The Primary Comprehension Toolkit is organized around 6 strategy books (22 lessons) focused on fundamental comprehension strategies.STRATEGY BOOK 1: MONITOR COMPREHENSION
When readers monitor their comprehension, they keep track of their thinking as they read, listen, and view. They notice when the text makes sense or when it doesn't. Primary grade kids are always thinking about what they hear, see, and (if they can) read. They are noticing, wondering, making connections, and making judgments all the time. Readers, however, need to go beyond retelling and merge their thinking with the text to come up with big ideas and underlying themes. We focus on teaching young readers not just to retell, but to think about the words, the pictures, the features, and the ideas that spring from the text.
Above all, monitoring comprehension is about engagement. Young learners are more likely to stray from meaning when they are not interested in the content, find the concepts too hard, or don't have sufficient background knowledge to understand it. They stay on track when they talk, draw, and write about their thinking, interacting with the text and with each other to gain understanding.
Lesson 1: Think about the Text: Look, listen, talk, write, and draw to express thinking
Primary kids are already having inner conversations about what they hear, see, and (if they can) read. They are noticing, wondering, making connections, and judgments all the time.As reading teachers, we want kids to have direct access to all that thinking, to help them become aware of the inner dialogue that all proficient thinkers engage in when they view, listen, or read. With such awareness, kids can steer their thinking and enter texts, whether viewing, listening, or reading, and expect to interact with the pictures, the words, and the author.For this lesson, we use an interactive read-aloud: we model our own thinking and then read several pages, stopping and encouraging the kids to respond by turning and talking with a classmate, and then jotting and drawing what the story make them think about.Lesson 2: Notice and Think about Nonfiction Features: Construct a Feature/Purpose chart
When readers read nonfiction, they gain information from the visual and text features as well as from the words themselves. Nonfiction is chock-full of visuals, such as photographs, illustrations, diagrams, graphs, and charts. And it is also packed with text features, such as bold print, italics, captions, titles, headings, subheads, and more. These visual and text features make nonfiction more accessible for our younger readers, since they can get tons of information without having to read the words. By explicitly teaching the features of nonfiction and their purposes, we help kids gain a more complete understanding of the information in the text.
Lesson 3: Explore Nonfiction Features: Create Nonfiction Feature books
As early readers, many of us were not encouraged to pay attention to visual and text features when we read nonfiction. We were "text bound," ignoring subheads, titles, and visual features, focusing solely on the text. But, to get the most out of nonfiction reading, students need to pay close attention to the visual and text features. So, when reading and exploring informational text with students, we spend quite a bit of time teaching the features and their purposes. One way to nudge kids to focus on the features is to have them create their own books about nonfiction features. Kids pore over nonfiction texts, searching for and discovering numerous visual and text features to include in their very own Nonfiction Feature books. This immersion in nonfiction features supports them to attend to and use the features to better understand what they see, hear, and read.STRATEGY BOOK 2: ACTIVATE & CONNECT
David Pearson reminds us that "today's new knowledge is tomorrow's background knowledge." The background knowledge we bring to our learning colors every aspect of our understanding. Whether we are connecting, questioning, or inferring, our background knowledge is the foundation of our thinking. We simply can't understand what we hear, read, or view without thinking about what we already know. To comprehend, learners must connect the new to the known. So we consider every conceivable way to build our kids' background knowledge to prepare them to learn new information.
We begin by encouraging young learners to think about what they already know and care about and explore those topics. As they go on to read widely in nonfiction, they are bombarded with new information. To understand, they need to merge their thinking with new information, stopping and reacting as they go. They need to make connections to what they already know. In that way, they can make sense of their new learning and begin to integrate it into their ongoing understanding to build a store of knowledge.
Lesson 4: Discover Your Passion: Become a specialist
Kids, even very young ones, arrive in our classrooms with a wealth of information. It is our job to mine it. Nonfiction reading is "reading to learn," and nonfiction writing is "writing to inform, to teach." To help kids understand that they bring a good deal of valuable background knowledge to school with them, we explain that all of us know a lot about something, are passionate about something, and are all specialists in one thing or another—dinosaurs, puppies, or soccer, for example.
We explain that specialists know a lot about one thing, care about it, and often want to share what they know with others. In this lesson, we model what it is to be a specialist and show kids how to create a list of specialist topics, with an eye toward writing about a specialty.
Lesson 5: Think about What You Know: Write teaching books
Nonfiction texts, with their myriad visual and text features, are a wonderful model for writing teaching books. Teaching books focus on topics that kids know and care a lot about. We want kids to understand that nonfiction writing is about writing to inform, to teach. We show them how to write teaching books as their first foray into nonfiction writing, which gives them an opportunity to share their specialty. After modeling how to write a teaching book, we ask kids to create nonfiction teaching books with text, illustrations, and features.
