readjust their predictograms. I share the meaning of the words and we compare how close our contextual definition is to the dictionary definition. They are often surprised at how accurate they are (see illustration). As a group, they create a story using all the words, applying their understanding of the words. Their group is assessed on the accurate use of the words in their story. They also have to utilize the new words when writing their essay.



 Before you begin the unit, you will need: 


Enrichment Activities

I like predictograms because students are engaged in analyzing word structures and learn how to use context clues to become independent learners. The conversations are rich, and they enjoy the group activity. If you have any questions or other vocabulary strategies to share, please post below. We welcome your ideas.

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