10 Reading Comprehension Tips

What is reading comprehension?

Reading comprehension is understanding what is being read. The reader is able to grasp information from any kind of text (fiction or nonfiction) and demonstrate knowledge of the piece by answering questions, discussing aspects or completing an activity.

Why is reading comprehension important?

Reading comprehension is important because everything is text-based in education. Students are expected to read articles, novels, directions, discussion responses, essay prompts, lab reports, and more. Once they read these works, students are then expected to do something with the information- participate in discussions, complete a homework assignment, fill out note sheets, etc.

Whether we realize it or not, reading comprehension is the crux of what students need to be successful in education.

There’s typically a shift in English/Language Arts classes when a student enters middle school. They not only have five different teachers, but they are expected to read and interact with texts in all of these classes. There is no Reading class where students practice decoding or have phonics lessons. These are some HUGE adjustments for young readers, and the need for strong reading comprehension is crucial.

So, what do we do if a student is having difficulty with reading comprehension?

Over the last ten years I’ve worked with thousands of middle and high school students and have figured out some really awesome tips for improving reading comprehension.

Tip #1- Activate prior knowledge.

When introducing a new text, tap into a student’s knowledge on an aspect of the text. It can be historical knowledge, a connection (text to self, text to world, text to text, text to media) or an experience.

Last month I had my students read an article about the history of education in the United States. To activate prior knowledge, I had students talk to their parents about what high school was like for them. What clothes did they wear? What did they eat for lunch? What did they do for fun? How was your parents’ school life different from your school life today?

The purpose of activating prior knowledge is to prepare student for what’s ahead. I like to think of it as giving my kiddos a “heads up”. They are able to focus on a specific concept and will be on the lookout for this idea while reading the text.

Tip #2- Provide necessary background information.

This is honestly one of my favorite pre-reading activity, that totally lends itself to reading comprehension. Author’s always use some sort of inspiration in their personal lives in their writing and this can typically influence the author’s purpose. Some teachers LOVE to give pre-reading information about the author, which is never a bad idea, but I personally prefer to dive into the historical aspects of a new text.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle is legit one of my favorite novels to read with students. Before I start this classic piece of children’s literature, I spend time going over the timeline of events during the 1960s, since this is when the book was written. The Space Race and Communism are underlying themes and concepts in the novel, so it’s important the students are familiar with these ideas before we read.

I’m currently reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde with 8th-10th graders. Before we even opened the text, we spent about a week learning about the Victorian era and watching parts of Oliver! to help students visualize the setting. For the record, this musical has superb costumes and sets that really capture London during this time period.

Providing background information helps students become familiar with time periods, historical events, the author, or concepts they will be reading about. It can also help with visualizing (one of the reasons I showed Oliver!).

Tip #3- Introduce new vocabulary

So many times students glaze over an unknown word and continue reading. Why? Because it takes extra time to try and figure out how to pronounce a new word, let alone try and figure out the definition. This typical strategy tends to cause some problems with reading comprehension because one word can change an entire sentence, paragraph or part of the plot.

Listing new vocabulary words for students before they start reading, will remind them that these are new words they will encounter in the reading. These words can be right from the textbook or hand-picked by the teacher. Some teachers also go ahead and give students the definition of the vocabulary words to make it even easier for them. As an English teacher, I usually have my students define the words on their own.

Tip #4- Provide a summary

SparkNotes are amazing. I can honestly say that as a student AND as a teacher. In college, to help with my understanding of various Shakespeare plays, I would read the SparkNotes after I finished reading a play. This worked really well for me because I would often miss concepts since Old English always threw me off.

As teachers, we usually think to summarize a text after we read it to fill in any gaps with reading comprehension. Whether it’s a teacher summary, SparkNotes or a video, there are plenty of options for providing students with a condensed version. My kids are really loving chapter summary videos from Course Hero on YouTube.

It’s okay to give students a summary of the text before or after they read.

Recently, I started giving a summary of the chapter before I read it with my classes, and it’s been an awesome game changer for my special education students. I’ve read the SparkNotes for the chapter to highlight the important plot points for my kiddos and it has been quite helpful. I will also point out key information while we’re reading and at the end, but adding that extra at the beginning is a new favorite technique of mine.

Along with SparkNotes, other websites like CliffNotes and Shmoop are also great resources to use for summaries. Personally, I like the sense of humor with Shmoop, especially for high school students.