They choose a topic from their list of specialties and write directly from their background knowledge. Kids use their Nonfiction Feature books (created in Lesson 3) to support them as they create a range of text and visual features in their teaching books.
Lesson 6: Make Connections: Use personal experience to construct meaning
The background knowledge we bring to our reading colors every aspect of our comprehension. We simply can't make sense of what we read, listen to, or view without thinking about what we already know. As we encounter information, we connect it to our own personal experience and our inner voice resonates with phrases such as It reminds me of.… So we teach even very young readers to notice and make personal connections while they read. One way that readers merge their thinking with the text is by connecting to it. But making connections for the sake of it is not the point. As kids actively notice personal connections, their prior experiences can open wonderful windows into understanding.
Lesson 7: Merge Thinking with New Learning: Stop, think, and react to information
When we stop, think about, and react to information, we learn, understand, and remember it. Noticing and thinking about new learning is one of the most important nonfiction literacy strategies that we can teach our kids. One of the reasons nonfiction readers have trouble picking out important information is that they haven't been explicitly taught to think about it. Kids can learn to merge their thinking with the information they read by having an inner conversation. When they hear the voice in their head say phrases such as "I never knew," "Wow!," and "Hmmm, that's interesting," it is a sign that they are learning something new. These phrases signal kids to stop and process the information before moving on.STRATEGY BOOK 3: ASK QUESTIONS
Curiosity is at the heart of teaching and learning. Young kids burst through the door bubbling over with questions. Why is the sky blue? Where does the sun go at night? What happened to the cowboys? Questions spur curious minds to investigate. Questions open the doors to understanding the world. We have to mine them with a pickaxe! As young readers read nonfiction and meet new information, they brim with questions. As they try to answer their questions, they discover new information and gain knowledge. Questions spark further research and inquiry. Instead of demanding answers all the time, we need to teach kids to ask thoughtful and insightful questions. If we hope to develop critical thinkers, we must teach our kids to think about and question what they listen to, read, and view. Asking questions enriches the learning experience and leads to deeper understanding. Questioning is the strategy that propels learners on.
Background knowledge is the primary determinant of comprehension. Nonfiction reading in particular requires readers to think about what they know in order to understand new information. So we encourage kids to ask questions about new information to make sure they understand it. In this lesson, kids use a thinksheet titled I Learned/I Wonder to support understanding as they meet new information while reading. Sometimes young children have limited or inaccurate background knowledge and develop misconceptions. In this lesson, we create a class Anchor Chart titled What We Think We Know/What We Learned before we read about the new topic. Then after reading, we go back and notice whether what we thought we knew was accurate and we celebrate how reading changes thinking and clears up prior misconceptions.
Lesson 9: Wonder about New Information: Ask questions when you read, listen, and view
Wondering comes naturally to children. Primary kids enter our rooms bursting with questions—Why is the moon out in daytime? Why do dogs bark? Questioning is the strategy that propels learners ahead and keeps them coming back for more. Active learners wonder about all sorts of things as they learn. They ask questions to learn new information, to clarify confusion, and to better understand what they view, hear, and read. From the day kids set foot in our classrooms, we nurture their wonder by sharing our own questions as we go. We celebrate kids' curiosity, so they understand right from the get-go that nothing is more important than their questions. We teach them that wondering is at the heart of learning and that all of their questions have value. Learning flourishes when kids believe their questions matter.
Lesson 10: Use Questions as Tools for Learning: Understand why some questions are answered and some are not
Once kids learn that asking questions is what good readers do, there's no stopping them! When we are reading to learn, sometimes our questions are answered and sometimes they are not. When readers stop for a moment to ask a question, we teach them to keep their question in mind and continue reading. As they read on, they often encounter additional information that answers their question. Reading and viewing the pictures and words in the text often provide the information kids are looking for. But when questions are not answered, kids need strategies for going beyond the text to find answers. We teach kids that talking with someone and sharing information is another way to find answers to questions. But most importantly, kids learn that it's a fact of life that not all questions are easily answered or fully resolved.
Lesson 11: Read with a Question in Mind: Find answers to expand thinking
As young kids explore the wide world through nonfiction, questions become tools for research and investigation. Questions provide a window into kids' thinking—letting us peek into their developing understanding of new information. As in previous lessons, questions spark curiosity and interest, but in this lesson we build upon kids' propensity for asking questions to extend thinking and foster understanding. Kids learn practical ways to navigate informational texts, using the table of contents, key words, and other visual and text features to locate information that answers their questions.STRATEGY BOOK 4: INFER & VISUALIZE
Inferring is the bedrock of understanding. Writers don't always spill information onto the page; often they leak it slowly, leaving clues along the way to keep the reader engaged in the act of constructing meaning. Inferring involves taking what you know, your background knowledge, and merging it with clues in the text to come up with some information that isn't explicitly stated there. Inferential thinking helps readers figure out unfamiliar words, draw conclusions, make interpretations, make predictions, surface big ideas, and even create mental images.
