The Comprehension Toolkit is organized around 6 BOOK books (26 lessons) focused on fundamental comprehension strategies.STRATEGY BOOK 1: MONITOR COMPREHENSION When readers monitor their comprehension, they keep track of their thinking while reading. They listen to the voice in their head that speaks to them as they read. They notice when the text makes sense or when it doesn't. We teach readers to "fix up" their comprehension by using a variety of strategies including stopping to refocus thinking, rereading, reading on, and so on. The comprehension instruction suggested in the Toolkit helps readers to develop strategies to monitor, modify, and expand comprehension, and also maintain and improve their understanding of what they read.
When proficient readers read, they hear a voice in their head speaking to them—a voice that questions, connects, notices new information, laughs, and wonders. We refer to this voice as the inner conversation which reflects the evolving thinking that is critical to reading comprehension. In this lesson, we introduce the idea of the inner conversation and help students understand that those voices are a normal part of reading and shouldn't be ignored.
Listening to the inner conversation enriches comprehension and keeps the reader engaged in the story, the information, the issues, and the ideas. When readers pay attention to their thinking, they are more apt to learn, understand, and remember what they read. The goal is for readers to maintain an active inner conversation with the text when they read independently. Modeling the inner conversation is one way to help readers reach that goal. With practice, readers will better understand, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize when they read by themselves.Lesson 2: Notice When You Lose Your Way: Monitor your inner voice to focus your thinking
Once we model our inner conversation (Lesson 1) and give students time to attend to what the voice in their head is saying during reading, they will be better able to monitor their comprehension of the text. They will also notice when they stray from the inner conversation--that is, when they "space out" during reading and lose concentration. Readers always have an inner conversation, but it isn't always with the text! But as students become more aware of the voice in their heads, they also become aware of when that voice is registering confusion, saying things like "I don't get this part." This lesson teaches students that by paying attention to the dialogue they have with text, they are more likely to recognize when they don't understand something, when comprehension is breaking down. We need to reassure them that even adult proficient readers sometimes lose track of their inner conversation. Thus, we also model what we do when meaning breaks down: we stop, reread, and think about the text to get back on track before moving on. Paying attention to the inner conversation helps readers restore comprehension before the text grows overwhelming.Lesson 3: Read, Write, and Talk: Think your way through the text
Reading is often thought of as a solitary activity but it is really a social act. Readers need frequent opportunities to respond to what they read. Talking about what we read is the best way to enhance comprehension. The goals of the Read, Write, and Talk technique are increased comprehension and expanded understanding. When readers notice their inner conversation, write down a few thoughts, and then discuss what they have read, they comprehend more deeply and expand their thinking, and are also more apt to be transformed by their reading. We can apply this practice to a range of content, including textbook reading. After we model Read, Write, and Talk with accessible text and give students time to practice, they can begin to apply this method in a variety of contexts.STRATEGY BOOK 2: ACTIVATE AND CONNECT The background knowledge we bring to our reading colors every aspect of our learning and understanding. Whether we are questioning, inferring, or synthesizing, our background knowledge is the foundation of our thinking. You simply can't understand what you read without thinking about what you already know. Readers must connect the new to the known. Sometimes, however, our prior knowledge consists of misconceptions that get in the way of new learning. So we have to prepare kids not only to think about what they already know, but also to change their thinking when they encounter new and more accurate information.
