By Dawn Burnette
Whether your child is in first grade or twelfth grade, reading above grade level or just starting to sound out words, direct and intentional instruction in reading comprehension should be a regular part of each day.
Reading comprehension is one of the most important skills we teach our children. It’s a skill that impacts every subject area from language arts to math to electives. We can’t learn new material without being able to understand what we read.
Beyond academics, we need comprehension skills in our daily lives, whether we’re reading instructions, news articles, or emails. And above all, our Creator has given us Scripture to read! If we aren’t able to comprehend His Word, we miss out on what He wants us to know!
If your child is reading above grade level, you may not think you need to focus on comprehension. Surprisingly, advanced readers often need even more direction in this area. While they may devour works of fiction and even remember plenty of details, many have trouble slowing down long enough to truly pay attention to and analyze texts. And even students who love fiction can struggle with nonfiction and with those “boring” passages on tests like the ACT and SAT.
If you have an emergent reader in your home, you may be focusing primarily on reading fluency and feel that your child isn’t yet ready to tackle comprehension skills. Working on fluency and comprehension together, however, is mutually beneficial as one reinforces the other.
What can we do to help all of our readers analyze and understand both literary and informational texts? My favorite approach is simple—yet systematic—and effective for all ages and all reading levels. I recommend working regularly with short passages and having students read each passage for five consecutive days, focusing on different skills each day. With each repeated reading, emergent readers engage with and review new vocabulary while stronger readers dig in and examine the text more closely.
To implement this process, choose short passages—a paragraph for younger students, two or three paragraphs at the most for older ones. If the selections are too long, advanced readers may rush through them while struggling readers may feel overwhelmed. Short passages, however, allow all readers to hone their skills without getting bogged down. Then once students have mastered the skills, they can tackle longer passages with ease and confidence.
Select passages that represent a variety of writing genres including newspaper articles, letters, Scripture, persuasive essays, and even technical writing. Include fiction but also selections about social studies, science, and other academic subjects. Avoid the temptation to select only topics your children enjoy. Learning to analyze all types of texts will help them to become lifelong learners.
As your children reread the selection each day of the week, focus on different skills. With the first reading, for example, children can identify subject, reader’s and author’s purpose, and genre. Older students can also identify tone or mood.
If your children aren’t yet fluent readers, read the passage out loud on the first day, and ask them to highlight words they already know. On the second and third day, try reading it together. By the fifth reading, encourage children to read the selection on their own if they are able.
With the second reading, ask children to engage in word study and other vocabulary tasks. Your focus for this day might also include idioms, connotations, and euphemisms if your readers are ready for those skills.
Invite students to make inferences with the third reading and to find evidence in the passage supporting their answers to content-related questions. They could also answer questions about literary devices, point of view, and rhetorical techniques.
Consider using the fourth reading to identify the main idea or to create graphic organizers. Many passages lend themselves to specific organizers like Venn diagrams, character webs, timelines, or even drawings.
Finally, have students summarize the selection with the fifth reading. Though summarizing a story or article is sometimes difficult, students can easily learn to write summaries by using the “key word” method. This method involves picking out five or six important words in the selection (usually nouns or verbs) and then writing three to four sentences using those key words. This process teaches students to look for the overall idea of the selection and then to be concise in their summaries.
Each day’s activities should take just five to fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, students should still read full length works of all types so they can naturally begin to apply the comprehension skills they are learning in their daily practice.
If you complete this process each week with a different reading selection, struggling readers will gain the skills needed to become confident readers, and all readers will be more prepared for reading across the curriculum, for standardized testing, and for life beyond the schoolhouse.
Dawn Burnette and her husband Rod have been homeschooling their children for twelve years. As a curriculum developer for DGP Publishing, Inc.,, Dawn is co-author of the Daily Reading Practice series. One of Cathy Duffy’s “102 Top Picks,” Daily Reading Practice provides students in grades 1-10 with a short reading selection for each week and different comprehension tasks for each day. Dawn is also the author of Daily Grammar Practice and other innovative language arts materials. Soli Deo Gloria.
Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.