Reading comprehension is the ability to process and understand the meaning of text. It is a foundational skill that children should learn from an early age. The more your students read a wide variety of texts, the more their reading comprehension skills increase. With enough practice and guided instruction, your students will become proficient at parsing information from text, reading complex and multifaceted stories, and understanding more advanced literary techniques, such as symbolism.
It is nearly impossible to learn without first establishing a stable foundation of literacy. Literacy is essential to navigating everyday life, whether your students are in elementary school or college, or they are ready to enter the workforce and take on the challenges of adult life. Reading comprehension is critical, and you should begin to develop your students’ skills as early as possible. You can use the following lesson plans and strategies to help you do so!
Build Reading Comprehension BEFORE Reading
Foreshadow Your Next Book
You can tap into your students’ prior knowledge and build their curiosity about new topics by teaching them to anticipate what they’re going to learn and read about. Before beginning a new class reading book, you should discuss some of the key concepts and themes presented in the text.
HOWEVER, do this before you reveal to them that you are even going to begin reading a new book. When your class does start reading the book, your students will already have a foundational understanding of some of the book’s concepts, and they can relate the story back to the previous lesson. Some of your observant students might even catch on to your strategy!
The Big Question!
You can prepare your students for your upcoming book by starting with an essential question that will guide future discussions about the reading. This question will allow you to assess your students’ prior knowledge and help you prepare for any potential knowledge gaps that may come up during the reading.
In our previous blog post, we came up with a story concept where a princess decided she wanted to inject some adventure into her life by becoming a pirate. If you and your third graders were to read this story, the “big question” you might present to them before delving into the text could be, “Why would a princess become a pirate?” Coming up with answers to this open-ended question can help your third graders build their reading comprehension muscles.
For example, one of your students might hit the nail right on the head and say, “the princess thought being a princess was boring, so she decided to sail the seas in search of adventure and treasure.” On the other hand, another one of your students might go in a totally different direction and say, “a group of pirates kidnapped a princess, but the princess became friends with the pirates, and the pirates decided to let her join their crew.”
Both answers are equally sound, and neither is wrong! The point of this exercise is not to guess the plot of the story but to make inferences and flex those creative muscles. When your class reads the story, your students can reflect on their answers to the “big question” and draw connections between their answers and the story itself.
This activity teaches students how to make inferences, a crucial skill. It also shows students that sometimes, there is an infinite number of answers to a single question, and authors can explore similar story concepts in vastly different ways.
Comprehension-Building Activities During Reading
Third-grade students are still building their literacy skills, and some students are more proficient at reading than others, so you can’t expect your entire class to be able to read and comprehend more complex texts written for older students. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t expose your students to these (relatively) complicated texts.
Listening to someone else read a text out loud can be just as beneficial as reading it yourself, and this is especially true for younger students. Choose a novel that is slightly more challenging than the books your students are reading. Don’t go too overboard (you don’t need to read War and Peace or anything like that!), but a fifth-or-sixth-grade-level novel should do the trick.
Read this novel to your students for perhaps thirty minutes a day over the course of a few weeks. This read-aloud exposes your students to more complicated writing that they may not be familiar with.
Of course, read-alouds are most effective if you engage in regular classroom discussions. Once a week (try Fridays), form a class discussion or put your students in small groups to discuss the sections of the novel you read that week. These activities help familiarize your students with difficult material that would be too challenging for them to read on their own. Encourage them to ask questions while reading, as this will further build their reading comprehension skills.
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Reading Out Loud
Reading out loud helps students absorb information in a different way. It’s easy, especially for children, to become distracted while reading, and reading out can help them stay on track. Reading out loud is slower and more deliberate than reading silently, helping students focus on the meaning and importance of each sentence instead of simply going through the motions.
We recommend that you require your students to read their books silently in class, and they can read their books out loud at home. Otherwise, your classroom will become too loud, and your students will probably have a tough time focusing. You may need some assistance from parents, who can ensure that your students read their books out loud at home.
Once again, follow-up discussions are crucial if you want to build your students’ reading comprehension skills. You and your students must deliberate on the events and characters in the book if you want them to start making connections and understand the text at a higher level.
Read in Chunks
Reading in chunks can help young students digest novels, books and text more effectively. We established earlier that reading slowly and deliberately makes it easier to understand and interpret higher-level reading, and reading in chunks takes things a step further. Reading a particular chunk of text multiple times with the intention of highlighting interesting and important details helps students develop close reading and critical thinking skills that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Assigning your students a short story to read and having them highlight essential details and summarize the main idea of each paragraph could make for an excellent homework assignment. This assignment teaches students the importance of absorbing all the information present in a text so they can fully understand the main idea and plot of the story.
