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.
major 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:
familiar with text formats (books, stories, articles, and other
able to recognize and write the alphabet;
basic phonemic awareness (i.e., understanding of the segments
into which spoken words can be broken); and
positive attitudes and motivation to read.
Oral comprehension 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 comprehension skills.
Three tips for an effective oral reading comprehension
Read 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 strategies.
Fiction 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:
reading, initiate discussions about the author, characters,
and/or main story concepts or ideas.
reading, clarify vocabulary and ask students to explain certain
events and character motives, make predictions where possible,
and discuss story "messages" or theme.
reading, design brief activities and/or discussions that help
students relate the text to everyday experiences.
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.).
and after reading, elaborate on concepts associated with context-
or content-specific vocabulary, not just definitions.
on the pictures and the words themselves on each page, and the
relationships between the pictures and the print text.
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
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.
Teach 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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C., & Ehri, L. (1994). Reading storybooks to kindergartners helps
them learn new vocabulary words. Journal of Educational Psychology,
A. (1988). The effects of three reading instruction techniques
on the comprehension and word recognition of first graders grouped
by ability. Reading Psychology, 9(1), 17-32.
C., & Tabors, P. (1993). Language skills that relate to literacy
development. In B. Spodek & O. Saracho (Eds.), Language and
literacy in early childhood education (pp. 1-20). New York:
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might also be interested in:
Cornerstones of Reading Comprehension: Teaching for Vocabulary
and Text Understanding (All grades, especially 2-8)
Search of Story Structure: Teaching Readers Cognitive Strategies
for Story Comprehension (Grades 3-6)
Story Structure: An Instructional Guide for Improving Reading
Comprehension (Grades 3-6)
little ones? Try the:
(Preschool) - Get resources on early literacy and reading readiness,
early numeracy, and learning through play.