Tip #5- Listen to the audio version

I will admit that I was never an audio books fan until about two years ago when I came across Jim Dale’s version of Harry Potter. (Which, for the record, is AMAZING and I’m totally addicted to listening to it).

Currently enjoying book 5 of Harry Potter…again :).

So, how exactly do audiobooks help with reading comprehension? When a student listens to the audiobook version of a story, it helps relieve the pressure of decoding. He or she can just focus on what is happening in the story without stressing about how to pronounce a word.

While I LOVE my Audible app, when I want to post the audio version for my class of students I generally use YouTube. Teachers have been so kind to post themselves reading full novels aloud for free and there are also some professional readers on there as well.

Bonus tip: one audio version for Dr. Jekyll and Hyde was too slow for my kiddos, so to keep them engaged I sped up the video. In YouTube, simply click on the gear (settings), go to Playback speed and change it up.

Tip #6- Read the eBook version

Nowadays, kids are used to reading from screens whether it be tablets and Chromebooks, so why not take advantage of this technology? While some students prefer to read a hard copy of a text (as do I once in awhile) there are quite a few perks to reading an eBook.

Students can change the font. Whether you’re reading on a phone or tablet, iBooks and the Kindle app offer this feature, which is great for students who are visually impaired.

Students can look up unknown words. Ebooks have this amazing quality where with just a few finger taps a reader can look up an unknown word. As we discussed with Tip #3 , defining new words plays a huge role in reading comprehension, and these nifty pieces of technology make this task super simple for readers.

Students can highlight and record notes. One of the drawbacks about having a class set of novels/texts, is that students aren’t allowed to write in the books. Many teachers, including myself, rely on the Post-it method for notes. However, eBooks allow students to highlight and make notes right on the text. Students can truly make notes their own, while interacting with the information.

Students can read anywhere at any time. I LOVE the portability of eBooks. I have the Kindle app on all of my devices and rely on iCloud to save my place as I switch back and forth. It’s no big deal if I forget to bring a book because I have a whole library in my pocket. In addition to Kindle, apps like Vooks, Epic!, Raz-Kids and ABC Mouse offer incredible eBooks (many with audio versions) for readers of all ages. For more information on ABC Mouse, check out my review on this online learning program.

Bonus tip: For my auditory learners and special education kiddos, I always recommend listening to the audio version and following along with the text of the story. Many prefer to use their phones or tablets so everything is in the palm of their hands.

Tip #7- Covering the basics

This is the go-to for every teacher, regardless of what grade or subject we teach. Guided notes or just straight reading comprehension questions require students to DO SOMETHING with their new knowledge.

In my early years of teaching, I tried to get away from this “traditional” method of teaching. During literature circle discussions, I found that I had some students missing key plot points. Now, learning from this, I ask some of the basic questions (describe this character, discuss the main conflict, etc.) but I will also throw in higher order thinking questions focusing on quote analysis. This allows me to touch on those basic points while also hitting making inferences and drawing conclusions.

Other than using reading comprehension questions, there are other ways to cover the basics:

Students can bullet point important key information from the text. To differentiate this, the teacher can provide a template with headings to help students navigate the text and note sheet

Students can complete Cornell Notes. This website offers a bunch of different templates students can use.

Students can draw a picture with captions. I really like this idea for breaking down chapter events, even for older students. Students can either physically draw or they can create a Google doc and copy and paste pictures from the web.

For more note-taking suggestions, check out my post: 6 Effective Nonfiction Note-Taking Tips.

Tip #8- Always share thoughts

Along the lines of having students do something with the new information they read, it’s just as important to talk about what is read.

Whether I’m tutoring one-on-one or teaching an English class, at the end of every chapter we read, I ask students to share their thoughts, comments or questions. This encourages students to reflect on the reading and evaluate their knowledge of the chapter. When kids ask questions, I’m able to determine if I need to re-teach or summarize the chapter. If a student says the almighty, “I don’t know.”, I often ask what the purpose of the chapter is. Is it a fluff chapter that is just there to connect the plot events? Does it move the plot along? Why?

When in a class, I tend to use Think-Pair-Share (turn and talk) with kids for this part. I then take volunteers at the end so every student can hear other thoughts, comments and questions. Why? You never know what a kid misses during a reading. They may go to the bathroom, day dream, or get distracted, etc. This is a quick strategy that allows all students to get filled in.

Tip #9- Encourage connections

The first few weeks of sixth grade are always the most challenging as a teacher because we are helping kiddos transition from elementary school to middle school. For those that have taught this age group, we all have stories where we mention a dog as a character and we get hands waving frantically for kids to tell us all about their dog. Kids love to talk and make connections to things we say all the time.