When we encounter a compelling photograph or a map filled with fascinating detail, the power of visuals to enhance learning and understanding comes through loud and clear. The purpose of this lesson is to help kids learn to identify different features used in nonfiction writing and think about how they enhance our understanding of the text. When trying to understand a complicated process like photosynthesis or what happens during a lightning strike, one picture can be worth a thousand words. And text features like titles, headings, framed text, and fonts help us navigate information-laden books and articles. But nonfiction texts may have so much information that kids don't know what to pay attention to first. In this lesson, we teach kids to pay careful attention to features and what they can learn from them. Then kids construct their own Feature/Purpose chart and discuss how features inform and extend learning.Lesson 5: Merge Your Thinking with New Learning: Read and think about new information
Noticing and sorting new information is an early, crucial step in the process of assimilating knowledge when reading nonfiction text. Reading comprehension involves much more than answering a list of questions at the end of a section of text or memorizing facts for Friday's quiz. Readers need to merge their own thinking with the information they read to understand, remember, and learn from it. They need to stop frequently and notice the new information they encounter as they read, rather than just reading right on without thinking. We support this process by teaching students to listen to the voice in their heads as they meet new information; their inner conversation is a guide who reminds them that they are learning something new and that they need to stop and think about it. Kids will have less of a struggle picking out important information if we first teach them simply to notice new learning.Lesson 6: Connect the New to the Known: Activate and build background knowledge
Nonfiction reading is reading to learn. Understanding what we read has much to do with what we bring to the page when we start, such as our past experiences and our knowledge of the topic. Connecting what we know to new information helps us to make sense of what we read and gives us deeper insight into the topic. When kids read nonfiction, they need to think about what they already know to better understand new information. However, sometimes kids suffer from an over reliance on background knowledge, which can be particularly problematic if the information is inaccurate. So we support readers to activate their knowledge when they read but then rely on evidence in the text to determine accuracy. As we read new information, we build on our knowledge base, sometimes change our thinking, and even clear up misconceptions.STRATEGY BOOK 3: ASK QUESTIONS Questions are at the heart of teaching and learning. They open the doors to understanding the world. Posing questions allows us to seek out information, solve problems, and extend our understanding. As we try to answer our questions, we discover new information and gain new knowledge. The best questions spark more questions and spur further research and inquiry. When we read nonfiction, our questions abound; they help us to clarify confusion, unfamiliar concepts, and new vocabulary. Questions nudge curious minds to investigate.
Lesson 7: Question the Text: Learn to ask questions as you read
Proficient readers wonder about all sorts of things as they read. They ask questions to learn new information, to clarify confusion, and to understand the text. Would we continue reading something if we had no questions about it and it elicited no wonder? Certain genres prompt more questions than others. Mysteries make us wonder about outcomes. Nonfiction stories fill us with wonder about the real world. This lesson teaches kids that their questions matter. Thinking about their questions helps them understand what they read and pushes them to delve further. We teach students strategies for answering their questions--and we help them recognize that some questions are answered and some are not.Lesson 8: Read to Discover Answers: Ask questions to gain information
Reading with a question in mind is something we do naturally as we engage in real world reading. Questions serve an important purpose—they keep us reading to find answers and extend our learning. The more we learn, the more we wonder. The purpose of this lesson is to model how to read for information, wonder about it, and then read on to see if we can find the answers to some of our questions. Students need to learn to question and think critically about what they read, so it makes sense to support them to ask thoughtful questions and then read with their questions in mind.Lesson 9: Ask Questions to Expand Thinking: Wonder about the text to understand big ideas
eading picture books on serious topics aloud makes substantive issues and ideas accessible to young children. Children brim with questions as they listen to the dramatic events and grapple with thought-provoking information and ideas in thought-provoking picture books. When children encounter new information and ideas that engage their interest, they try to make sense of new information and unfamiliar ideas. This lesson is structured around and surrounds an interactive read-aloud that encourages kids to share their questions and discuss ideas and concepts that the book doesn't fully explain. Their thoughts are recorded on an anchor chart for all to see. Children's searching questions allow them to grapple with issues of prejudice, fairness, and justice, even if there are no simple answers.STRATEGY BOOK 4: INFER MEANING Inferring is the bedrock of understanding. Inferring involves drawing a conclusion or making an interpretation about information that is not explicitly stated in the text. Typically, skillful writers do not spill information onto the page haphazardly or all at once. They leak the information slowly, one idea at a time, inviting the reader to make reasonable inferences. Inferential thinking allows readers to make predictions, surface themes, and draw conclusions. When reading nonfiction, readers may have to crack open language word by word to get at the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts. Often answers to questions must be inferred.
