Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Comprehension, a Multisensory Experience?

When you get right down to it, comprehension is THE most important skill in the curriculum. Uhh...why study anything in school if you don't ever understand what the heck you're supposedly learning, right? This is especially the case in literacy. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading instruction.

So, knowing that most kids are kinesthetic/tactile learners, we shouldn't be surprised if a child has a problem understanding what he/she reads after only using a book as a learning tool. I know, I know. You're thinking, "How can SHE, a TEACHER, be anti-book?" The truth it, I'm the biggest book nut of all. I have at least 10K books in my house. (This is probably what put a crack in the foundation in my basement!) I once worked at a university library for 5 years. I live and breathe and keep on living in order to READ.

But, I also know that kids having a hard time comprehending what they read won't just eventually "get it" if their teachers continue to use only the same methods and print materials over and over again. You have to try something more engaging, more innovative and more hands-on to reach struggling readers. Tap into their senses. Make reading more active in every sense of the word. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Whip out the paddles! (Corporal punishment is NOT involved!) Reading Comprehension Boards give kids a place to record answers to key comprehension questions/strategies. Then, students hold up the board by the handles, allowing you to quickly assess which kids do & don't understand. (Hint: You can also make your own with paper plates and craft sticks.)

  • Cube-o-questions--Type a list of those key comprehension questions to ask students before, during, and after reading. Print & tape the questions to the sides of a large cube or a small cardboard box. Presto! You've got yourself a comprehension manipulative. If you're looking for more durable versions, try these: Reading Comprehension Cubes, Question Word Cubes, Retell a Story Cubes.

  • Picture this--Use a photocopier to enlarge a photo or copy an interesting magazine picture. Glue the image to cardstock (notepad backing) and then cut it into puzzle pieces. In a small group, have one child ask 3 other students comprehension questions about a book they've all read. A right answer is rewarded with a piece of the puzzle. Students collaborate to put together the pieces and try to figure out what's going on in the image. Like this game concept? Check out Get the Picture™ Main Idea Game.

  • Graphic organizers--These visual conceptual representations are very powerful. They are some of the best comprehension tools because they also cover Bloom's taxonomy. For example, when students fill out a fishbone map to identify causal relationships, they're ANALYZING. When students use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast, they are EVALUATING. Hefty higher-order thinking skills! Here's a book and a chart filled with nothing but graphic organizers: Encyclopedia of Language Arts Blackline Masters and Graphic Organizer Flip Chart.

  • Lights, camera, action!--Encourage kids to put storylines into action and make a video. They can reinact the story in their own words (summarize), guess the ending and act it out (predict, infer), or recite word for word (practice fluency). Consider posting the videos on Teacher Tube® so other teachers can use them in their lessons! (When posting student content online, never disclose students' identity and always have parents sign permission slips.) No access to a video camera? No problem--Readers' Theatre Pocket Chart.

  • Slap happy! Word Swatters™ (fancy fly swatters) get kids using their gross motor skills to identify any important text on a big book page (parts of a book, unfamiliar words), projection screen, or white board.

  • Get a clue--Little word sleuths love to use magnifying glasses to hunt for context clues. Encourage them to look over the page to hunt for hints (in text or pictures) that will help kids infer meaning.

If you're looking for even more ways to make comprehension multisensory, try tying the text to another subject. Sometimes it's easier to come up with hands-on activities if you build in math, science, social studies, art, or music content. Plus, cross-curricular lessons help students build an even stronger understanding while also helping YOU fit all the skills into your lesson plans.

Lastly, if your students are intimidated by reading an entire story or chapter, try giving them smaller bits of text to tackle. Magazine articles, a paragraph from a fun children's website, or passages on reading cards are good bets. I prefer non-fiction, photo-illustrated cards with fun animal facts such as Animal Classifying Cards, but leveled Reading Comprehension Cards with readings covering a variety of topics are more versatile.

I can dream and wish that teachers across the country could afford to pick up all the cool comprehension manipulatives and materials mentioned above. Yes, it's usually faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly in the end to buy durable commercial versions of these tools. But hey, you can make your own if need be. We teachers are kinda creative like that. ;)


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