So, why not encourage students to make connections with the various texts they read?

This not only increases student engagement, but it also helps kids interact with a text. Connections (text to text, text to self, text to world, text to media) will not happen with every reading, but suggest for kids to make connections whenever possible. Also, make sure you take a few minutes here and there for students to share their connections.

Tip #10- Keep communication open

It’s very rare that a kid will approach me and say they don’t understand something. A student will sit in silence, skip quiz questions and not complete homework because they are struggling.

As teachers, we need to create a system of communication that works for our classrooms.

When I taught in brick and mortar schools, I created Communication Cards. I took red, yellow and green index cards, fastened them together and had kids “show me your color” during lessons. Sometimes I had kids hold up their cards, but mostly I had them lay the card down on their desk. Red cards meant a student needed help ASAP, yellow meant they wanted to chat and green meant they were good to go. I would approach red cards first to see what they needed from me before moving onto the yellow cards. It’s amazing how honest kids were when they knew they didn’t have to ask questions in front of the whole class.

In my virtual classrooms today, I encourage kids to private chat me in Zoom or send me an email. This year more than ever I have had kids ask me specific questions about assignments and advocate for themselves. I also text my students A LOT because I know they hate talking on the phone. Many of them will send me a quick text with a question and then they are able to get right back to work. Keeping that chain of communication open is incredibly important.

Involving parents in supporting reading comprehension.

Every year I have parents reach out to me asking about how they can support their learner at home, especially in middle and high school. My usual suggestion is to read our class novel together at home while we are reading it in school so parents can talk about it with their student.

Head over to my TpT store to snag this FREE resource

In addition, I also recommend doing family read-alouds a few times a week and asking some reading questions. I developed this FREE list of reading questions for parents to use in this exact situation.

For more specific tips and tricks for parents, check out my post on Reading Comprehension at Home: 5 Things Parents Can Do.

Reading comprehension is necessary for all classes, not just English. It is never too late to introduce students to new tips and strategies for improving reading comprehension.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Best Virtual Activities to Celebrate Read Across America & National Reading Month

March is National Reading Month. Schools dedicate time for kids to enjoy reading at all age levels by incorporating fun-filled literacy activities. These activities can be used throughout the month, not just during Read Across America week.

Virtual reading activities can still promote the love and joy of reading. In fact, there can be even more creativity to be had in the online environment.

D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read)

This is an oldie, but a goody. D.E.A.R. is one of those activities that can be done at any age, that allows kids to choose whatever they want to read. Whether it’s a graphic novel, or a classic piece of literature, giving students time to just read is always beneficial. However, if you’re looking to take this classic idea up a notch, add in an extra step to increase student engagement. Pose a question for students to answer in the chat, on Padlet or a Google doc so all can see the responses. Some really great prompts include: What kind of reader should choose your book? If you like ____________ then you’ll love this book because…

Themed Reading Days

Similar to D.EA.R, having students participate in themed reading days adds a little bit of fun to reading time. Teachers have more creativity with this chunk of reading time. My personal favorite themes are:

*Camping– when we think about camping, many of us instantly picture a roaring fire, s’mores and the great outdoors.

Some great ideas to make this set up virtual is to have a video of a campfire going on in the background, have kids wear camping clothes, make microwave s’mores using a recipe like this one, and allow kids to choose one of these ghost stories to read during class.

*Beach Day– students should bring their devices on the ground while sitting on a beach towel, wearing shorts and a t-shirt with flip flops, so they can read their favorite book. Personally, I prefer to sit in a beach chair for added comfort :).

*Coffee Shop- with the popularity of Starbucks, many students LOVE coffee shops. Kids should sit in their most comfortable chair with their favorite beverage (hot chocolate, tea, smoothie, etc.) and read some Time for Kids articles.

*Pajama Party– this is by far, my absolute favorite theme. Who doesn’t like to read in their pajamas? Students should wear their pajamas to class and bring a copies of their favorite bedtime stories to read.

Read Aloud Videos

As educators, we know that we are working with the YouTube generation, so why not incorporate videos into the classroom? There are TONS of read aloud videos on YouTube from picture books to chapter books. You can check out my latest read aloud video below.

My personal favorite read aloud channel on YouTube is Storytime Now for picture books.