Lesson 10: Infer the Meaning of Unfamiliar Words: Use context clues to unpack vocabulary
Inferring is at the heart of reading. Writers present information gradually, leaving clues along the way to keep the reader engaged in the act of constructing meaning. Inferring involves taking what we know, our background knowledge and merging it with clues in the text to come up with an idea that isnít explicitly written in the text. Readers draw conclusions from merging their thinking with text information. We teach readers a literacy equation, BK (Background Knowledge) + TC (Text Clues) = I (An Inference). Readers infer to answer questions. They infer to predict outcomes. They infer to surface underlying themes. And they infer to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words. In this lesson, we teach kids to use the context to infer the meaning of unknown vocabulary.Lesson 11: Infer With Text Clues: Draw conclusions from text evidence
Writers leave clues along the way to keep the reader engaged in the act of constructing meaning. But problems arise when young readers lack sufficient background knowledge to make a reasonable inference. Sometimes they may suffer from an over reliance on limited background knowledge, which interferes with their ability to infer. Readers merge their background knowledge with clues in the text to draw a conclusion. Inferring must be tied to information from the text. Teaching developing readers to tie their inferences to text evidence is crucial if they are to build on what they already know and learn from their reading.Lesson 12: Tackle the Meaning of Language: Infer beyond
Too often we view nonfiction as the genre for reading and learning about "just the facts." But nonfiction takes many forms, and we need to teach kids that we often infer as we read nonfiction, expanding on the ideas and information presented to better understand them. And sometimes we read nonfiction to breathe some fresh air into a timeworn topic, or see the familiar in a new light. When we read nonfiction poetry, the reader interprets but also shapes the poet's meaning.
In previous lessons we've demonstrated how readers draw inferences to make sense of text clues (Lesson 11). In this lesson, we read to infer the underlying meaning of words, phrases, and sentences in poems about space, paying careful attention to the language of poetry and gaining new insight along the way. Nonfiction poetry offers kids opportunities to infer and think beyond the words on the page, and helps them practice a strategy they can apply to a variety of nonfiction texts.Lesson 13: Crack Open Features: Infer the meaning of subheads and titles
Subheads—one of those nonfiction features that we learned about in Lesson 4-are among the most supportive nonfiction features, giving readers a head's up about what is to come. If the reader lacks the background knowledge to infer the meaning of the less straightforward subheads, they can get stuck. We need to teach readers to be on the lookout for subheads, both straightforward and inferential. But we run the risk of misleading students about the purpose of subheads if we don't also teach them to think inferentially when they meet clever subheads.Lesson 14: Read With a Question in Mind: Infer to answer your questions
Often textbooks and worksheets ask students to answer a series of questions when they finish reading. But the questions that truly engage readers are the authentic questions they come up with themselves. When students have a question in mind that they really want answered, they will engage and read to answer it. So if we encourage kids to read and ask a lot of questions, and teach them that their questions matter, we need also to take the time to support them in getting answers.
To answer their questions, students need to sift through the information, determining what parts of the text are relevant. Or they may need to "read between the lines"—infer—to pursue answers to their questions. If and when they locate relevant information, the test of their understanding is to paraphrase it, putting their answers into their own words to demonstrate understanding.Lesson 15: Wrap Your Mind Around the Big Ideas: Use text evidence to infer themes
Writers do not list the themes of a story; active readers must infer them. The themes are the underlying ideas, issues, and lessons that give the story its texture, depth, and meaning. We generate themes from characters, historic events, and time periods. To surface themes, readers need to merge their background knowledge with text evidence to draw a reasonable inference about the bigger ideas in the story. Students sometimes confuse theme and plot. The plot is what happens in the story, while the theme represents the larger ideas. When we uncover and surface themes, we engage more completely with the text. Themes are what make us feel something in our gut. When we respond with anger, joy, fear, or guilt, we are likely reacting to the themes in the story. We teach readers to carefully consider the evidence in the text to infer a theme, and we remind them that every story has many themes, not just one main idea. As kids learn to make inferences, they leave that one-and-only-one mentality behind and grapple with multiple issues, ideas, and information in a far more thoughtful way.STRATEGY BOOK 5: DETERMINE IMPORTANCE What we determine to be important in a text depends on our purpose for reading it. When we read nonfiction, we are reading to learn and remember information. We can't possibly remember every isolated fact, nor should we. We need to focus on important information and merge it with what we already know to expand our understanding of a topic. We sort and sift rich details to answer questions and determine the main ideas of the text. We identify details that support larger concepts. In this way, we teach kids to use information to develop a line of thinking.
