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Teach strategies that can help readers to construct meaning.


COMPREHENSION
Reading comprehension is grasping and interpreting text meaning. While reading entails a hierarchy of skills, comprehension is the ultimate objective. Readers do not understand text if they cannot read words fluently. The cognitive capacity of humans is limited. If students must allocate excessive thought to word analysis, little is left for comprehension. Thus, the first step toward developing comprehension skills is to teach students to decode well. Additionally, fluency and comprehension are improved when students have extensive vocabularies or if they receive direct vocabulary instruction for the words in the selection prior to reading.

Research in cognitive science shows that meaning is not inherent in text, but is constructed by readers. In order to comprehend, two equally important competencies are needed. First, readers must be able to decode the words. Next, the readers must comprehend the spoken language that the words represent, forming interpretations and inferences. Skilled readers take meaning analysis to an even higher level with metacognition, or the thinking about and controlling of the reading process.

Due to the role of reader cognition in comprehension, linking new information to prior knowledge and experiences of students is vital. Yet, despite the abundant comprehension research findings that have been amassed in the past 25 years, little has changed in how comprehension is approached in most classrooms. Studies document that instruction is generally text driven, with teachers posing fact-check questions to students after selections are read. Also, textbooks are often poorly written, further setting students up for failure.

All students, even those with solid reading skills, benefit from being taught tactics for improving comprehension. Cognitive strategy instruction prepares students for reading; activates existing concepts; and helps them to predict, organize, and set goals for reading. Whenever possible, establish relevance to increase student interest.

Teachers who explain and model the processes involved in comprehension are vital if these skills are to be imparted. For this reason, teachers, as well as students, need to be taught text-comprehension strategies. Instructional programs that teach reading as thinking take time to develop. Staff members often have to adjust beliefs and refine new practices. Staff development should provide practical assistance and mentoring, and the school environment must support experimentation.

In this era of the World Wide Web and other data sources, there is growing concern that elementary reading curriculum has been and remains too focused on narrative text. From early ages, students would benefit from greater exposure to expository text. With training, students can begin to judge the value of the information that they are being bombarded with.

Students today are far more aware of global information due to instant communication and abundant media sources. As a result of this widespread exposure to varied viewpoints, cultural theorists are promoting awareness that any text might have a variety of valid interpretations due to inherent cultural differences of readers. These changing demands dictate that comprehension strategies be taught early, thoroughly, and continually.

Literal Comprehension
At the most elemental level, reading involves a literal interpretation of an author's words. Since readers construct meaning using their prior knowledge, even literal comprehension varies from one reader to another. Still, students must have a strong foundation in these fundamental comprehension skills before they can shift focus to critical reading. For this reason, it is valuable to incorporate materials into instructional programs that build the following skills while affording students with reading opportunities.

CONTEXT – Readers use context to predict word meaning or select missing words. The context may actually define words, relate words to prior knowledge, or provide information to build concepts.
FACTS – As people read, they must attend to factual details. Exercises that check whether students acquire the key information from a selection are worthwhile. Text discussions, however, are often too focused on facts. Questions should also target inference and analysis, which are higher-level comprehension skills.
MAIN IDEA – It is important for readers to be able to identify the main idea of each paragraph since this enables them to find supporting details. These abilities lead to summary and synthesis of what has been read.
SEQUENCE – If students grasp the entirety of what they are reading, they can sequence the events. Manipulatives are an ideal format for developing this skill.

Step 1 - Plan comprehension activities that suit program and student needs
Language arts skills are interrelated. For instance, being able to identify main ideas is equally helpful to readers and writers. Look for ways to support all aspects of your program while building key reading skills. Nonfiction reading selections can relate to other subject areas.

Step 2 - Make or use materials that provide opportunities to read and teach skills
Reading Manipulatives comprehension products build skills and afford meaningful reading activities to students. The nonfiction topics interest students, so they actually enjoy reading the stories and working on the skills. An advantage of manipulatives is that multilevel sets can target the wide ability ranges in a classroom. The levels have a similar appearance, removing the stigma that is often attached to materials used with below-level students.

Step 3 - Incorporate these reading activities into daily work
Worthwhile materials engage students and free teachers to work with groups and individuals as needed. Students are more successful when they are accountable for choices and progress. Additionally, classroom materials can be structured to improve test-taking skills by familiarizing students common formats used in standardized reading tests, such as cloze sentences and multiple choice.

Reading Manipulatives literal comprehension manipulatives
Sentence Sequencing manipulatives require that students arrange seven sentences according to order in which the events occurred. Level A includes many fiction stories and is more suitable for younger students. Level B and all other Reading Manipulatives comprehension products are based on actual events or people.

Multiple literal comprehension skills are targeted in the Paragraph Sequencing stories. First, students must read and sequence the paragraphs. Next, they must match the main idea to each paragraph.