Students who struggle with finding the meaning of longer texts can significantly benefit from this reading comprehension activity. It allows them to absorb information and plot details one chunk at a time!
One of the best ways to hold students accountable is to build accountability into the learning process, and one of the best ways to do that is to establish groups of students that hold each other accountable.
When you introduce a new book or topic, give your students a starting point—like the cover of the book or some questions about the general topic—and then have the groups of students discuss their thoughts with each other. You could also set a timer and have your students take breaks when the timer goes off to discuss story events and plot points with their groups.
Student Book Clubs
Student-led book clubs are an excellent way to build reading comprehension skills! Some students are more vocal than others, and these students might love the opportunity to lead book clubs and help their fellow classmates! A great way to do this is to establish open-ended discussions at designated points in the story, such as every four or five chapters.
Your book clubs can talk about significant plot points, characters and interactions and make predictions about upcoming story events. You can get your students excited about these book club discussions by treating them as fun, casual activities. You could even bring in some fun treats to entice your students to read every chapter since these book club discussions won’t occur terribly often.
Throw the Story Ball
Reading comprehension can be a challenge when little bodies need to move! Turn that challenge into an opportunity by taking time to check your students’ knowledge using an inflatable beach ball. Simply tape cards onto the beach ball that contain both specific and open-ended questions about the book your class is reading.
Then, have your students toss and bounce the beach ball around while you play music. When the music stops, whoever is holding the ball has to read and answer the first question they see. This is a great activity to get everyone moving before going back to independent reading.
Post-Reading Activities to Build Comprehension Skills
This fun activity uses a chart listing different elements of a narrative (characters, setting, conflict, solution, etc.) to help students retell a story. You can do this activity as a class by calling on students to fill in one of the categories, having each student fill it out by themselves or doing a combination of both.
Have each of your students fill out the chart, and then you can go over the chart with the entire class, calling on students to fill out specific information. The third option allows students to come up with their own answers and hear their peers’ answers, giving them additional insight they may not have come up with on their own. You can use this activity to get all your students on the same page if some of them are confused about some aspects of the text.
Story maps are graphic organizers used to help your students identify the elements of a story. Encourage your students to get creative and draw actual maps that chart out when and where significant story events take place and when different characters enter and exit the story. These can be simple maps that only chart the main plot events, but you could also offer extra credit if your students go above and beyond and include additional details like character traits.
This project is a perfect candidate for a classbook project. You can compile all of your students’ maps into a single book and publish it! Classbooks are excellent keepsakes, and you can use them as examples for future classes!
Find the Quotation
This activity is perfect for when your students are reading their own books. After a silent reading session, give your students a prompt and challenge them to find a quotation from their book that relates to the prompt. The class can vote on who they think provided the best quotation.
This is a perfect reading comprehension activity because it requires students to delve into the meaning of specific quotes and relate those meanings to a prompt. Plus, you can incentivize them to do well by providing small rewards for the winners!
Sketch and Tell
This variation on show and tell requires students to read a specific portion of a book or text, draw a quick sketch about it and write a few sentences explaining what the sketch and section are about. Your students can present their drawings to the class, or you can publish them in a classbook!
Talking about the book your class is reading is an excellent way for students to build their reading comprehension, but many students get flustered or lose track of what they want to talk about when they have to get up and talk in front of others. Encourage them to compose their thoughts using topic cards before getting up to speak, so they can stay on track and make sure to get all their words out in the correct order.
While it’s important to answer questions on the fly, it’s just as beneficial for students to plan out what they are going to say in advance and present information in a (slightly) more formal way instead of simply saying the first thing that comes to mind. Many people, even adults, fear public speaking, so introducing public speaking strategies to your students early in their academic careers can help prepare them for future speeches and presentations.
Turn Your Students into Published Authors!
There’s nothing more exciting for both you and your students than turning them into published authors. Reading and reading comprehension are more difficult for some students than others, but a classbook provides a tangible reward that your students can look forward to! Classbooks are perfect for any assignment that requires your students to write and draw illustrations.
Simply reach out to us for your FREE classbook publishing kit and get started today! You can also head over to our online Teacher’s Lounge or check out our blog for more teaching strategies, lesson plans, and writing resources. Happy publishing!