Lesson 16: Spotlight New Thinking: Learn to use a Fact/Question/Response chart
For years teachers have been asking students to take notes on the important information - to write down the facts. Typically they remember the facts just long enough for Friday's quiz, and then promptly forget them. We don't understand or remember isolated facts over time, unless we combine it with our own thinking. The Fact/Question/Response (FQR) chart allows readers to notice the information as they read and to write it down. But it goes beyond traditional note-taking practices and the mere recording of facts by providing space for the reader to jot down questions and responses as well. When readers think about information as they read—connecting to it, wondering about it, and inferring from it—they are much more likely to process, understand, and remember it over time. Kids can use the FQR chart again and again over the course of the year when reading nonfiction.Lesson 17: Record Important Ideas: Create an FQR with historical fiction
Thoughtful, well-researched historical fiction can be an invaluable resource for building students' background knowledge. But to make sure kids learn more than just the facts, we teach them to expand their thinking by asking questions and responding to the information and ideas they encounter. The FQR chart allows kids to use the information they are learning as a springboard for delving into the larger questions and themes that emerge from historical narratives. When using the FQR with historical fiction, we have to sort out what actually happened (the "historical" part) from events that are invented (the "fiction" part).Lesson 18: Target Key Information: Code the text to hold thinking
History textbooks are famous for immersing kids in a sea of facts and details. We need to teach them strategies to help them navigate dense text. When students read to learn in a science or history textbook, they also need to carry on an inner conversation with the text and think about what they are learning. This lesson helps students extract information from text that, while well written, is packed with information, and in which every fact can seem important. We teach students to code the text by leaving tracks of their thinking in the margins, accessing their background knowledge, noting significant facts, and responding to the text, all of which deepen their engagement with what they read. Once students are actively thinking about and interacting with the text as they read, the next step (see Lesson 19) is to sort important ideas from interesting details so as to better understand and remember information.Lesson 19: Determine What to Remember: Separate interesting details from important ideas
Once students read through the beginning part of the chapter under discussion, gaining background knowledge and merging their thinking with the information as they code the text, students are ready to try to make a distinction between important information and interesting details. The emphasis in this lesson is sorting and sifting information through note-taking and paraphrasing information to remember it better.Lesson 20: Distinguish Your Thinking From the Author's: Contrast what you think with the author's perspective
Fascinating details often sweep kids away from important understandings when they read authentic trade nonfiction. We have dedicated several lessons in this course of study to helping readers separate interesting details from important information. One of the reasons developing readers struggle with determining importance is that they sometimes have trouble sorting what they think is important from what the writer seems to think is most important, which often differ. When we honor kids' thinking by asking them to share what they think is most important first, and then having them reflect on what the writer seems to think is the most important information, they have far less trouble determining what is important from the writer's perspective. Sometimes they agree right from the start.Lesson 21: Construct Main Ideas from Supporting Details: Create a Topic/Detail/Response chart
Creating a Topic/Detail/Response (TDR) chart is a terrific way for kids to sort out the important information from the supporting details in content-area reading, both in trade nonfiction and textbook nonfiction. Kids need opportunities to use this form across all curricular areas. It can be extremely helpful for organizing thinking when reading content-oriented material. The Topic/Detail/Response form helps readers see how the details come together to develop a larger idea or topic. The third column of the TDR, the response column, provides a place for readers to record their own thinking. When readers have a place to record their own thinking, they are more likely to maintain engagement, leading to better understanding.STRATEGY BOOK 6: SUMMARIZE AND SYNTHESIZE Synthesizing information nudges readers to see the bigger picture as they read. It's not enough for readers to simply recall or restate the facts. Thoughtful readers integrate the new information with their existing knowledge to come to a more complete understanding of the text. As readers encounter new information, their thinking evolves. They merge the new information with what they already know and construct meaning as they go. As they distill nonfiction text into a few important ideas, they may develop a new perspective or an original insight.