School Wide Story Time

Now more than ever, schools are really trying to encourage school spirit and socialization in safe ways. Holding a school wide story time is a great opportunity for all students to come together and listen to a story. If the plan is to make this a one time occurrence, I would suggest reading a few picture books, especially for elementary kiddos. If this will be repeated a few times I recommend a short chapter book like Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl, which is one of those books that appeals to grades K-6.

Guest Reader Visits

Sometimes it’s good to change up the readers in the virtual classroom, and one of the easiest ways to do so is to have a guest reader. Having parents or even other teachers in the building read a story adds some extra excitement to reading time. Whether the reading happens live, or a parent/guardian sends a recording of the reading, having difference faces and voices reading goes a long way. If you’re unable to find guest readers, a website, like Storyline Online, is a fantastic option for any elementary classroom. Storyline Online features popular children’s books read aloud by different celebrities.

Student Choice

As educators, we know to try and give students choices as much as possible in the classroom. Why not let kids pick the book the teacher reads? Online platforms Vooks and Epic! are amazing resources for activities like this. For more resources for teaching reading online, check out this post.

Divergent is a great read aloud book for grades 6-12.
Divergent is my all-time favorite read aloud book for grades 6-12.

Teacher Read Aloud

While all of these ideas are great options to celebrate the joy of reading, sometimes just reading to a class is engaging. Whether a teacher reads a book from the curriculum, or changes it up by reading a personal favorite, kids LOVE being read to all the time. For more specific suggestions about virtual read alouds check out Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom.

It is possible to celebrate National Reading Month in the virtual classroom.

Don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun with reading activities. We always want to show kids that reading is enjoyable, even if it’s being done virtually.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

Incorporating Virtual Read Alouds for Grades K-12: Tips and Tricks from a Virtual Educator

Read alouds are a time when students of all ages can get immersed in different worlds, make new friends, and go on amazing adventures. As teachers, we constantly read aloud in our brick and mortar classrooms, and this can still be a possibility in virtual classrooms.

I’m a strong believer in the power of read alouds for students in grades P-12. About two years ago I shared how I conducted read alouds in the virtual world via Zoom (click here). Since then I have experimented with a few different ways of incorporating read alouds for one-on-one and classes with students in grades K-12. I share my screen via Zoom and use e-books with students, or I read aloud from a paper based novel depending on the lesson.

Read Alouds for Grades K-5

When: I dedicated my morning meeting time to a read a book of the day. Typically this time is about 15 minutes, which is just enough time to read and touch on some reading comprehension questions. However, this can also be done as a mini-lesson. Read alouds can also take place during snack time and while transitioning subjects in the virtual world.

What: For early elementary read alouds, or beginner readers, I get picture books from Kindle Unlimited since I have a subscription, but some other options include Vooks and Epic!. Since I’m also a book reviewer, I love to use books I’ve reviewed with my students as well (check out one of my favorite authors below). This activity can also be done with nonfiction texts if you’re looking to include more in the curriculum.

What is the title of the book? Rescue. What is the picture? Three dogs. What do you think this story will be about? Dogs helping people.

How: I structure my read aloud with pre-reading, during reading and after reading sections. These can be super quick, or extended a few minutes depending on the text. Pre-reading– We always start by discussing the cover a book. Where is the author’s name? What is the title of the story? What is the picture? What do we think this book will be about based on the picture? I pose these types of questions and have students verbally respond, since typing would take them too long. During reading– Every few pages I stop and ask questions about the character, plot, text to self connections, setting, etc. Some are purely comprehension based and others are geared more towards making inferences. Who is the main character? What is the problem? My questions can usually be answered by using the pictures and the text, so all of my readers are able to participate, regardless of their reading ability.

What is Phoebe’s problem? She can’t find her favorite tennis ball. How does she feel about this? She’s surprised.

After reading– Similar to pre and during reading, I pose questions to my students about theme, rating the book, explaining their thoughts on the book, etc. Students can verbally answer this or use a white board/piece of paper to rate the book. If you’re looking for a more extended after reading activity, have students draw a picture and write a sentence or two related to the book. For instance, if the book is about pets, have students draw a picture of their pet (or their dream pet) and write a sentence with the pet’s name.

Read Alouds Grades for Grades 6-12

When: I would include a read aloud during language arts time, or at the start of a language arts class. If I’m reading aloud at the beginning of every class period, I dedicate 10 minutes for me reading and 5 minutes for students to respond to the reading. If I’m doing a live lesson for my virtual students, my read alouds last between 45 minutes to an hour about once a week.

