Staff developer and author Lori Oczkus shares her techniques for engaging students through interactive think-aloud lessons that build reading comprehension.
"What do good readers do?" This is by far my favorite question to ask students when I begin a comprehension lesson. When the sea of hands pops up to answer, I can tell whether children have been exposed to comprehension strategy instruction and quality literature by the nature of their responses. Good readers do the following:
- Predict by guessing what happens next
- Ask questions and wonder
- Evaluate and judge the text
- Monitor and reread to make sure they understand what they've read
- Summarize to remember what they've read
- Read a lot
When struggling readers answer my question, "What do good readers do?" their responses often reflect their limited use of comprehension strategies and focus on decoding rather than meaning. Struggling readers may offer these thoughts about what good readers do:
- Read every word correctly
- Read hard books
- Pay attention
- Listen to the teacher
- Sound out words
- Point to the words
- Sit quietly
Elementary reading experts and educators agree that all students need to be taught to use the "good reader" (i.e., comprehension strategies) flexibly and with different types of texts (Duke, 2005). These strategies include making connections, predicting and inferring, self-questioning, monitoring and clarifying, summarizing and synthesizing, and evaluating. Although educators disagree about many aspects of teaching reading, there is universal agreement that the goal of reading is to comprehend (Lipson, 2007).
We know that students benefit from lessons that teach comprehension strategies. I like to call the "good reader" comprehension strategies the "Super Six" (Oczkus, 2004). This child-friendly term gives students access to the comprehension strategies that they need to unlock meaning as they read. Practitioners and researchers debate about what to name these strategies; however, researchers agree that all of these are important strategies that help children comprehend better (Duke & Pearson, 2002).
This book features lessons for each of these strategies. For the two sample lessons included here, you can find below a discussion of what each strategy involves, problems students may encounter with the strategies, and some practical ways to teach and think about the strategies. For more ideas on how to use interactive techniques in your classroom, download the Interactive Think-Aloud Techniques chart (PDF) for your filebox.
Questioning: Deepening Comprehension and Providing Motivation to Read
Every time I dig my American Idol microphone out of my prop bag, the students gasp. Whether I am teaching kindergartners with a big book or sixth graders with a novel, I show the students my metaphor for questioning, the microphone. Once I have their attention, I model for them the ways in which good readers use questioning before, during, and after reading. Just like a talk-show host or game show host, proficient readers consider good questions as they read to keep themselves engaged and motivated. Questioning deepens comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000b; Keene & Zimmerman, 1997). Luckily, children love to question, and for many it is their favorite of the comprehension strategies. Questioning, a natural for children, keeps them interested in learning.
Good readers wonder before they read. They stop mid-story and wonder why a character acts a certain way; in a nonfiction book they might study a photograph and wonder how many different types of tarantulas live in the world. Good readers ask who, what, when, where, why, how, and what-if questions throughout the reading process. The list of types of questions is rich and varied and includes predicting questions; clarifying questions; wonder questions; author's craft questions; typical "teacher questions" such as main idea, sequence, and cause and effect; as well as higher-order questions and evaluative questions such as "What would you do if?" or "What if?" (Oczkus, 2004).
Children do encounter problems when formulating questions. Some students either ask literal questions or they try to stump each other with silly trivia. Primary grade children, when asked to question, often offer a statement about the text. Modeling question formulation becomes critical. When I bring out my magical microphone, students are more likely to understand that they need to ask a question. They enjoy taking turns asking questions using the prop. To make the questioning experience richer, you can scaffold questioning with starters such as "When did the . . .? What were the steps . . .? How did . . . feel when . . .?" When we provide time for students to discuss their questions as they read, they are inspired by others' questions, and new ones develop in their own minds (Keene & Zimmerman, 1997).
Try the Questioning Lesson Ask the Author
Summarizing: Determining Importance and Order of Ideas
Summarizing is a whopper of a strategy that is often very difficult for our students. In fifth grade I assigned each table a strategy job for the social studies chapter. When I pointed to the back table and told them they'd be in charge of summarizing, they rolled their eyes and groaned. The table sighed in relief when I explained they could draw the three main events and come up with five keywords from the chapter. It is no wonder these students grimaced at the thought of summarizing; the skill includes a host of challenging tasks, including recalling important events or details, ordering points, and using synonyms or selecting vocabulary.
Teaching students to summarize is a way to improve their overall comprehension of text (Duke & Pearson, 2002). Students encounter all kinds of problems when attempting to summarize. They often include too many details-or not enough. Primary-grade children often offer a long, drawn-out retelling rather than a summary. Older students often experience difficulty selecting important events or details and ordering them in a logical sequence. They also do not know how to use their own words or to paraphrase as they create summaries. Students also need to understand text structure and use those structures in their summaries. If you are reading a compare-and-contrast article in science that compares alligators and crocodiles, for instance, then the students need to use the compare-contrast structure to organize their summary. You might also encourage students to use nonfiction headings as they summarize material that is organized around main ideas and details. When summarizing fiction, they need to decide whether the text is organized by events, such as those in a memoir, or whether it is a problem-and-solution text.
My goal is to stop the moaning and groaning, including mine, when it comes time to summarize. It can actually be fun. To engage students, try having them make up an appropriate hand motion for summarizing that will help them internalize important summary skills while having fun. When they make up a chorus to go with a character, the story, or an event, they recall the reading. Summarizing continues to present challenges and remains important for readers, but let's try to make it enjoyable, too.
Try the Summarizing Lesson Using Hand Motions for Key Words or Points