Visualizing is sort of a first cousin to inferring. When readers visualize, they construct meaning by creating mental images—seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and even smelling! Younger children seem particularly inclined to visualize in support of understanding as they listen to and read stories, often living through or living in the stories. When young children infer and visualize as they listen, read, and view, they respond with joy, surprise, or even dread. Inferring and visualizing allow learners to expand their thinking and get at the deeper meaning in text.
Lesson 12: Infer Meaning: Merge background knowledge with clues from the text
Inferring is at the heart of reading and thinking. Writers don't always spill information onto the page; often they leak it slowly, leaving clues along the way to keep the reader engaged in the act of constructing meaning. Inferring involves merging what you know, your background knowledge, with clues in the text to come up with information that isn't explicitly stated. Poetry is a great genre to launch a lesson about inferring. When we read or hear poetry, we understand more completely by thinking inferentially.
Lesson 13: Learn to Visualize: Get a picture in your mindVisualizing is sort of a first cousin to inferring. When we visualize, we are really inferring with a picture in our minds. When readers visualize, they construct meaning by creating sensory images, not only picturing the words but also hearing, smelling, and tasting them. Younger children are particularly inclined to visualize as they listen to and read stories, often living through or living in the stories. Poetry is an ideal genre to introduce visualizing as well as inferring. We gain a deeper understanding of poetry when we create sensory images as we read. And we enjoy our reading and listening more fully when we visualize in this way.
Often kids do not realize that they naturally use their experiences and background knowledge to infer information from pictures and text. This lesson shows them how to combine what they already know with information from images, words, and features to better understand the material. When kids understand the power of their own thinking as they make sense of information, their enthusiasm for learning soars. We encourage kids to share inferences and mind pictures by drawing and writing what they are visualizing and inferring. In this lesson we build on the vocabulary of visualizing and inferring, encouraging kids to use language such as "I think," "Maybe," "I visualize," and "I infer." We illustrate inferring with a picture equation that makes the process as concrete as possible for kids.
Lesson 15: Infer and Visualize with Narrative Nonfiction: Tie thinking to the text
This lesson encourages kids to use inferring and visualizing to make sense of information, the narrative thread of the story, and unfamiliar vocabulary. The lesson is conducted as a read-aloud with guided discussion that elicits inferential thinking as kids listen to the text. As they talk about their inferences, mind pictures, and predictions, we scribe kids' thoughts on the I Learned/I Inferred Anchor Chart to record their evolving thinking. As kids anticipate and predict what may happen as the story unfolds, we discuss inferring as "thinking ahead" to try to figure out what's going to happen. Children also infer answers to questions that arise during reading and discuss lingering questions that remain even after finishing the story.STRATEGY BOOK 5: DETERMINE IMPORTANCE
When we read nonfiction, we are reading to learn and remember information. Kids know how to merge their thinking with the information, and now it's time for them to figure out what makes sense to remember. We can't possibly remember every fact or piece of information, nor should we. We teach kids to tell the difference between interesting details and more important information and ideas. When kids learn to put information into their own words, they are well on their way to understanding the information and shaping it into their own thought. Kids also learn to distinguish between facts, questions, and reactions so they can sort and sift information to better organize it. They use note-taking scaffolds to hold their thinking as they prepare to share it with others.
Lesson 16: Figure Out What's Important: Separate important information from interesting details
We begin helping young learners to distinguish important information from less important details in the primary grades. Nonfiction is packed with information. Some of that information coalesces around a "big idea." Some of that information reveals interesting details unrelated to the bigger, more important ideas. These details, however, often capture readers by providing interesting, even quirky, information about the subject or topic at hand. Quality nonfiction brims with fascinating, yet not always salient, information. We want kids to grow up to be readers who can sift the important ideas from the interesting details but also relish that quirky information. In this lesson, we teach ways to discover the most important information so that kids can add to their knowledge base.
Lesson 17: Paraphrase Information: Merge your thinking to make meaning
Young kids love to talk about and respond to what they are learning. This lesson teaches kids to paraphrase so they can accurately remember the important knowledge they gain. It builds on earlier lessons by asking kids to put information into their own words after they have stopped to think about it. Kids say the information to themselves in a way that makes sense. They turn and talk with someone else, emphasizing what they think is important. Once kids have put the information in their own words, we ask them to react, respond, and merge their thinking with the information. When kids shape their learning into a new thought, they are much more likely to understand and remember it.
