Here are TEN great strategies to help improve reading comprehension for beginning readers in Kindergarten and first grade! These should be helpful for general comprehension skills as well as for children that are trying to master “the art” of taking and passing Accelerated Reader (AR) tests! Once young readers get into the habit of reading for meaning, they will be on their way when they are expected to make the switch from reading for fun to reading to learn in the content areas! Here are some tips on how to do help make that happen with a wonderful guest post from my new friend Corrine Jacob, and a little help from me, Heidi!
Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension
One of the first hurdles we come across after kids learn their alphabet and sight words is how to help them comprehend what they read. The core purpose of reading is to find meaning in the text. Otherwise, the words and sentences, irrespective of how interesting or informative, are no more than gibberish. To put it in a nutshell, reading and reading comprehension go hand-in-hand. How do we help beginning readers develop the skills and strategies required to improve their comprehension?
Young children not only need our help in developing an interest in reading and in learning how to read but they also need to be taught how to understand what they read. Patience is important as there are a multitude of skills involved and it will take time and practice for kids to become proficient at reading comprehension. Here are a few strategies for improving reading comprehension in beginning readers.
Get kids to play reading games.
It is easy to interest kids in a game rather than a book when they are young and have a short attention span. Playing reading games with kids will help keep them entertained and give them an exercise in comprehension as they need to move through the games by answering questions or understanding instructions. There is also the benefit of using the context in the games to aid comprehension.
Below is a peek at Heidi’s Reading Comprehension Activities for K-2 Pinterest board! There are LOTS of great activities there, and always more to come!
Give kids adequate practice in sight words.
Beginning readers will benefit from practicing sight words as much as possible. In fact, you need to keep this up until they reach second grade. The quicker they recognize these high frequency words, the easier it will be for them to read with a focus on the meaning of the text. If they are still struggling with decoding and recognizing words, their focus will be more on that than the meaning.
Singing sight word songs is a wonderful, active way to practice these high frequency words in a fun way! Check out these songs from the Sing and Spell Vol. 6 CD/DVD in the movie below.
Encourage kids to learn new words.
We know vocabulary is crucial to reading. Often, it is similar to the old chicken or egg paradox. Reading is what helps kids expand their vocabulary. But to be able to read with ease, kids need to be taught vocabulary. We cannot underestimate the power of “owning” these new words enough to be able to use them in a sentence naturally, and that only comes with practice. So teachers and parents will need to set up situations in which that can happen.
Support reading activities with background knowledge.
Before you begin reading to your child or get them to read, it helps to give them background knowledge. This can mean introducing them to the new words that they will encounter while reading the selected text. Background knowledge is also the information and experience that your child must possess in order to make the right inferences. If you are reading the story about a fisherman, it would benefit the young reader to understand a little about fishermen and fishing before plunging into the story. So if you cannot actually go fishing, visit YouTube to find some videos of other people fishing and then talk about it with the children.
Encourage the reading habit.
Beginning readers must practice reading for at least 20 minutes every day. They may not be ready to read independently and reading aloud may turn their attention to how they sound rather than on meaning. I have found that reading with an adult or reading in pairs with other kids is more effective when children are learning reading comprehension. This encourages them to read actively and holds their attention. Young readers can touch the print as they read. They must also be allowed to reread the same books as many times as possible.
Set a Purpose for Reading
It helps to set clear goals before kids begin reading. This means they should know why they are reading a piece of text. For instance, you could tell kids they will be learning what happens when a fisherman gets lazy and falls asleep while he is out at sea, how caterpillars turn into butterflies or why peacocks dance when it rains. This helps anchor their attention.
Teach kids to make predictions.
As children grow more comfortable with reading, you can start asking them to make predictions on what they are about to read and what may happen as the events in the story start unfolding. These can be based on pictures and illustrations or the title of the text. You can ask questions like, “What do you think the story is about? What do you think will happen?” After reading the text, check if the predictions were correct.
For fun, try passing around a “crystal ball” for each child to make a prediction in your small reading group!
Get kids to summarize and retell what they read.
Asking children to summarize a story they have read and to retell it helps them articulate their thoughts. We are able to assess their understanding – what they consider as important, what are the main ideas as they have understood it and how they connect these ideas, the sequence in which they retell the story, and how much they remember. Young children can have fun while they practice retelling stories with a few props from it, as shown in the picture below.
Help kids develop the ability to create mental images.
An excellent way for beginning readers to remember what they are reading is to create mental images as they read. We can tell kids that they will have to draw after they finish reading. Their drawing can be about how they felt while reading, a character in the story, their favorite scene. Giving them a time frame within which to complete the drawing allows them to stay focused and not be pulled away from what they have just read.
Help kids visualize what they read about by encouraging them to draw a picture.
To check comprehension, you can ask kids questions. These can be probing, open-ended questions or close-ended questions. Questions can be used to check how well your child has understood the story. They can also be about what they think will happen based on what they have read so far. Questions can also be used to clarify any confusion. Getting kids to answer your questions can really help them prepare for comprehension tests such as Accelerated Reader (AR) tests, too! Here are some examples:
“What was the problem Jim faced? How did he handle it? Do you think he was happy?”
“What do you think Sara will do now? How do you think Sara’s father will react? What would you do if you were Sara?”
“Did you come across anything in the story that you did not understand? Do you know what the word _____ means?”
With regular effort, beginning readers can learn to read easily and build their reading comprehension skills. The quicker their uptake and understanding of what they read, the more they will be able to benefit from learning through books and other resources. This will also impact how well they internalize and enjoy other academic subjects.
Corinne Jacob is a wannabe writer who is convinced that kids learn best when they’re having fun. She is constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ways to make learning an enjoyable experience. Corinne loves all things that scream out un-schooling, alternative education and holistic learning.
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