reading for comprehension

The Only Reading Comprehension Tools You Need Are Right Under Your Nose

Less is more.

Simple is best.

Apply this wisdom to your English teaching, and you’ll have the recipe for success.

That’s because to teach reading comprehension effectively, you don’t need to look any further than your own classroom for three seriously valuable teaching tools.

Yes, you heard right—the key you’ve been searching for has been right under your nose!

And putting these simple tools to use, we’re sharing 12 phenomenal, tested-and-approved reading comprehension activities below that require nothing more than a few bare essentials: pencil, notebook, post-its. Let’s get started!

Reading for Comprehension: 3 Simple Tools That Are Right Under Your Nose

1. Writing in the Book

I don’t know about you, but my teachers and librarians drilled it into my head throughout my young education: Don’t write in the book! Well, I’m here to tell you that allowing your students to write in the book is one of the easiest tools you can give them for reading success.

Many students are like my younger self and hesitate to write in the book. If they do write in the book, they often only write translations above English words as they read. This may make things easier for them in the short term, but will only hurt them in the long term.

Encourage your students to write in the margins of their books rather than above words, and to write English definitions rather than translations of unfamiliar words. But don’t stop there.

Write symbols

Have them make notes in the margins about the content they are reading. You might want to give your students a set of symbols to represent their thoughts as they read, which they can then jot in the margins quickly, without slowing down their reading pace. Try these:

  • (lol) Funny part
  • (?) Confusing part
  • (*) Part that makes you predict something
  • (:) Favorite part
  • (!) Important part
  • (#) Surprising part

You don’t have to use these exact symbols; feel free to choose others as you like! You can also add symbols for other things you want your students to mark as they read. Plus, if your students remember anything they already know or have experienced as they are reading, encourage them to put that in the margin, too.

Use sticky notes

Are you still feeling uneasy about writing in the book, or are your students? Then use sticky notes instead. If your students are reading in a school-owned or library book, sticky notes are a better option than writing in the margins. Sticky notes encourage students to be fast and abbreviated so they don’t get bogged down in the middle of reading. Plus, students can use small sticky notes to mark the same kinds of things they would otherwise write in the margin.

2. A Reading Notebook

A reading notebook is a great place to make notes while you read, as well as process the information in reading passages. All your students need is a standard notebook full of blank pages designated for reading assignments. It’s what you put in that notebook that makes the difference.

Include graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are great to include in a reading notebook. They help students organize their thoughts in visual ways. Here are some easy graphic organizers your students might try using in their notebooks.

  • K/W/L charts are best used before reading a passage. In the first column, students write what they already know about a topic. The second column is for what they want to know about that topic. The third column gets filled in after reading, and contains what they learned from the passage they read.
  • A SLAM page is another graphic organizer that works great in a reading notebook. They can be used either before or after reading a passage. Here are the parts of a SLAM page:

State the question.
Locate the information in the text.
Add what you know or experiences you have had related to the question.
Make a meaningful conclusion based on what you read and what you know.

  • Venn diagrams are a simple way to process information your students have read, and they are easy to put in a reading notebook. They are used to compare and contrast two items or people. To make a venn diagram, draw two circles on the page with an area of overlap between them. Students will write about one of the items in one circle, the other item in the other circle, and any information that is true for both in the middle overlapping section.
  • Flow charts show cause and effect relationships between ideas or events, and they are also perfect for a reading notebook. To make a flow chart, write each event in a separate box and draw arrows between them to show the relationships between the events.

Not every great activity for a reading notebook is a graphic organizer, though, so below are some more options.

Make lift-the-flap comprehension pages

Try lift-the-flap comprehension pages with your students. Each person should write the following questions on sticky notes–one question per sticky note. Students should then arrange the sticky notes on a page in their notebooks.

