Teaching Reading Comprehension

Of all the things I teach, I find reading comprehension the hardest. The retrieval type questions are OK, as are the technique ones, but teaching things like inference is quite tricky. I’ve found a workaround by teaching it from the opposite direction – giving the children a piece to read where the characters are shaking or crying and asking how they can tell the character is sad, scared, etc.

It’s really hard to find good resources to help though. There are books with lots of practise questions, but if you don’t know how to answer them then no matter how many questions you attempt, you still won’t be able to.

comprehension booksAt last I have found a solution. It’s a series of books called Teaching Comprehension Strategies from Prim-Ed. They take the various types of questions: summarising, predicting, concluding etc and explain step by step how to answer each type. Each question type is split into three stages. On the first page are some multiple choices with an explanation for each choice as to why that answer is good, unlikely, perfect or impossible. Next up are a few questions with hints on where to look and how to work out the answers. To finish are questions to answer independently with no clues.

As a bonus, the books aimed at younger readers are not at all babyish, so I can use them with my struggling readers without them feeling demotivated at reading things aimed at “babies”.

I’ve found them really useful, and the feedback I’ve had from the children I’ve used them with has been really positive, both in terms of usefulness and enjoyment.

Related post: Beast Quest Comprehension

Why Don’t Children Read More? (part 3)

I tutor a couple of children who hate reading. I don’t mean they’d rather play football or computer games than read,  I mean they’d rather gargle saltwater than pick up a book. It’s always a challenge to find something that children like this will read.

I thought about getting them to read magazines or comics instead, but there doesn’t seem to be the same range of titles or quality of articles as there used to be.

I’m going to show my age now, but when I was younger there were age-appropriate magazines with a range of types of writing inside. For younger girls there was Girl, and for the older ones, Jackie. They had photo stories, full length written stories, page-long articles about how to apply make-up, problem pages. It wasn’t just the girly girls who were catered for. My friends and I used to read Shoot, which had interviews with all our favourite football players, discussions about tactics, a letters/opinions page…. There was also Look-in with features about TV shows and several comic strip stories.

I recently scoured the children’s magazine section of a large newsagents, looking for something suitable, but with only a couple of exceptions, there is nothing. I know that people get up-in-arms about the phrase ‘dumbing down’, but in my opinion that is what has happened to children’s magazines. The emphasis seems to be more on the free gifts than the content, which seems to consist of lots of photos of celebrities and/or footballers with a two-line caption under each one, and pages of word searches and spot the difference puzzles. I picked up magazine after magazine and found them all to be the same.

The only exceptions were First News and National Geographic for Kids. Both of these have interesting and informative articles of a reasonable length, with the quality of writing I want my pupils to be producing themselves. The two pupils I mentioned at the beginning of this piece have enjoyed both of these publications. If only there were more magazines of this calibre.

How can we ever hope to encourage our children to read more if we don’t provide them with good quality alternatives to books?

What about you? If you have found any good alternatives I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Why Don’t Children Read More? (part 2)

I have read 13 books so far this year. Many of them have contained at least one mistake, and a few of them have been so riddled with mistakes I couldn’t help wondering whether the publishing company had even heard of the concept of proofreading. I’m not even talking about just typos. Typos are annoying, and they should be picked up before a book goes to print, but even proof-readers are human and I can understand why the odd one slips through here and there. I’m talking about huge, glaring mistakes that spoil my enjoyment of a book because they don’t make sense.

I read a book once where the names of all the characters changed for one chapter in the middle of a book! That was highly confusing, but as an adult I worked out that the writer had changed the character names part way through writing, and forgotten to alter them in one chapter. Imagine what a child would have thought in a similar situation.

I read another book that contained the sentence: “Things are haveing (sic) to have a lot worse get before they better.” Ok, so I worked out what it meant – that’s beside the point. Coming across a sentence like this throws me out of the story and makes it harder to engage with the characters.

When there are errors like these every 2 to 3 pages, I feel like giving up and hurling the book across the floor. I love reading, so if errors in books make me want to give up, I imagine the temptation would be 100 times greater for a child who is already reluctant to read. Is it any wonder then if they don’t bother?

So far I have looked at libraries and the quality of books as reasons why children might not read. Tomorrow I’ll look at the last reason I have thought of. Do you have thoughts on why children don’t read more? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Why Don’t Children Read More? (part 1)

Whose Fault is it that children don’t read?

Why don’t children read more? It’s a question I’m always asking myself and never finding an answer to. When your job is to help children improve their writing and reading comprehension skills, you quite often find yourself hitting a wall (not literally, obviously) because they don’t read enough. Sometimes I feel like sinking to my knees and saying, “Please – please – please just READ” But at the end of the day, is it their fault that they don’t?

A few years ago I worked with one particular boy who didn’t ever read. I kept trying to tempt him with little snippets from books, but nothing took his fancy, until one day he suddenly said, “Miss, this one is brilliant. Can we read some more of it?” I explained that I didn’t have the whole book, but told him that he would be able to get it from his local library. He was a little concerned about the cost, and didn’t quite believe me when I told him that it was free, but he agreed to go.

The following Monday morning he came to find me to tell me what an exciting place the library was. “I’ve never seen so many books to choose from, Miss, and you can take out lots of books in case you don’t like one of them, and it’s all free and everything.”

Of course, if he went these days he’d probably find it closed.

In a city the size of Birmingham, you’d think gaining access to books would be easy. Not so, as I discovered over the Christmas holidays. We are getting a new multi-million pound building for our library as the current one is so out-dated. It doesn’t open till September though, but the “current” one is as good as closed – all of the reference sections have been packed up ready for the move, so if you want to do some research, as I do, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait another 6 months.

The nearby town of Sutton Coldfield doesn’t have a library either. It closed over a year ago for refurbishment. There are no signs of any refurb happening, and no indication that it will ever reopen.

My local library used to open 5 ½ days a week, with two late nights. It’s now open 5 days, but closes at 5 o’clock each day – no good for parents who would like to take their children to the library after work.

If we make it so difficult for children to gain access to books, is it any wonder that so many of them don’t want to make the effort.

Is this the only reason that children don’t read? Of course not, and I’ll talk about other reasons in a future post, but it really doesn’t help.