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March 23, 2012 Techniques for Building Reading Comprehension By Sharon Taylor
Grades PreK–K

    Reading without comprehension or understanding is not reading.  Comprehension is required to understand and remember what you read. To create great readers, we must guide our students to do more than just read the words in front of them.  Read on as I share two of my favorite techniques for helping young students with reading comprehension.   



    Creating Mental Images

    To develop fluent readers, we must teach our students to make mental images. Students need to visualize events, characters, and other parts of a story while reading. When students are able to use this strategy, their ability to comprehend and enjoy the text will greatly increase.

    To help my students really see the connections they make to the words on a page, I sometimes allow them to draw while they listen to me read aloud. I have them illustrate what they are visualizing as I read the text.  Once students are done, we gather and share our work.  Before students share their work, I emphasize that everyone’s visualizations will be different and that each idea is important.  After everyone has shared, we discuss things that are the same and things that are different.  Some of their interpretations are amazing! 


    Read Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Have students visualize what they think Harold is drawing. And then set them up with paper and crayons and have them create drawings from what they have visualized.






    Below are two of my students' drawings from this activity.  If you are familiar with the book Harold and the Purple Crayon, you can see that the students were able to visualize several elements from the story.  


    I also love to use poems when teaching my students to create mental images. My students love the poem "My Neighbor's Dog Is Purple" by Jack Prelutsky.  After listening to the poem several times, I have my students illustrate what they think the neighbor's dog looks like.  



    Making Inferences

    An inference is a guess about the story or characters.  Making inferences plays a major role in reading comprehension. Teaching students how to make inferences helps them exercise their ability to make observations, recall details, reflect upon prior knowledge and experiences, and make connections.

    I like to introduce my young students to the process of making inferences by playing a game called “What’s inside my bag?” To play this game, I have my students gather in a circle on the carpet. I place an oversized duffel bag in the center of the circle. Next, I go around the circle and have each student guess what they think is inside the bag.  I record their guesses. Afterwards, we discuss why some guesses are more appropriate than others.  Next, I divide my students into small groups and give each group several clues.  Students are instructed to read the clues altogether and write or draw about what they think is inside my mystery bag.   

    Below are inferences my students made about what they thought was inside my bag. The green words represent group inferences, and the blue represent individual student inferences. 


    Using pictures is another great way to begin helping your little ones make inferences.  I do an activity in which I show my students several pictures to see what information they can infer.  For example, I would show my students a picture of a bicycle lying on the ground with a girl sitting next to it crying. Then I ask my students what they can infer. I follow up by asking them questions such as, "How do you know? What clues do you have?"

    Allow your young readers to become detectives and figure out things that the author doesn’t tell them.  For example, let them infer the meaning of an unknown word, the author’s message, how a character is feeling, or the overall events of a book. Before I begin reading a book, I have my students make inferences based on the cover. Good readers can infer what the book is about by looking at the picture on the cover and reading the title. 


    The Little Red Hen is a great book to use when teaching students to make inferences. First, students make inferences about the hen.  I follow this activity by asking students, "Why do you think the little red hen didn’t share her bread with the other animals?"



    If you are looking for some ready-to-use printables on making inferences, Scholastic can help. What techniques do you use with your students to help build reading comprehension? Please comment below!


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Susan Cheyney