Friday, 13 February 2015

Reading with Comprehension- Easy to use comprehension skills

Reading comprehension sounds like a big term, you may have heard it from the teachers all the time. Yes, it is a big deal! All academics boil down to your comprehending/understanding capabilities, which is why it is stressed upon so much right from the early years of schooling.

When you begin reading stories to your child, do you ask her questions like ‘what is the story about’, ‘who was the bad character’, ‘why did he do that’, ‘what happened in the end’, ‘does it remind you of anything’, etc. or do you simply read the book and don’t engage her in thinking about it at all?

Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, a long story or a short comprehension passage, there is a very effective method that you can use to inculcate the habit of ‘reading with comprehension’ in your child. This will also help her to think beyond and make connections to her own life with the text.

For us to understand how to effectively teach reading comprehension, we need to be aware of the sub skills that make up reading comprehension. The sub skills are as follows:

1.     Identifying Main Idea
2.     Identifying Detail
3.     Sequencing Events
4.     Using Context Clues
5.     Getting Facts
6.     Drawing Conclusions/Predicting Outcomes
7.     Distinguishing Between Fact and Opinion
8.     Understanding Cause and Effect
9.     Identifying Figurative Language
10. Using Prior Knowledge
11. Comparing and Contrasting Ideas
12. Generating and Answering Questions
13. Identifying Inferences
14. Summarizing Concepts
15. Understanding Vocabulary
16. Visualizing Ideas
17. Determining Author’s Purpose
18. Connecting to real life experiences
(RITES 2013)

Let’s try to understand the basics of each skill and try to keep it simple and not get into the technical details. It becomes simple for children if we keep it simple and clear in our own mind.

1. Identifying Main Idea: The main idea is the basic idea or the overall idea of a text. For example, if you are reading a short story about whales, ask your child questions like, ‘What is this book/story mainly about’. The main idea can also be for a particular paragraph within a text. Identifying the main idea brings focus to the text and adds purpose to reading.

2. Identifying Detail: Details support the main idea of the text. Ask children questions like ‘How can you describe Hansel and Gretel’s experience in the woods when they got lost in the jungle’.

3. Sequencing Events: This skill is used in text, which is in the form of stories. Ask questions like ‘What happened first’, ‘What happened next’, ‘What happened in the end’, ‘Whom all did the Gingerbread Man meet’, etc.

4. Using Context: Many a time your child will come across words that she wouldn’t know or text that would not be very clear to understand. For this very reason you need to teach her the skill of making guesses based on the words or sentences that are in the text. For example if you come across the word ‘flabbergasted’ and your child has never heard this word before, instead of you telling her directly what it means, you can ask her to make a guess based on the context which could be ‘on seeing the humungous sand castle Henry was flabbergasted’. Have her come up with words in context to ‘humungous sand castle’, which could eventually lead up to determining the meaning of ‘flabbergasted’.

5. Getting Facts: After reading the text, you can ask your child to list down the facts either orally or in writing. You can also use mind maps or other visual organizers to draw out the information.

6. Drawing Conclusions/Predicting Outcomes: Before starting to read show your child the cover page of the book and illustrations and ask, ‘What do you think this book will be about’ and while reading, stop and ask questions like, ‘What do you think will happen next’ or more specifically, ‘What do you think the fox will do to the Gingerbread Man’. This also adds more interest to the reading.

7. Distinguishing between Fact and Opinion: You can ask questions like ‘Is this a fact or is it what the author thinks it is, ‘Is it true information or does it have any feelings attached to it’. For example, ‘Hansel and Gretel got lost in the jungle’ is a fact whereas ‘The wicked witch was the most cunning witch ever’ is an opinion.

8. Understanding Cause and Effect: The cause is ‘why it happened’ and the effect is ‘what happened’. Ask questions like ‘What happens when water gets heated up (when reading about water cycle)’, ‘Why did she wake up early in the morning’ or ‘What did Matilda do when she found out that her family was moving to Spain’.