Lesson 22: Read, Think, and React: Paraphrase and respond to information
Too often, students' notes are filled with facts lifted directly from the text, with little evidence that they've thought about the information. If kids think through information, put it into their own words, and react and respond to it, they are much more likely to remember it. To help kids think about what they read, we steer them away from parroting words directly from the text and teach them to think through the information and paraphrase it themselves in their notes. But kids also need to monitor their thinking as they work through the text, so we encourage them to leave "tracks" by jotting down their confusions, responses, and questions. The note-taking form introduced here includes one column for sorting, sifting, and paraphrasing information, and another for monitoring and merging their thinking with the information.Lesson 23: Think Beyond the Text: Move from facts to ideas
Once readers notice their new learning, monitor their inner conversation, and respond to their reading with thoughtful questions and inferences, it makes sense to ask them to extend and expand their thinking about what they read. It's not enough to simply learn and remember information; we have to really think about it. And thinking about information means moving from a focus on the facts and details in a text to the bigger ideas implicit in or suggested by a piece. But we have to explicitly teach kids how to do this, showing them how good readers expand their thinking about facts and details to consider the larger ideas and issues prompted by the text.Lesson 24: Read to Get the Gist: Synthesize your thinking as you go
In the information age, we frequently end up on overload, unable to remember much of the information we meet because we simply can't process it all. Now more than ever, readers need to be able to synthesize the information, reducing it to a manageable amount by pulling out the important ideas. We understand, remember, and process these ideas by merging our thinking with the information. We put the ideas and information into our own words to get the gist of the text and then add our thoughts to enhance understanding. In this lesson, we model for kids how we read for the gist, and then respond to the information with our questions, connections, and inferences. When we spend time paring down the information and then thinking about it and responding to it, we are more likely learn, understand, and remember it.Lesson 25: Reread and Rethink: Rethink misconceptions and tie opinions to the text
We ask students to leave tracks of their thinking to help them (and us!) monitor their understanding. As we observe and listen to students' questions, responses, and opinions, we assess their understanding of what they read. But sometimes we read kids' responses and realize that understanding has eluded them. When we notice misconceptions and misunderstandings, we guide them to reread the text, and take another look at their opinions and responses. This lesson illustrates how we support children to reread an article to reexamine the information they gleaned from it and, perhaps, revise their conclusions and opinions. We teach kids strategies for revisiting and discussing information, to make sure their opinions are based on solid evidence from the text. Then we discuss ways to monitor thinking and use evidence from the text to support an informed opinion.Lesson 26: Read, Write, and Reflect: Create a summary response to extend thinking
Throughout this course of study, we have asked readers to merge their thinking with the content to help them understand and process the information, using such tools as Post-its, charts, two- and three-column forms, and so on. When summarizing and synthesizing information in writing, we also ask our kids to focus on their thinking as well as the content. We teach them to reflect on the content, the process and the genre when they respond in writing. Just as it is not enough to merely memorize the facts, it is not enough to merely summarize the content when responding in writing. We encourage our students to write one- or two-page responses that include their thinking rather than simply reporting out the information by rearranging the words to summarize the content. We call these Summary Responses. We ask our kids to be aware of the strategies they use to understand what they read and note those in their responses. We teach them to notice the characteristics of the genre and reflect in writing on how that knowledge helps them better understand what they read. And we encourage them to notice the author's craft and evaluate that as well. When our kids reflect on their own thinking about a text as well as its content, their understanding, learning, and remembering are enhanced.