Lesson 18: Organize Your Thinking as You Read: Take notes to record information
Young children revel in facts and details about things that interest them. They naturally respond, exclaiming "Amazing!," "I never knew that!," or "Cool!". We want them to remember what they have learned and here we teach kids a process for taking notes that involves more than "just the facts." We teach kids to record, sort, and organize their newfound information. Sometimes a question follows hot on the heels of new learning or kids react to startling information. We show kids how facts, questions, and responses are related using the I Learned/I Wonder/Wow! chart and Thinksheet. This note-taking scaffold provides a format for kids to write, draw, and collect new knowledge. Their notes and thinksheets provide a record of their evolving thinking.STRATEGY BOOK 6: SUMMARIZE & SYNTHESIZE
Synthesizing information nudges readers to see the bigger picture, pull together their thinking, and organize their learning to share it with others. It's not enough for readers to simply recall or restate the facts—they use a variety of comprehension strategies including asking questions, inferring, and determining what's important to understand big ideas. We begin by simply asking young readers to stop and collect their thoughts before reading on. We give kids time, materials, and support to use comprehension strategies as tools for investigating curriculum-related and self-selected topics. Children summarize and synthesize their thinking through creating poems, posters, books, and other projects that demonstrate their learning and understanding.
In this Strategy Book, we demonstrate how we use comprehension strategies to teach content and do research. Here kids apply reading and thinking strategies to delve deeply into a social studies/science topic. Once kids understand how to learn new information, ask questions, and make connections and inferences, as well as interact with each other and work collaboratively, they are ready to use strategies as tools for learning. In this group of lessons, kids build their knowledge about and research the rain forest. However, these lessons on the research process work with any topic, either a curriculum-related one or topics kids choose to investigate on their own.
Lesson 19: Summarize Information: Put it in your own words and keep it interesting
Summaries run the gamut—they can be oral, written, or drawn! In this lesson, we teach kids who already have information and notes on a topic to transform them into a summary. Depending on children's reading and writing development, summaries can look very different. An emergent reader and writer may draw a picture and jot down a sentence or two. A more developed reader may summarize learning in a complete paragraph. During the lesson we first create a summary of the TFK "Welcome to the Rain Forest" poster based on information kids share orally. Then we convene a small group to sort and organize notes that kids have written previously. They organize their Post-its to put their ideas in order and create a summary paragraph. Whatever form a summary takes, we make sure kids' enthusiasm and authentic voices don't get lost as they write up what they've learned.
Lesson 20: Read to Get the Big Ideas: Synthesize the text
As kids build knowledge about a topic, they synthesize the information to understand important ideas and issues. Inferring, visualizing, and questioning are strategies that support synthesizing, and kids use all of these strategies to move beyond factual knowledge about a topic. With fiction, kids often "put themselves in" the story, and this spurs their imaginations about the topic. Narratives, such as The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest, add to what kids have already learned from nonfiction so that they construct their own understanding of important ideas. When kids become well informed about a particular subject—grasping big ideas and synthesizing information—they not only learn more, but begin to care more about the topic.
Lesson 21: Explore and Investigate: Read, write, and draw in researcher's workshop
Comprehension strategies are tools kids use over and over again as they do research as part of a classroom unit of study. Our definition of research is broad: notice and pursue new learning, ask and answer questions, summarize information, and put all new learning together through drawing and writing. The classroom is transformed into a researcher's workshop, where kids read, write, talk, draw, and investigate over several days. We first review strategies for learning from nonfiction. When kids are ready to synthesize their learning, we show them how to create a poster-where they collect their Post-its and notes as well as illustrate and write what they have learned. Most of the teaching takes place during conferences so we can respond to kids' individual learning needs and interests while they research and create posters during researcher's workshop.
Lesson 22: Share Your Learning: Create projects to demonstrate understanding
Teaching others what they have learned provides kids with an authentic purpose for "putting it all together," or synthesizing their learning. Once kids summarize and synthesize their information, they enthusiastically share this new knowledge with peers and teachers alike. Researcher's workshop provides kids with time to draw and write posters, poems, books, and other projects. When kids realize they can choose how to synthesize and share their learning, the sky's the limit! In this lesson, we review how to make a poster and model how to write nonfiction poems and books. We also teach kids ways to respond to each other's work during sharing time. Kids respond orally and in writing, offering comments, asking questions, and building on each other's thinking. In this way, the classroom becomes a community where everyone is both a teacher and a learner.