What good readers do. . .

  • Some strategies used here can be found in the following resources: 

    Serravallo, Jennifer. The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers. Heinemann, 2015.

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  • For younger readers: 

    Retelling a story or sequencing events (Serravallo):  

    In trying to help younger readers understand that all the pages in a book connect to make a story and to give them practice in remembering what they've read, it is helpful to have the student tell you what they read about.  They should use the pictures in the book to help guide them through their retell by "stepping" from page to page and using the pictures like stepping stones.  You can model this by using a book you and your child have read and, beginning with the first page, touch it and make short, general statement of what happened on that page. Then, using terms like:

    "and then,"


    "So, what happens next? Turn the page and let's see."

    "You looked closely at the picture!"

    Continue page by page to the end of the book. Prompt your child to think about how the pages connect.  Why did the characters behave as they did? What caused the next event to happen? 


    Talking about feelings:

    In working with young students, I have come to realize they have two "feeling words" in their vocabulary:  happy and sad.  I have found that these two words are used to describe everything from how people/characters feel about situations to people and pets.  For example: "How did Jack feel about his mother?"  "Happy."  We must explicitly teach our young students that there are a variety of more specific feelings that come under the headings of "happy" and "sad" and that there are specific ways of expressing our feelings about people and pets.  Being able to think more specifically about how characters feel is key to comprehending what authors intend for us to understand in their stories. 


    In my classroom, I have a map on the board that tracks "happy words" and "sad words."  When discussing character feelings, my students understand that they are rarely allowed to use the words "happy" and "sad."  They must use a word from one of those categories. For example, a "happy" word is "encouraged."  If a character has been through a negative situation but something has happened to cause them to feel better about the situation, then the word "encouraged" is the better word to describe how that character is feeling.  It also helps the student to think more deeply about what exactly is going on in the story which deepens their comprehension. So, when talking with your child about how characters are feeling in stories, don't settle for "happy" or "sad."  Guiding them toward more specific feeling words based on what is going on in the story will improve their comprehension. 


    Talking about how we speak about our feelings toward people and pets is a little different.  Most students I work with still try to use those two words: happy and sad.  Again, our students must be explicitly taught that this is not how we talk about our feelings toward others.  They must be taught that we say that we either like or dislike someone; love or hate or other more specific feeling words. This is important because it helps students understand why characters act as they do in our stories.  For example, if I were to ask a student why he feeds and waters his pet, the correct answer should be "because he loves his pet and wants to care for him."  I have found that students have difficulty answering such questions, and when I probe to find out how the character feels about his pet, I get the standard answer, "happy."  


    I cannot underscore enough how important it is for students to be able to discuss feelings at a more specific level and to be able to discuss feelings toward others.  



    When teachers read aloud to their students, those students tend to be more riveted to the reading when the teacher uses a great amount of expression in their reading.  Yet, when students are reading themselves, most tend to read in a very flat, expressionless tone.  When encouraging students to read with more expression, I have even had students tell me that they "aren't into doing the voices."  Ha!  Many people do not realize just how important "doing the voices" is!  When a student reads with expression, what they are actually doing is matching their voice to the action of the story which greatly improves comprehension because it has the student actually thinking about what is going on in the story.  And that is what good readers do:  they think as they read rather than just call words off of the page. You can model that for your child and then help them to understand how to use their "mad" voice when a character is angry about something. Then pause to talk about why the character's voice would sound that way. If your child has difficulty, stop and ask them how the character is feeling and why.  Then tell them to say it like that!  Encourage your child to "do the voices!"


    Self-monitoring and Rereading: 

    This is definitely something that good readers do!  Somehow and somewhere along the line, our readers get the idea that we want them to read fast and one time only; finish the book!  While in their independent reading we do want students to finish the books in which they are interested, we want them to be able to understand what they've read!  As I'm sure you've experienced, sometimes that involves going back and rereading a section that didn't seem quite clear to you. 


    We sometimes mistakenly think that a child has no problems reading because they correctly call out every word on the pages they read.  But reading is thinking!  If the child is not thinking about what they read and whether it makes sense to them or not, they are not really reading very well.  After all, the whole purpose of reading is understanding what we've read!  Whether meaning breaks down due to a breakdown in decoding words or simply understanding what has been read correctly, self-monitoring is what the focus should be! 


    Young readers have a couple of things they are trying to do as they read: decode words and understand what they're reading.  Sometimes these readers fall into the trap of looking at the first letter of a word and using any word that comes to mind that begins with that letter, regardless of whether it makes sense or not.  One of the most important things young readers will learn to do is self-monitor or pay attention to making certain that what they've said matches what is on the page and makes sense. You can help them develop this skill of self-monitoring.  As you actively listen to your child read, alert them when something doesn't make sense by asking the question, "Did that make sense?" "Which word do you think is giving you trouble?" Then guide them through solving the word so that it matches what is on the page.  It is important that, once the student solves the word, they go back and reread the sentence as a whole with the corrected word so that their comprehension doesn't break down. As students develop this skill of self-monitoring, try not to be too quick to alert them; let them get to the bottom of the page and then reread the sentence to them as they said it.  This gives you the opportunity to see if they are going to catch it themselves, the evidence you need to see if they are truly developing the skill of self-monitoring.  So, ask the questions and encourage your child to reread text with which they are having difficulty!  


    For Readers of all Ages 

    Answering Questions:

    Answering questions about reading is part and parcel of being a student.  Across the disciplines, students are asked to demonstrate their understanding of their learning by answering questions.  It's important that students begin early learning this process.  There are several things that are important to notice as a reader, not only when you are reading a text, but also when you are reading the questions.  Following are some suggestions: 

    • Read the question carefully and notice what is being asked (the who, what, when, where, why, how, etc.) and what the answer will "look like."  Although not all questions are phrased this way, this is a good starting point in learning to "think through" the question: 
      • The answer to a "who" question will "look like" a name of a person, a people or a group. 
      • The answer to a "what" question may "look like" a thing or an event.  "What" questions may require you to probe further into the details of the story. 
      • The answer to a "when" question will "look like" a time, whether it be a time of day, a month, a year, an era, etc.
      • The answer to a "where" question will "look like" a place. 
      • The answer to a "why" question will "look like" a reason. 
      • The answer to a "how" question will "look like" an explanation. This too may require you to probe further into the details of the story. 
    • Text evidence is absolutely necessary!  What are some key words in the question for which you can scan the text as you search for the text evidence to support the answer that you are about to write?
    • Once you understand the question and you are armed with some key words from the question, think about where in the text you can begin looking? Did what you are being asked about happen at the beginning of the story, the middle of the story, or toward the end of the story?  If reading nonfiction, are there headings that might guide you?
    • Skim and scan.  One mistake readers, particulary younger ones, make is trying to reread a whole passage/story to find one answer.  This very often frustrates the reader to the point that they just want to take their chances and make their best guess.  Don't do it!!!!  Remember, earlier you armed yourself with key words from the question.  Instead of rereading the entire passage/story, let your eyes quickly flow over the page as you look for those key words.  This is called skim and scan.  You can also look for forms of the word.  For example, if the key word from the question is "decision" and you see the word "decide," then that might be a good place to start looking for your answer. Once you spot your key words, that's the time to slow it down and reread carefully so that you start to put an answer together. 
    • Always double-check!  Once you think you've found the text evidence for your answer, reread the question and verbalize your answer.  Do you have a match?  Hooray for you!