What: For daily read alouds, I prefer to use a novel with students. Over the years I’ve used the following texts: City of Ember, The Face on the Milk Carton series, Among the Hidden, Divergent (censoring certain parts), The Hunger Games, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

How: My focus is to have students enjoy the story, so I do pre and after reading activities. My pre-reading consists of either me giving a recap from the previous days’ reading or having a student do it, and a brief “heads up” about the day’s chapter(s). I will also tell students what the after reading question is before I start reading to give them ideas to focus on during the read aloud. After reading activities can look a little different depending on how long my lesson is. One option is to have students respond to the reading question. This question can be answered in Padlet, Poll Everywhere, Google form, etc. In the past, I’ve used Padlet and I usually use one or two student examples or have a student pick their favorite response, one they disagree with, etc. to review the question. For an extended read aloud (45 minute to 1 hour) check out how I utilize chat to generate discussions here .

New Tricks

Since March, I’ve tweaked some of my instructional practices to provide additional support for reading comprehension.

*Discussions include more quote analysis to help with making inferences, drawing conclusions and other higher order thinking skills. Students are also encouraged to use to keep an eye/ear out for quotes that catch their attention.

*Audiobooks have been life savers. As an online teacher I teach English and English-based electives for grades 6-12, which includes A LOT of novels. I can’t read them all to my students, so by providing audio versions (thank you YouTube) my students can get the support they need. Also, during small groups or one-on-one sessions, I will use an audio version depending on the text. No one can read Harry Potter more perfectly than Jim Dale.

*Incorporating more connections for my students has also helped their reading comprehensions. For instance, in Divergent when Tris starts wearing eye liner and black clothing, I share a text to media connection I have with the movie Mulan. Both scenes show the girls stuck between two different identities of themselves and both help students understand the theme of identity.

To check out Rescue click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Resources for Teaching Reading Online

 

As a middle and high school teacher, I was never really given a reading program to use with my students. I loved this flexibility,  but it was time consuming to find the resources I wanted to use with my students.

As many educators are putting together their own collection of online reading resources, I wanted to share my experiences with ones that have helped my readers.  I have used these programs with general education students, special education and honors students.

Raz-kids– This is an awesome online reading program. I love that students have access to their account 24/7 and that parents can see what their student is reading. This site is great for students in grades K-6. I did use this for my readers in 6th grade and some of them were too advanced for the program, so I gave them a supplemental novel to focus on instead. The leveled libraries are filled with a mixture of fiction and nonfiction texts that require students to read each work multiple times by listening to it and reading it independently. The comprehension quizzes focus on specific topics (characterization, plot, cause and effects) so teachers are able to really see the areas of strengths and weaknesses. The system also creates progress reports based on this data, which I’ve actually used in parent conferences.

Teachers do have the ability to conduct running record assessments with the program as well. I have used some of the passages, but have never had students record themselves with the software.

ReadWorks– I found ReadWorks when I first started teaching in 2010 and have used it since. This is one of those rare programs that can be used with grades K-12. The site has SO many filer options for finding the perfect text. Users can search using Lexile levels, grade level, fiction/nonfiction, content type, activity type, etc. I typically use grade or Lexile level and fiction/nonfiction to find the passages I want. Users can listen to an audio version and/or read the text independently before tackling some reading comprehension questions. Being super honest, I wish that the questions were a little more challenging at times, especially for the older grades, but these work really well for my population of students.

While teachers can print the passages and questions, you can also set up online classrooms through the site and electronically assign students assignments. I have used this feature tutoring and it was super easy to navigate and access.

Reading Detective by The Critical Thinking Co.- This is hands down my FAVORITE  resource to use with my kiddos. Each passage is one page and has a page of questions that accompany it. The questions are absolutely incredible by requiring readers to use their higher thinking skills. The questions also constantly ask for textual evidence to support answers, expecting students to look at specific sentences and paragraphs.

I’m currently using the traditional book version, and using my document camera or taking pictures on my phone of passages. However, the company offers e-book, win software and app versions that I will definitely be looking into in the next few weeks to make my life easier.

Vooks– I came across Vooks earlier this year when I saw they were doing free accounts for teachers. This resource is geared towards preschool and elementary aged kiddos, so I don’t use it as much with my students. Each book is read aloud and students watch the book come to life through video. It feels like like a mix between a read aloud and watching a cartoon, which is really cool for readers.

Epic– this is a one of a kind resource. It’s a digital library for grades P-6 that includes popular texts for students to read. It includes works such as Fancy Nancy, Frog and Toad and Ella Enchanted. I would recommend using this program for mini lessons and activities.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.