The most important goal of a reading program should be to cultivate the love of reading and develop successful readers. But here is a key point: by successful readers I don’t mean children who are able to decode print. That is indeed a necessary skill. However, successful readers do so much more than that. They are actually able to comprehend what they read and furthermore, talk about it.
In our class, we do the usual activities to develop letter/sound connections, book handling skills, and decoding strategies. At the same time, we spend a lot of time simply talking about books with the children. Weather as a whole class, in small groups, or partnerships, we show the children how to have ideas and conversations about books. Naturally, these are skills and behaviours that need to be modelled and practiced. A read aloud offers a lot of opportunities for this. It can be a simple teacher think aloud such as “I wonder if…”, or a turn and talk with your neighbour about how the main character must feel about this event, or a more specific conversation about story structure elements such as setting. All of these experiences help ensure comprehension and strengthen the children’s own talks about books. .
Some of the open-ended questions we use are:
- Where and when does the story take place? How do you know?
- What problem or situation does the author use to get the story started?
- What are the main events of the story? Could you change their order or leave any of them out? Why or why not?
- How did the story end?
- Think of a different ending to the story.
- Did the story end the way you expected it to? What clues did the author offer to prepare you to expect this ending?
- Who is the main character of the story? What kind of person is the character? What did he do or say to show you what he was like?
- What did ______ try to do about _______? What happened when _____ did _____? Why did _____ do ______?
- What did _______ want?
- How did _______ feel in the end?
- What was your favourite part of the story? Why?
- Does this story remind you of anything that has happened to you or someone you know?
- Is this story like any other story you have read or watched?
- Think about the characters in the story. Are any of them the same type of characters that you have met in other stories?
Obviously, we don’t ask all these questions at once. In the beginning we simply familiarise the children with the elements of story structure: characters, setting, problem, solution. We’ve made symbols for these four ideas for the more visual learners. Later on in the year when the children work in partnerships to retell, discuss, and compare stories, they use smaller versions of the symbols as prompt cues for their discussions.
In an effort to accommodate all learning styles, at times we also ask them to draw these four elements of story structure. They draw on four index cards. Then they place the index cards in a four envelope accordion (we make this), and use labels (we make these too) to specify what each card/picture represents. They really like this activity and it gets them in the habit of thinking about story structure.
As teachers of early readers we sometimes become too print-focused. It is important that we keep in mind all the elements which make good readers successful. We need to give our students opportunities to think about books on their own and talk about them with each other. This will eventually help them become stronger independent readers who are able to have successful and satisfying reading experiences.
Please share with us ideas and activities of your own that pertain to developing successful readers.