Improving Reading Comprehension:
Making the Oral Reading Connection in the Early Grades
In the past, inferences regarding reading
comprehension instruction in the early primary grades (kindergarten, grade
1, and grade 2) have been constrained by preschool predictors of literacy
success on one side and reading comprehension requirements in the later
grades on the other.
instructional tension associated with kindergarten and early elementary
literacy is less about what children should learn than how we can help
them to learn. The approaches we choose as parents and as teachers should
support both developmentally appropriate as well as preparatory literacy
goals. In general, students in kindergarten, grade 1, and grade 2 should:
- become familiar with text formats (books, stories, articles, and other print resources);
- be able to recognize and write the alphabet;
- develop basic phonemic awareness (i.e., understanding of the segments into which spoken words can be broken); and
- develop positive attitudes and motivation to read.
skills, in working with both vocabulary and text, provide an important
support in helping students to transition to the written word. The stageoral
reading comprehension developmentcan be effective for addressing
the primary goals of kindergarten and early elementary literacy. When
employed correctly, it can also serve as a useful scaffoldin this
case, an intervention that focuses on the transitional needs of students
as they move toward full engagement with the written word. The following
ideas and tips can help to make this stage more productive for the young
learner, and help to establish a firm base for future development of reading
Three tips for an effective oral reading comprehension
aloud with shared books. Engage in read-aloud sessions where students
take turns reading from a story, book, or other text selections. These
sessions also provide an excellent opportunity for a parent or teacher
to read aloud to students. Build it into your sessions. Often we hear
this referred to as interactive reading, and it provides a direct avenue
for developing students' understanding of the concepts of "word" and "letter"
(Holdaway, 1979; Snow & Tabors, 1993), vocabulary (Robbins & Ehri, 1994),
and syntax ad style (Bus, van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995; Feitelson,
Goldstein, Iraqi, & Share, 1993), as well as motivation to read.
During read-aloud sessions, encourage students to ask questions, to respond
to each other's questions and to teacher-generated questions, and to notice
the use of certain print features and conventions (e.g., punctuation,
word selection, spelling, etc.). Use "repeated reading" to reinforce these
and nonfiction, including informational texts, storybooks, and picture
books, are all effective in a read-aloud format (Mason, Peterman, Powell,
& Kerr, 1989). Each provides special opportunities, and these extend from
use in kindergarten through third grade. Try several proven read-aloud
techniques with each, including:
- Before reading, initiate discussions about the author, characters,
and/or main story concepts or ideas.
- During reading, clarify vocabulary and ask students to explain certain
events and character motives, make predictions where possible, and discuss
story "messages" or theme.
- Before reading, design brief activities and/or discussions that help
students relate the text to everyday experiences.
- During reading, pose frequent questions and probe students' responses
with additional questions. Lead students to predict, explain, and
deduce/infer cause-and-effect relationships (e.g., an event or action leads
to another event, etc.).
- During and after reading, elaborate on concepts associated with
context- or content-specific vocabulary, not just definitions.
- Focus on the pictures and the words themselves on each page, and the
relationships between the pictures and the print text.
- Help students use pictures as cues for predicting repeated
patternsespecially appropriate and fitting for use with
patterned or predictable books (see below).
Use a variety of book types. Keep as many
books directly available to students as possible, at all times. Research
has indicated that the simple availability is a catalyst for
developing children's literacy (Gambrell, 1995; Gambrell & Morrow, 1996;
Krashen, 1996), but their true impact depends heavily on how parents and
teachers use them. Several types of books help support our efforts to help
children make the oral reading comprehension connection, and ease our
early forays into helping our children learn to read and understand what
they read. Several are outlined below.
These are large storybooks featuring both print and illustrations.
They make great tools for sharing stories and engaging a number
of children at one time in a reading experience. Try using "fingerpointing"
as a technique with these books. As you read the book along with
the students, fingerpoint at certain words and phrases. As you
do so, emphasize such text features as directionality (order of
words and left-to-right arrangement), similar sounds or word beginnings,
synonyms and antonyms (only, call them something like "opposites,"
etc.), rhyming texts (for introducing the notion of letter-sound
correspondence), and words that repeat often throughout the book
or text. Encourage students to hunt down repeated words and help
them to establish these as "sight words."
Patterned or predictable books
These books contain text that is repetitive or highly predictable.
For example, the book may contain a very logical (predictable)
next step on each page, such as in the book The Spooky Old
Tree by Jan and Stan Berenstain. On each successive page,
the bear cubs (the Berenstain Bears) make their way through a
new part of the tree in order. These books often present a question
that is repeated on each page, such as in the book Are You
My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. In this book, a baby bird that
has fallen out of a tree goes in search of its mother, and on
each successive page the bird encounters a new animal, and asks
the animal if it is its mother. The repetitive questioning, and
the predictable answer ("no") helps children to grasp the most
basic structure of a story, and to look ahead and predict what
is coming next.
These books substitute familiar pictures for unfamiliar words
in order to simplify the reading process. They improve fluency
by easing the vocabulary requirements necessary for comprehension,
and also tap prior knowledge in a substantive way, using the known
to promote an understanding of the unknown. Often, rebus books
are designed to build sight word recognition of words that are
very frequent (e.g., "the," "of," etc.) and gradually more formidable
words as students become more comfortable with the written word.
active listening. Listening has been referred to as the "act of understanding
speech" (Harris & Hodges, 1995). Teaching students how to listen is a
nice accompaniment to any read-aloud scenario, and use of strategies to
promote students' abilities to listen has been shown to be particularly
effective for improving reading comprehension (Boodt, 1984; Sippola, 1988).
Though they work together well, and both are effective, listening for
meaning has actually produced better sentence recall than emphasis on
accurate oral reading per se (National Reading Panel [NRP], 2000). One
reason for this is that listening instruction focuses interest on the
material being read, and interest has been shown to be more of a factor
in sentence recall than readability. During instruction, work with students
to take turns describing what they have heard, comparing this with other
students, and answering questions about the text. Help pave the way by
presenting certain features or aspects of a story that you would like
students to listen for in advance of reading the story aloud.
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