Comprehension Strategies from Help for Struggling Readers

Comprehension Strategies (from Help for Struggling Readers by Michael McKenna)
Directed Reading Activity
Before reading a selection, set a purpose for reading (answering a specific question, checking a
prediction, describing an object, completing a chart, etc.). Students then read the selection. When
students are finished reading, they engage in a group discussion based on the purpose for reading
that was set.
K-W-L Chart
Students are presented with a chart with columns labeled Know, Want to Know, Learned. Before
reading, students complete the column listing what they know about the reading topic. They then
list what they would like to learn about the topic in the second column. At this point the students
read the selection. After reading, students revisit the chart to make sure items in the “Know”
column were correct, and to complete the last column—what they learned.
Specific Skill Approaches
Teachers design mini-lessons that focus on a specific skill in reading (see table below from
Teaching Reading in the Elementary Classroom by John Miller and Michael McKenna). While these
lessons can be helpful, it must be noted that once learned, these skills must be practiced in a
natural reading context.
Literal Level
cause and effect
character trait
main idea
Inferential Level
Implicit sequence
Implicit cause and effect
Implicit comparison
Implicit character train
Implicit main idea
Predicting an outcome
Interpreting figurative language
Identifying a pronoun antecedent
Critical Level
Judgment of adequacy
Judgment of validity
Judgment of fantasy versus reality
Detection of propaganda
Judgment of literary quality
Before reading, the teacher and students briefly look through the selection paying particular
attention to:
Chapter Title
Visual Aids
First Paragraph
Last Paragraph
Any Post-reading Questions
The teacher reads a selection of text aloud and models the application of a comprehension
strategy. During the modeling process, the teacher makes visible the thought process going on in
his or her head, essentially “thinking aloud.”
Teaching the students to make mental images of what they are reading. There are three types
explained in McKenna’s Help for Struggling Readers:
1. Induced Imagery
i. Teacher Modeling - Teacher reads a short descriptive selection and explains to students the
mental image he or she has made.
ii. Guided Practice - Students are provided short descriptive passages and discuss mental
images they’ve made.
iii. Independent Practice – Occasionally the teacher checks with students and asks them about
their mental images.
2. Visualize – Verbalize
i. Teacher models by describing, with as much detail as possible, a picture that the students
cannot see.
ii. Teacher reveals the picture and leads a discussion of students’ mental images based on the
iii. Students take turns describing pictures to the class
iv. Students again engage in a discussion about their own mental images.
3. Monster Exchange
i. Students draw a picture of a monster and write a description of it on a separate piece of
ii. Students switch descriptions and draw a new monster based on the description given to
iii. Students compare the original pictures with those drawn from the description.
iv. Encourage discussion about differences in pictures and what details may have been left out.
Guided Notes/Reading Guides
The teacher creates a skeleton outline of the lesson/reading selection making sure to highlight
main ideas and key words. This is used to create a handout for students on which they can add
details to the main ideas.
Anticipation Guide
The teacher provides students with a short true/false quiz prior to reading. Then students read the
selection, checking their answers on the quiz. After reading, the teacher leads a discussion about
questions students may have missed on the pre-reading portion of the quiz and what they learned
from reading the selection.
Reciprocal Teaching
Students work in small groups to apply four comprehension strategies to a reading selection. The
1. Predict what the passage is about based on a walk-through of the text.
2. Clarify words or ideas that may be confusing in the passage.
3. Ask questions as they progress through the reading selection.
4. Summarize the selection they have read.
As an optional extension activity, each student group may be assigned a different topic. After
student groups apply the four comprehension strategies, they switch groups and share their
knowledge with their new group (Jigsaw Activity).
ummary Writing
Begin instruction by discussing newspaper headlines as one-sentence summaries of an article.
Move to having students create headlines based on reading a short newspaper article. When they
are competent in that, they can practice oral summaries of brief passages and eventually create
written summaries of brief selections.
Continue summary instruction by having students summarize chapter subsections. When they
have done this for all subsections in a chapter, they can string them together to create a chapter
Below are three specific approaches to writing summaries:
1. Hierarchical Summaries
a. Read only the subheadings of a chapter.
b. List the subheadings on paper.
c. Read the material.
d. Convert each subheading into a main idea sentence.
e. For each main idea sentence, add from one to three sentences giving supporting details.
2. GRASP (Guided Reading and Summarizing Procedure)
a. Students read a section of text, turn their books over, and recall whatever they can from
the text. Ideas are recorded on the board.
b. Students revisit the text to add to and correct the list.
c. Guide students in arranging the information on the board into categories.
d. Students write a topic sentence for each category and create detail sentences from the
material on the board.
e. Students revise category summaries and create an overall summary.
3. “Who-Wants-But-So” for Fiction Summaries
Students summarize fiction by first writing a sentence that identifies the main character. Next,
the student states what the character wants as well as the obstacles the character meets.
Lastly, the student describes the outcome.