There is no doubt that, with the advent of the Common Core, we will need to spend more and more instructional time teaching all kids how to comprehend!  And what I find, is that so many folks are losing their minds and thinking that there is somehow some sort of different way of teaching comprehension than, say, teaching kids to decode words.

Well, I’m here to tell you – there isn’t!

The key to teaching comprehension is to teach kids first to retell.  This is the conduit (how do you like THAT big word??? LOL) for comprehension.  Yep, comprehension mastery is going to rest on students’ abilities to at least retell the selection.  This extends to both informational text and literature or narrative.

So, the question is, how do I apply my explicit teaching model principles (teach, model, practice, apply, assess) to teaching comprehension?

You start small.

Like really small.

(And, by the way, this info is not grade level specific…you would be shocked at how many upper elementary and secondary kids haven’t been taught to retell what they’ve read – so don’t shy away from this if you teach older students!)

Here’s what “starting small” might look like when you’re teaching kids how to retell:

  • Read a sentence.  Yep, just a sentence…we’re starting small, remember?

For example, the sentence might be something like this: “Corduroy is bear who once lived in the toy department of a big store”

  • Ask the students very specific who/what/when/where/why/how questions about that sentence

For example: Who lived in a toy department? (Corduroy)

Where did Corduroy live? (In a toy department)

Where was that toy department located? (In a department of a store)

What was the size of the store? (Big)

  • Once they get good at that (and it might take awhile), then move to a shorter paragraph and do the same
  • Read the short paragraph with them, stopping to ask them very specific who/what/where/when/why/how questions relating to that paragraph
  • Stay on retelling the most important info from paragraphs for awhile
  • Then move to longer paragraphs or a series of short paragraphs/passages
  • Do the same – ask the kids very specific who/what/where/when/why/how questions about that passage or longer paragraph
  • Rinse and repeat

Um, I meant just repeat.  Not sure where that “rinse” part came from!

You see, the big idea here is that we’re teaching kids how to stick to the text (a HUGE piece of mastering the Common Core standards, by the way) to look for their responses.  What the tight, habitual practice in this vein does is help kids get more confident and skilled in practicing the simple retell, leaving their brain power and teaching time to be spent on more complex responses.

In fact, when you analyze the RI and RL Common Core Standards 1-3, you’ll notice that at every grade level, those particular standards are completely resting on the idea that kids can give us the who/what/when/where/why/how of what they’re reading.  It’s essential to their Common Core success!

So, my advice to you is to start slowly…don’t over-do it or get overly frustrated when you have to spend several weeks teaching simple retell on the sentence level.  This is a “front end work/back end payoff” thing in our teaching world!!