Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
Using a Top Down Approach to Reading
Are you trying to help your students improve their reading comprehension and their capacity to make meaning from the different texts they encounter? One way to do this is to spend some time on the top down approach to reading. Top down reading means taking prior knowledge into account when encountering a new text, so that a student's active schema related to a particular topic or theme helps them incorporate what they learn from their reading. Further, in top down reading, students focus more on the overall meaning of a text rather than on individual words or phrases.
To get students practicing top down reading, you probably want to incorporate different activities into your instruction. The activities in this lesson can be modified to meet the needs of students at different ages and reading levels as they work with a top down approach to reading.
These top down reading activities are great for visual learners, who can benefit from using images or graphic organizers as they read.
Start With the Setting
Ask your students to preview a fiction text by skimming it for clues as to where it takes place. When they feel they have a mental image, they should create a sketch that corresponds with what they are envisioning. Their sketch will enable them to form a richer internal image of what the story looks like as it moves. Then, as students read, let them return to their images and modify them with characters and additional details.
A Few Key Words
Activating vocabulary knowledge is a key aspect of top down reading in the content areas. If students are about to read a piece of nonfiction, give them a set of five to ten vocabulary words to start with. Have them learn the meaning of these words and then create a small icon or sketch to help them remember the word and what it means. They can use the miniature visual glossary they have created to make predictions about the text's content as well as to assist them as they work their way through it.
Here, you will find top down reading activities well suited to learners who like to work with their hands and bodies.
Moods and Emotions
Explain to your students that a big part of understanding a text is accessing the overall mood behind a particular story or scene. As your students read, ask them to make exaggerated facial expressions or gestures to reflect the feeling behind the text. They can do this privately, or with partners. You can even give students small hand mirrors so that they can see their faces as they read. Encourage students to think about what it does to their comprehension to focus on mood in this way.
Sometimes, students read either fiction or nonfiction about people or characters they're already familiar with. Ask students to use clay or cardboard to construct a model of the person or people they are preparing to read about. Their models should reflect physical appearance but can also be captioned to reflect personality and behavior. They can keep these models near them as they read, and make changes to them as they learn more about a particular fiction or nonfiction character.
Finally, these activities employ language as students work on top down reading strategies.
What Will Happen Next?
Ask students to do this activity when they are reading a chapter book. After they finish one chapter, they should write a few sentences describing their prediction of what will happen in the next chapter, and they should explain why they think this will happen. They can keep track of how often their predictions are right, as well as how their predictions help them pay attention differently to text.
Talk it Through
If your students are about to read a complicated nonfiction text, break them into partnerships or small groups. Tell them the topic they are going to read about, and ask them to discuss with partners what they already know about this topic and what questions they still have. They can take notes on their conversation or simply keep it an oral activity. Then, as they read, encourage them to think about how the conversation prepared them for more astute comprehension.
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