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November 4, 2009 Superior Strategies to Encourage Reading and Enhance Comprehension By Victoria Jasztal
Grades 3–5

    How do you define yourself as a reader? Are you an avid reader who reads every chance you have outside of work? Or would you rather define yourself as more of a newspaper or magazine reader? Just like us, every one of our students possesses different reading interests. Not every student is realistically going to devour every single Harry Potter book or excitedly head over to your classroom library to peruse the historical fiction books about World War II. Additionally, not every student is going to understand every word he or she reads. Their fluency or prosody may be strong, but their comprehension may be a struggle.

    Here are some ways you can make reading better for your students and enhance their comprehension in the process:



    First, expose your students to several genres and styles of literature. Writers use different tones when they write specific genres, particularly historical fiction. It is interesting to study word choice used in descriptions, dialect, and implied feelings through quotations. Keep your classroom library rich with literature; this year, I have found it particularly useful to organize the books by categories in bins. For those students interested in A Series of Unfortunate Events, for example, they have ventured to read other similar books by searching through the bins of fantasy books. They have also become interested in particular authors; I have heard a few students in conversation saying these exact words, "I want to head over to the Andrew Clements bin because I like his style of writing."

    Show your students that there are so many non-fiction books that connect to what they are learning in science and social studies. The DK books are superior, as are educational comic books, that illustrate the concepts students are learning:

    American History Comic Books from Scholastic are some of the greatest books I have ever purchased for my classroom. I particularly enjoy using the comic about the American Revolution after reading the selection with my students in the social studies book. Students come to understand the Boston Tea Party through illustrations and humorous anecdotes.

    Besides that, it is imperative that you read to your students often. I try to read several chapter books with my students every year. This year, we have already read Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks and No Talking by Andrew Clements. I try to focus on a variety of genres. Some other choices I focused on last year and may focus on again this year are Number the Stars (historical fiction), The Ghost's Grave (mystery), and The Westing Game (mystery). We will be reading other choices above and beyond these this year as well.


    The only magazine my classroom subscribes to is Scholastic Storyworks, yet I have also acquired issues of OWL, Ranger Rick, Boys' Life, National Geographic Kids, National Geographic Explorer, and more through Friends of the Library sales, thrift stores, and other teachers. Acquiring magazines in your classroom can help engage students who are not enthusiastic about reading longer books. Additionally, magazines are full of text features that can help your students to become great "previewers."

    Scholastic Storyworks, in particular, has online resources that you can use in conjunction with the articles in the magazine. Most recently, my students read the Yesterday and Today article comparing Krakatoa and Mount St. Helens. The resources I found here were superior because they focused on a plethora of vocabulary and comprehension strategies. 

    ESSENTIAL VOCABULARY (Schema and Text Features)

    Two resources in particular have helped me to become a stronger reading teacher over time, Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene and Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell. After reading those two books in the summer of 2006, I focused on teaching my students about the terms, schema and text features. Often, I tell my students that they are "building their schema" by searching for specific text features before they read. They are asked about titles, illustrations and captions,and any vocabulary that is italicized, bolded or highlighted every time they read. Particularly in science, I tell my students it is important to search for diagrams and flow charts. In social studies, it is most important to search for any maps or timelines. Ask your students from there, "How do these text features help you to determine the main idea or author's purpose of the selection?" is a website that exposed me to several amazing lessons and methods I have used in my classroom since reading the aforementioned books. 



    Encourage students to respond to literature in a variety of ways. Sometimes give them the freedom to make a choice about how they respond to literature. Other times, you may desire for them to do something specific. Encourage your students to become writers, and prove to them that you are a writer as well! Here are some links that focus on ways your students can respond to literature:


    My students have written to the Department of Tourism in various states and requested materials like brochures and maps. They were immensely excited when they were able to learn more about their "states of choice." You can have your students write to authors, scientists and politicians as well. They can also request information from particular museums, aquariums, state parks and theme parks across the United States. You can at least have your students try; the possibilities of who you can write to are endless. You may be extremely surprised at the wonderful materials your students receive through the mail!



    Are your students curious? All right, that wasn't the greatest question. Students obviously are curious about  many topics. Have them develop "why" questions and encourage them to type in their questions to or another search engine to find answers.


    IMG_4105 IMG_4103

    Come up with as many hands-on learning opportunities as you can, time and money permitting, of course. Putting hex nuts in balloons last week to create "spooky sound effects" helped my students to learn about centrifugal force. Also last week when they made atomic slime, they learned about what PVA solutions were as well as polymers. When they dissected owl pellets early last month, they learned about dichotomous keys and classification. We also learned about anthocyanins, chlorophyll, and carotenoids when completing a chromatography experiment. Besides that, we demonstrated "core samples of the Earth" with JELLO. Even if my students forget these precious scientific terms (ehh... they just might have; they are major words for a fourth grade student), I can definitely review the words with them easily because they remember what was neat about each of those experiences.

    We also put on a play late in the school year that reviews the history of St. Augustine and build thatched huts that resemble the wigwams of the Timucuan Indians.


    Taking online field trips, too, develops schema. 


    Encourage your students to become role models by starting a Book Buddies program with a younger class, (grades K-2, depending on the age of your students). My students have been Book Buddies with a kindergarten class since the fall of 2005. When we head to Book Buddies once a month (as much as twice a month), my students read a variety of literature, encourage the kindergarten students to write with details, teach them science concepts, and complete hands-on math activities with them. We always try to accompany our lessons with some sort of literature connection. Though my students are not reading books on their level when they read to the younger students, they learn how to be teachers and find ways to help their kindergarten students to understand what they are explaining to them.

    Hopefully, I have provided some solid advice for you to progress with your reading instruction. If you have used any particular strategies in your classroom that have worked, please share them here. More will come over time! Perhaps if you want to see some other resources I use in my classroom, check out my Reading and Writing Resources Website.



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