9. Identifying Figurative Language: You have to draw your child’s attention to figurative language. It’s hard for her to get it but by age 7 you can introduce a few idioms and proverbs. If you come across things like similes, metaphors and personification when reading, take a minute and discuss it with her. For example, ‘The fox was lying through his teeth’ or ‘He ran as fast as a horse’. You will be surprised how excited she will feel about it. Show that you are excited about it to arouse more excitement in her.

10. Using Prior Knowledge: Before reading a passage or a story ask your child what she already knows about that particular thing. Generating prior knowledge helps a child to build upon what she already knows and hence adds depth to her learning. It allows her to make connections to the bits of knowledge she might already have. Questions like ‘What do you know about deserts’, ‘Has anything like this happened to you’ or ‘Does it remind you of a similar situation’ add depth to the reading.

11. Comparing and Contrasting Ideas: Many a time you would come across comparisons in the text. You could draw your child’s attention to these points either by listing them down orally or using visual organizers like a Venn Diagram. For example, if you are reading a passage on different types of animals, have her give points of differences between a mammal and a reptile. You could also compare and contrast two similar stories or two authors’ writing styles.

12. Generating and Answering Questions: Most of the comprehension passages come with questions but a book might not have ready questions. Ask simple direct questions while reading or after you have finished reading to assess how much your child has understood. Also, at times you could ask her to make up questions and pose them to you. This also helps with better focus on the reading and the child thinks that she is playing a game with you! 

13. Identifying Inferences: To infer simply means what you can assume will happen next or what you can figure out based on the information in the text and your own knowledge. In other words it means making an educated guess. Writing prompts like ‘I think…’, ‘I guess…”, ‘Maybe…’, ‘This could mean…’ , ‘It could be that…’ , and ‘I predict…’ can make children think in logical terms.

14. Summarizing: This is a very important skill, as the name suggests it’s the gist of it all. It gives you an idea whether the child has understood the overall meaning and the message. You could ask the child to retell the story in her own words by stressing on important points and excluding the details. A story summary may contain an account of the characters, setting, problem and solution.

15. Understanding Vocabulary: Vocabulary is an important aspect of comprehension. If you are not familiar with a certain word you either ignore it or you stop and look at the dictionary or ask someone in order to find out the meaning of the word. Unfortunately, many children don’t do that. So we need to inculcate this habit in them. Ask them to underline the new words and discuss the meaning with them. Maintain a book of new words that they come across and encourage them to use the words in their daily life.

16. Visualizing Ideas: When you visualize things in your mind, it becomes clearer to understand the sequence of the story, the factual information, the description of the characters, the setting, etc. Visualizing also helps with better retention of details. When you come across information like the alligators can be up to 14 feet long, ask your child to imagine how long that is in comparison to herself who could be 4 feet long when she lies down on the floor. This will help her remember the information better.

17. Determining Author’s Purpose: There is always a purpose to writing a text. It can be to inform, to persuade or to entertain. After you read the text, ask your child questions like ‘Why do you think the author has written this story’. This also adds interest to reading.

18. Connecting to Real Life Experiences: As soon as you connect a story or a comprehension passage to real life examples, you multiply the engagement and enthusiasm in children. Once I was working on a comprehension passage on iguanas with a group of children, a not so interesting informational text for everybody. Before I started reading the passage, I told them a little story of my experience when I saw a pet iguana for the first time in my life. This made them instantly interested in learning more about iguanas. Till today I see the glisten in their eye when they recall that passage. It could have been any other text that they had read and forgotten about but relating it to a real life experience made them enjoy it and remember it for a long time. You can encourage children to ponder over and answer questions like ‘Have you felt like this before’, ‘Has anything like this happened to you’, and ‘What did you do when you were stuck in a position similar to this’.

Select two or three skills at a time and focus on them rather than trying to do them all as it would put undue pressure on the child and she would not be able to enjoy the process of reading and thinking. Start with simpler skills like sequencing, understanding cause and effect and identifying facts and work it up to higher order skills like comparing and contrasting, determining author’s purpose and identifying inferences.

If done consistently ‘reading with comprehension’ will become a habit and everything in general whether it is Math or Science, History or Geography, English or other languages, will be more clearly understood by your child.