Archive for the ‘Reading Comprehension’ Category

Literature Circle Table Tents

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Using literature circles is another way to increase student comprehension.  Even teachers of prescribed reading series should incorporate additional authentic literature in their teaching.  This literature may be related to curricular units and must be high interest and at an appropriate reading level of students.

I adapted my reading comprehension posters into Literature Circle Table Tents (print and fold each in half after laminating) which I use to assign each student a job.

The jobs are:  The Predictor, Maker of Connections, Great Summarizer, Curious Clarifier, Word Wizard, and the Very Good Visualizer.  Of course, when reading in the real world each person must do each of the jobs.  However, in literature circles each person specializes on a particular job each day (we switch jobs daily).  This gives students additional practice using the strategies and ensures that they know what each of the strategies is.  Each card includes a definition.

For additional information on literature circles, I recommend the following:

In the Middle by Nancy Atwell
This is more about Reader’s Workshop than about literature circles but it does give you fantastic ideas about how to develop reading comprehension and interest in literature.  I highly recommend it. gives some additional information about how to set up literature circles.

Somehow the Literature Circle name intimidates some teachers.  I like to think of them as Oprah’s Book Club for kids.  It’s really just about enjoying literature with peers while the teacher helps facilitate some discussion surrounding the book.

Have any literature circle tips to share?

Update:  Adding Edutopia Article on Literature Circle Discussions

Spanish Reading Comprehension Resources

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Thanks to web site visitors, Luz Arriaga and Dora Antillon, my Reading Comprehension Posters and Bookmarks arenow also available in Spanish.

Reading Comprehension Posters (English)
Reading Comprehension Poster (Spanish)

Reading Comprehension Bookmark (English)
Reading Comprehension Bookmark (Spanish)

Larger versions of the Reading Comprehension Bookmarks (not yet translated) are also available here.

How to Improve Comprehension Scores

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Our district requires us to administer comprehension assessments at six weeks intervals to all grades K-5.  Here are my ideas on what to do to improve students’ performance on these assessments.

Students will need both Test Taking Strategies as well as Real World Comprehension Skills.

Test Taking Strategies

  1. Review the assessment.
    This need not be done in one sitting.
    However, students should have an opportunity to see where their mistakes were.
  2. Teach students to read question first.
    It’s very difficult to keep all the text in one’s head while you attempt to answer questions about it.  It is often easier to read the question first and then read to find an answer.
  3. Teach students to eliminate “silly” or obviously wrong answers.
    Multiple choice tests will include two answer choices that are totally wrong, sometimes even ridiculous.  The sooner students learn to game the tests, the better they’ll do.
  4. Teach a QAR (Question-Answer Relationship) Strategy
    Some answers are “right there” whereas other answers require the reader to “think and search” or use only their own head.  (worksheet available here)

Real World Comprehension

  1. Explicitly Teach Reading Strategies
    Many teachers use the language of the reading strategies (predicting, making connections, summarizing, etc.) but how many students can explain what each of the strategies are or why you would use a particular strategy?  Recommit to teaching the strategies, not just as incidental to reading but as the objective of lessons.  (for help with reading strategies, including printable posters, see here)
  2. Promote Student Discussion
    Through handing-off (student-led discussions) or some other means, allow students to discuss literature on their own terms with the teacher acting as the facilitator.
  3. Allow Practice with “Real” Books
    Your basal reader is not enough.  Students will be bored with reading and not develop their strategy use unless they have opportunities to read additional high interest literature in addition to anthology stories.  Whole class readings, small group literature circles, or independent reading workshop, can give students that practice.

How do you improve comprehension?

RTI (Response to Intervention) A Complete Apple Workflow

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Thank you to those of you who attended my workshop, “RTI:  A Complete Apple Workflow” at the CUE conference this weekend.   I spoke about using Apple Software to address your Response to Intervention program.  This post contains the links, resources, and ideas that I shared.  Rather than simply posting the keynote file (which is much easier) I prefer to recap and flush out some of the ideas so that it’s beneficial even to those who weren’t there.

What is RTI?

As I define it, rather than simply teaching everyone the same thing and assuming that if someone doesn’t “get it” that there’s something wrong with them, RTI assumes that there will be students who do not master a concept after whole group instruction and will need additional time and intensity (interventions) to master concepts.  This, of course, is very similar to the idea of Independent Work Time.

Alice Mercer, in her CUE presentation, also addressed RTI and went into additional detail in defining it.

Part One:  Dealing with Data

It’s very important to collect and analyze data in order to target interventions to specific student need.  “Fluency” is to vague to be an intervention.  Focusing on short vowels, long vowels, or digraphs is a better intervention because it targets a specific student need.  Using Apple’s iWork (Pages and Numbers) or even Microsoft Word’s (Office and Excel) can help you to organize data by creating a spreadsheet, graphing data, and using the word processor’s mail merge functions to create parent reports about student data.  I much prefer iWork to Office because of its ease of use and the ability to create better looking documents.

Here’s additional information on graphing in Numbers and how to use the mail merge function.  I taught both these things in the workshop.

Part Two:  Prescriptions for Success ways of using Apple technology to address student needs




While behavior tracking software is popular among schools with large behavior problems.  I saw office referrals eliminated in my classroom simply through working on these movie projects.  I gave the example of Joseph, a student who I knew would not be quiet if I was to call “Quiet on the Set.”  Instead of playing through that scenario and getting annoyed at Joseph ruining other students’ projects, I decided to make Joseph the engineer.  He called out “Quiet on the Set!” and he pushed the red Garageband button.  The rest of the class was dead quiet and Joseph experienced being a successful and productive member of our class rather than being the one who wrecked everything.  This is a behavioral intervention…intervening to improve student behavior rather than punishing students for bad behavior.


Here are two slides that show some evidence that these techniques are producing gains although I am the first to admit that we need to continue collecting data on the subject.

In my classroom, I saw an 18% increase in the number of students reading at benchmark 12 weeks after working on the Reader’s Theater script, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse:

In Escondido Unified, they saw average gains of about 40 words per minute after six weeks of reading with iPods whereas normal gains are about 10 words per minute:


Here are some incidental things I mentioned in my presentation.

HandBrake for ripping movies from commercial DVDs  you own for storing on iPod.

PWN Youtube and other ways of downloading Youtube movies.


Down and Dirty Data Analysis

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Green is good.  Red is bad.

Here’s what they taught me in “coaching college” about how to read data.

Reading vertically indicates the teacher’s problem.  Reading horizontally indicates a student’s problem.

So, Harpo needs some additional help in all language arts areas.  However, in the vocabulary category, it appears that the teacher needs to examine his/her own instruction as its not succeeding for most of the students.  There’s all kinds of reasons why the teacher could say the students aren’t succeeding and there is validity to all of them…no help at home, trouble learning the language, poorly designed tests, a bad day in class.  This class in particular I hear is a bunch of class clowns.  However, the fact remains that the teacher’s vocabulary instruction with this group of students is not working and if he/she wants better results he/she must try something different.