Download Literal Comprehension Tips


Critical Reading
The ultimate goal of reading is to comprehend, or glean meaning from text. Once students become proficient decoders, they begin to focus on assessing what the text says. They construct meaning by reading for facts and identifying main ideas. As readers become more skilled, they begin to evaluate text. They judge the quality, worth, accuracy, and reliability of what is being read. Among the evaluation strategies are:
   •  identifying the theme or author’s purpose
   •  judging author’s tone
   •  using prior knowledge to comprehend and validate
   •  becoming aware of the author’s point of view
   •  recognizing persuasive elements employed by the author
   •  distinguishing fact from opinion

Particularly in nonfiction text, critical readers recognize that a selection is one individual’s version of the subject matter. Readers need to go beyond basic comprehension of text to evaluating and questioning the information presented. In other words, readers must actively analyze what is being read so they can assess meaning.

Program obstacles to critical reading
Develop reading skillsSchools and/or teachers often present stumbling blocks to the goal of developing critical readers. For starters, text discussions following reading sessions are often too mired in literal comprehension questions. Teachers must make a conscious effort to lead students toward dialogue that includes application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Comprehension obstacles often result if a single textbook is utilized for a subject. This creates a halo effect on the contents, portraying them as factual, when in fact they reflect the perspective of the author(s). If students are taught assessment techniques and encouraged to approach reading critically, then the hazard of a single text is lessened. To further demonstrate that all texts are subject to interpretation, teachers can and should have students read selections that offer contrasting viewpoints on subject matter.

Another issue in schools is the tendency to avoid controversial subjects while advocating conformity. With the pressures that are coming down on teachers from all sides, this problem is likely being exacerbated. Administrative policies and fear of backlash or litigation, not to mention the requirements just to get expected material covered, do not create environments that encourage critical evaluation of text and beliefs.

Finally, all teachers bring their own prejudices and emotions into their classrooms. Educators are products of their upbringings and experiences, just as students are. To create a classroom atmosphere conducive to critical thinking and reading, teachers must analyze their own beliefs and opinions and encourage their students to do the same.

In the Reading Manipulatives True/False/Opinion Sorts product, students read a story and then sort ten statements related to the topic as either true, false, or opinion. This sorting activity ingeniously builds both literal and critical comprehension skills because on the back of each card is a reference to story facts or an explanation of what type of opinion is being expressed. Explanations help students to develop better evaluation strategies. Students learn various types of opinions and how to distinguish their use in context.


Figurative Language - Idioms
In expressions of figurative language, meaning cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of the words. Rather, meaning is conveyed by suggesting that something is like something else. Therefore, the expression must be comprehended metaphorically. For instance, when someone says, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” it has nothing to do with cats and dogs. This idiom dating back to 17th century England means that it is raining hard. The reader must use context or prior knowledge to infer what the expression actually means.

The following are various types of figurative language:
IDIOM – A saying that carries meaning based on its use in the language
   My dad blew his stack when I broke the window. (became furious)
SIMILE – A comparison of two objects linked by the words “like” or “as”
   Grandmother’s face turned white as snow when she heard the news.
METAPHOR – A comparison or analogy that does not contain “like” or “as”
   Our teacher has a mountain of papers on her desk.
PERSONIFICATION – Endowing inanimate objects or ideas with life-like qualities
   The wind roaring through the trees kept me awake.
HYPERBOLE – A gross exaggeration
   The eerie noises in the haunted house scared the children to death.
SYNECDOCHE – A less inclusive word is used for a more inclusive word or visa versa
   Mary wouldn’t hurt a fly, so she couldn’t have done it. (anything)

Every language has its own unique figurative language usages. In this fast-paced, media-dominated age, many communication skills, including familiarity with figurative language, are waning. The high number and frequency of use of idioms should make them an important component of comprehension and language acquisition. Idioms often confuse native speakers, and they are especially challenging for second-language students.

Teach idiomatic expressions and model appropriate usage
Reading ComprehensionDirect instruction is necessary to assure that students develop familiarity with commonly used idioms. Repeated and correct exposure to idioms can build understanding and give students confidence to use the idioms themselves. Instruction is more effective if idioms are grouped according to metaphorical themes (i.e., colors: redneck, yellow belly, green with envy, blackball) or usage (nouns, verbs, adjectives).

Idiom Match-Ups expose students to 180 idioms in the 18 sets. Each set has 10 sentences with a word or words underlined. Students use contextual clues to decide which idiom can be substituted, then match the pairs. The origin of each idiom is on the back of the idiom card. Finding out how these colorful sayings became part of the English vernacular is interesting and should aid comprehension.

Idioms Tips for Teachers issue
This issue gives fun ways to share these colorful expressions. It includes a resource list containing 50 well-known idioms, along with their meanings and origins.

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Download Idioms Resource List