David has been an educator for over 20 years. He holds a bachelor's degree in communications and journalism as well as a master's degree in education. He has taught English, language arts, and social studies to students from both middle and high school.
Planning Reading Lessons
Let's pretend you are in your classroom. You have a story in front of you, maybe a classic tale like 'The Gift of the Magi' by O. Henry or something more recent like 'The Marble Champ' by Gary Soto. Your job is to build a reading lesson, or series of lessons, around the story. You need to decide on a set of instructional strategies that bolster your students reading skills, so they understand the story. Looking at research will help you pick the strategies that will best meet that goal.
Naturally, your students will struggle with any text if they have problems reading the words. In the primary grades, K-2, research points to phonics and phonemic awareness as keys to reading development.
Young readers need phonics to learn the connection between written letters and the sounds of spoken English. That's usually the starting point in a reader's schooling. Phonemic awareness is the ability to breakdown written words into their component sounds. As a teacher, when you ask your students to sound out a difficult word, that's phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness helps novice readers to separate words into syllables and meaningful sounds, known as phonemes. Research shows that phonemic awareness predicts how well students will succeed as readers. If they can't sound the words out, they will have problems.
Teaching word attack strategies will help students who struggle when they encounter new or unfamiliar words. The simplest and possibly most effective approach is to model chunking for your students. Show them how you break words down into smaller parts. Practice sounding out words with them. Teach them how to use familiar prefixes, roots and suffixes to figure out the meaning of words. You can use this word attack approach with any students, regardless of grade level, if they need them.
Once you establish that your students can handle the words, you may move on to teaching them how to comprehend the text. If you wanted to add some books on reading comprehension to your bookshelf, Mosaic of Thought by Susan Zimmermann and Elin Oliver Keene would be a good place to start. The book, published in 1997, revolutionized reading instruction by introducing a strategic approach to comprehension. Good readers, the authors said, possessed innate ways of understanding what they read. Teaching reading comprehension, they reasoned, requires teaching all students what good readers do naturally.
One skill that all readers need is the ability to visualize what they read. Good readers continually visualize the characters, settings and events they read about. You may need to teach some students how words can form pictures. To teach your kids how to do this, you can ask them to draw pictures of a character or scene based on the description in the text. Visualization isn't an exercise in free association, however. Students need to use specific details in the text to create their drawings. Emily Kissner, a teacher, author, and literacy consultant, believes teaching readers to pay close attention to details in a text is an essential reading skill.
Kissner also believes in teaching paraphrasing and summarizing as a means to help students monitor and improve their comprehension. When paraphrasing students rephrase a sentence or passage in their own words. Suppose your class is reading Edgar Allan Poe. The first sentence of 'A Tell-Tale Heart' reads, 'True!-- nervous-- very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?' The unusual structure of that sentence can trip up some readers. Learning to re-word such a sentence can support comprehension. A paraphrase might read, 'Yes, I am very nervous. I was nervous, and I still am. But what makes you say I am crazy?'
You should also teach your students to summarize, create short, accurate versions of what they are reading. Summaries aren't just for after reading. At any given moment, a reader should be able to summarize the text so far. If they can't, they either aren't paying attention or they have a comprehension issue. They may need to go back, re-read and use another comprehension strategy.
At some point, your students will need to learn that writers are tricky. They often don't directly state information that the reader needs to understand about what they are reading. Good readers make inferences by combining clues in the text with their own prior knowledge to reach a conclusion the author wants us to see.
To help students make inferences, Kylene Beers, a literacy consultant and author of When Kids Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do, suggests a strategy called 'They say, I Say, And So.' Make a three-column chart for your students. Head the first column 'They say.' In this column, the reader writes important clues from the text. The second column is 'I say.' That's where they put their prior knowledge. The third column, 'And So,' contains their final inference.
Here is an example of 'They Say, I Say, And So' based on To Kill a Mockingbird. In the 'They Say' column, the reader writes these words from the end of chapter 17: 'Jean Louise. Jean Louise. Stand up your father's passing.' In the 'I Say' column, the reader inputs prior knowledge: 'I know standing up when someone walks by is a sign of respect.' In the 'And So' column, the reader makes the inference: 'The author wants us to see that the African Americans in Maycomb still respect Atticus Finch, even though the jury found Tom Robinson guilty.'
You need a host of research-based instructional strategies to teach your students to be better readers. They need methods for understanding new words, like chunking to break the word down to parts they can understand. When it comes to comprehension, your best instructional practice will be to teach all your students the strategies good readers use naturally.
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