  1. What is the main idea?
  2. What are the details the help you understand the main idea?
  3. Are there any words/phrases you don’t understand? What context clues can you use to make an educated guess as to their meaning?
  4. What do you picture in your head as you read? What descriptions make you picture things that way?
  5. Can you identify cause and effect relationships in the passage (what event is causing another event to happen)?
  6. What information is factual? What is just the author’s opinions?
  7. Why did the author write this? What was his or her purpose?
  8. Does what you are reading remind you of anything you already know or any experiences you have had?
  9. Considering what you read, what else is probably true?
  10. What do you think will happen next?

After reading the passage, students lift up the sticky note without removing it from the page. (They can crease it along the sticky section to make a flap.) They then jot the answer down underneath the sticky note to make a lift-the-flap answer page.

Open-mind portrait

An open-mind portrait is another fun activity for a reading notebook. In it, students draw a picture of a character on one page of their notebook—from the shoulders up.

On the opposite page or on the back of the page, they draw an outline of the character. Then they fill the outlined picture with words and pictures to represent what that character thinks and feels in the reading passage.

3. Off the Page

Books and notebooks are great, but they aren’t the only places to develop better reading comprehension in students.

Talk about it

Put your class in pairs and have them talk with a partner about what they read. Students can discuss the reading selection together, ask questions or describe what each pictured in their heads as they read. They can share related experiences and make predictions about what might come next in the reading selection.

Make a comprehension cube

Making a comprehension cube is a fun and hands-on way to increase reading comprehension. Have each student cut out a template for a paper cube. Then write these phrases (or your own) on the board:

Describe it (What happens in the story?)
Compare it (Is there another story like this one? Or a real life situation similar to it?)
Analyze it (What message is the story trying to get across?)
Associate it (Does the story remind you of anything in your life?)
Argue for or against it (Is it a good story? Is the message true?)
Apply it (How does this story make my life different? How should I respond to what I read?)

Students will write each phrase on one square of the cube. They can respond in writing or by drawing a picture. After they have completed the six sides, students can fold the cube and tape it together. If you like, hang the completed cubes from your ceiling. For example, if your students read the story of Cinderella, they might fill out their cube like this.

Describe it — A poor girl gets help from her fairy godmother so she can go to the prince’s ball.

Compare it — Cinderella is a stepchild. Her step sisters treat her poorly like my friend Jose’s brothers do to him.

Analyze it — This story teaches us that good always wins in the end.

Associate it — I remember dressing up like Cinderella when I was a child.

Argue for it — We don’t really have fairy godmothers, so this story is not like real life.

Apply it — I should be hopeful in difficult situations even when I can’t see the way out.

Play a comprehension dice game

Students play this game in groups of two to four. Give each group a list of questions to answer that check comprehension. You can use the questions from the lift-the-flap exercise, the comprehension cube or your own.

On their turn, students roll the die and answer the question that corresponds to the number they rolled. If they answer correctly, they score that many points. Students race to score fifteen points. If you don’t want to keep score, students can also play with a blank game board and race to the finish line.

Try an egg carton comprehension activity

Start by giving each group of around four students an empty egg carton. Have students write the following questions on small slips of paper and then place them in plastic eggs. Then put the eggs in the carton.

  • What is the main idea?
  • What are the details the help you understand the main idea?
  • Are there any words/phrases you don’t understand? What context clues can you use to make an educated guess as to their meaning? [Make two]
  • What do you picture in your head as you read? What descriptions make you picture things that way? [Make two]
  • Can you identify cause and effect relationships in the passage (What event is causing another event to happen)?
  • What information is factual? What is just the author’s opinions?
  • Why did the author write this? What was his or her purpose?
  • Does what you are reading remind you of anything you already know or any experiences you have had?
  • Considering what you read, what else is probably true?
  • What do you think will happen next?

Students take turns pulling an egg from the carton, reading the question inside and answering it. Have each group use a note taker to write down everyone’s answers and share them in a class discussion following the activity.

These three simple tools are powerful as ever in helping your students succeed with reading comprehension. Feel free to explore variations of these valuable activities to discover more ideas, too. And remember, sometimes the best ideas are lying right under your nose!

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