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Understanding What You Read
What is ahead in this lesson?
Reading is about getting information and meaning from print—that is the purpose of reading. In this lesson, we’ll discuss ways to boost comprehension. We’ll discuss using literal questions and interpretative questions in comprehension discussions and activities.
Reading comprehension is what reading is all about. We read for information and we read for the pleasure of enjoying a good story. Many children can read words without understanding or remembering what they read. Comprehension strategies can be modeled by teachers and practiced in reading discussions. Discussions about story comprehension can be more valuable than written activities or comprehension worksheets. During discussions, children are exposed to ideas expressed by classmates. Like many teachers, we prefer discussions to paper and pencil comprehension activities. Discussions are more interesting, take less time and do not produce another batch of papers to correct. We recommend having children spend as much time as possible actually reading and engaging in discussions.
Post Reading Activities
Start with Story Reviews
After reading a story, do a story review before holding a reading comprehension discussion. Ask a child to tell how the story began. Then, ask someone else to tell what happened next. Ask what happened after that. And, finally, ask how the story ended. These questions talk children through an oral summary of the story. It helps children get “a feel” for the story as a whole.
Types of Reading Comprehension Questions
There are two categories of reading comprehension questions. Children need practice answering both kinds of questions.
Literal questions have one right answer. They are the easiest kinds of questions tocreate and the easiest ones for children to answer. They usually start with wordslike: who, what, how many, when, where. Literal questions include questions such as:
- How many kittens were in the litter?
- Where did the boy hide the key?
- What did they name the puppy?
- Interpretative questions have more than one right answer. They are open-ended andrequire thought. They can require critical thinking and creativity, as well. These kindsof questions can lead to wonderful discussions because different viewpoints can beexpressed. And, all the answers to a question can be correct. Interpretativequestions include questions such as:
- Why do you think that character acted that way?
- How would you have solved the problem in the story?
- What do you think might happen next?
- Does this story remind you of any other stories we read?
- How do you think the character feels at the end of the story?
- Is there something different the character could have done?
- Would you like to have that character as a friend? Why?
- How could that situation have been avoided?
If you use a basal reading program, you may want to write questions that go with stories on 5″ x 7″ cards. Jot the story titles and page numbers on the cards, as well. Then, when you read that story with another group you’ll have ready-to-use questions. Those questions come in handy for substitutes and on days when you are too busy to think! Every teacher has those days once in a while. In addition to basal readers, note questions on cards that go with favorite stories you like to read aloud. Or, write questions inside the book covers or on pages of the story.
Using Literal Questions
Ways to use literal questions:
- Tell children these are the kinds of questions that have one right answer.
- If you are creating a worksheet or test about a story, use literal questions.
- In discussions, ask literal questions first and then move into interpretative questions.
- Give each student a card that says “true” on one side and “false” on the other. Make a statement about the story. Have every student hold his response card against his upper chest showing if the statement you made is true or false. Every child responds by showing his response card. This is a quick, interactive way to check literal story comprehension and there are no papers to correct.
- Skim back through the story and read aloud a sentence. Ask children to identify the character the pronoun refers to. For example, “Meg gave her the dog’s leash.” Ask the class, to whom does the pronoun “her” refer? “Jack saw them waiting at the gate.” Ask who are the characters the word “them” refers to? Children have to stop and think before answering this type of literal question.
Using Interpretative Questions
Ways to use interpretative questions:
- Tell children these are the thinking kinds of questions that have more than one right answer.
- Ask children, “What do you wonder about the story?” Elicit a question from a student. Then, ask classmates to provide answers.
- Use double-decker questions. When a student answers an interpretative question, ask, “Why is that a good answer?” Have another child tell why the answer is correct. This process is called scaffolding and really gets children thinking. Questions can include: “Who can give me another right answer to the question?” “How could you prove that?” “Why do you think that is true?” “Who has a different answer to the question?”
Questions are taken one step further when you use scaffolding. It’s a very effective way to get children thinking beyond just one answer.