‘A little bird told me!’

There is no shortage of talking, debating, questioning and imagining things in our home! And while we tend toward creativity when it comes to problem-solving, cooking, and filling out forms for the Paper People Tribe (as my husband calls them), there is much to be said for always having a firm grasp of the facts. When a heartfelt question is asked, an honest and clear answer is required. When the source of specific information is requested, a grounded and accurate response is necessary. In other words, ‘a little bird told me’ just will not do!

Developing a student’s creativity is a wonderful thing – but not if it encourages them to have a weak understanding of ‘the facts’. A clear and grounded assessment of reality must come before a creative response to a situation or challenge!

A good reading comprehension course can be an excellent tool for developing one’s ability to analyse and retain information accurately from a written text. The following short article outlines what we feel makes a good reading comprehension course, and can give an idea of what we focus on when putting together our own resources.

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Some parents wonder whether it is worth the time and effort to make a student read a text and answer questions about it. Likewise, some students do not find answering ‘reading comprehension’ questions very interesting. Why not do a crossword or make a drawing instead?

There is much to be gained from intelligent reading comprehension exercises! In fact, if reading comprehension is doing what it is supposed to, the student will be challenged – not bored. The text will be better appreciated – not drained of its magic. And the student’s writing will steadily improve, preparing them with all of the skills required for essay-writing later on: clearly identifying relevant information, choosing good sentence structure and verb tenses, and differentiating between their own ideas and others’.

 

A good reading comprehension course will do the following:

  • Ask questions that require the student to read and possibly reread the text (even if only in part) in order to write a good answer. More generalized questions and shorter texts are suitable for younger students, but older students should be challenged to read longer texts to develop a keen eye for detail. For example, a question that asks the student accurately to describe characters or events in their own words will require taking a second look at a text.

 

  • Ask questions that make the student think. The student should occasionally be asked to offer an opinion or an explanation that is not clearly presented in the text. For example, the student should have to defend their own understanding of the text, or explain a character’s motives. Contemplating what the student would do in a situation similar to that faced by a character in a story forces the student to fully grasp what they have read, and to think about it. By guiding a student to compare an older text with some element of life in current times, the story can be brought to life and appreciated in new ways.

 

  • Require that the student think carefully about sentence structure and verb tenses. In order to answer the reading comprehension question, the student should needto rephrase a portion of the text. Questions that can be answered simply by copying out a segment of what was read do not make demands of the growing writer. Reading Comprehension questions for older students should always require that the student answer in full sentences, in their own words, and with proper punctuation. Writing a brief summary of the events in each chapter of a book is an excellent method for developing good choices of verb tense and sentence structure.

 

If a reading comprehension course fills the above requirements, it will be an invaluable tool to prepare a student for essay-writing and research in later years. It can also be a way to read through classics at a slower pace, taking time to understand them – and hopefully enjoy them! There is no rush when it comes to reading comprehension. Slow and steady efforts will bear fruit in years to come. There are many valuable skills to be nurtured in a young writer, and a good reading comprehension course will cultivate many of these all at once.

(This article first appeared in the Currclick newsletter a few years ago, under the title ‘Why Bother With Reading Comprehension?’.)

To browse our Reading Comprehension titles, please visit Currclick or Tes!

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