RELEVANT PRIOR KNOWLEDGE TO PREDICT Strategy
Thoughtful readers use relevant prior knowledge to predict when reading, forming hypotheses about what
might occur next. When reading they bring knowledge from life experiences and knowledge about the text,
and form predictions based on this prior knowledge before and during reading.
Thoughtful readers often read the front and back covers or skim a text, and form predictions about
what might occur.
They compare their predictions with ideas in the text, and they evaluate and modify their
predictions as necessary.
They reflect on their predictions and what they have read, and may review their knowledge base to
construct new understandings.
Questioning is an important strategy in developing comprehension. Fluent readers actively and strategically
engage when reading by asking questions. This helps them to
focus their reading;
delve deeper into the text;
critically reflect on what they have read.
It is through asking meaningful questions that students learn to monitor their comprehension. Good readers
recognize when they are losing meaning, whether it be at the word, sentence, or text level and are able to
ask questions about what strategies they need to use to help them comprehend (Block and Pressley 2003).
Successful readers are able to both flexibly integrate questioning and to activate other comprehension
strategies as they read.
Good reading instruction should provide students with explicit instruction in developing questioning
strategies to both actively construct meaning and to monitor comprehension. As a teacher, you need to
introduce the specific questioning strategies that your students can ask themselves before, during, and after
they read. Research shows that students who have been shown how to generate questions out-perform
those who have not (Pearson, Roehler, Dole, and Duffy 1992). The development of questioning strategies
allows students to become more strategic and critical readers.
This module provides a range of examples to support your students in grade levels six to nine, in using
questioning as a strategy for developing comprehension.
What’s the Big Idea?
This comprehension activity gives students a logical pathway for arriving at the Big Ideas in a text. Modeling
during read aloud will show students how good readers arrive at their points of view about big ideas in texts,
and how they justify their positions by relating them back to the text.
It is difficult for many students to move from the facts in a text to logical and valid conclusions and to
personal positions about the Big Ideas in it. Other students make connections with their own positions too
early. They draw conclusions about the text that cannot be traced back to it. It is then difficult for them to go
back into the text to reconsider other positions they could make and to understand that other conclusions
could be drawn about the Big Ideas in it.
Choose a text that is multileveled—where complex ideas and issues are embedded, and where facts provide
evidence that support these. The text need not be long—many picture story texts for older readers are ideal
for this. As well, there are many quite short novels available. The House on Mango Street and Seedfolks are
appropriate. As you read the text to students, show how you list the questions you ask that will help you
arrive at the Big Ideas in the text.
Answer the questions as you read, making the connections with the questions very explicit. For more
information, click on What's the Big Idea?
Spotlights: Focus on Small but Significant Parts of a Story
A pivotal piece of text is extracted from the story, subjected to close questioning in order to determine its
significance, the part it plays in developing the story, and the Big Ideas that are embedded in it.
Spotlighting a pivotal part of a text and exploring its significance will help students understand how stories
work to create tension and movement and how sometimes simple words influence our interpretation of text
and the position we take in response to our interpretations.
Read a significant and pivotal extract from a story that is familiar to students, perhaps from a novel
they have been exploring.
The extract should be able to be read at a number of cognitive levels.
Ask students to determine the narrator or speaker of the piece
o the questions they might have for the speaker;
o the situation in which the piece is set;
o the connections to other parts of the story;
o whether there are valid pathways connecting this extract to other happenings in the story;
o the significance of the piece;
o why this piece has been extracted for study;
o what evidence supports this view.
Dig Deep Questions
The Dig Deep Questions are the big open ended questions that lead to inferential thinking that expand the
meaning gained from texts. Many students find it difficult to ask the big questions that lead to deeper
comprehension. Many of their questions are literal and focus on detail and can be answered directly from
We want students to ask a range of types of questions of texts and particularly inferential questions as these
are the questions that lead to a deeper comprehension. The first step in this process is to have the students
generate their own questions and show how some can be answered from the text while others require
students to make inferences. Using the same Read Aloud on two or three consecutive days you can show
that some of their questions can be answered easily from the text while others require thinking about and
help us gain a deeper understanding of the text.
By modeling asking questions and having the students generate their own, you can show how this provides a
framework for thinking about the reading.
Think-aloud is a well-researched and important strategy for reading comprehension. Simply put, it is when
readers recognize and talk out loud about the process that is occurring in their head (metacognition), as they
read. Students who think metacognitively can monitor their thinking processes, adjust their thinking to
achieve clearer comprehension and use that adjustment for any future refinement in making meaning as
The Think-aloud strategy is interesting because it needs to be treated as a comprehension strategy in its
own right, but also the kinds of thinking aloud being done involves the use of other comprehension
strategies. So you can integrate the teaching of Think-aloud with the teaching on each of the other
Think-aloud has been shown to improve students’ comprehension both when students themselves engage in
the practice during reading and also when teachers routinely use Think-aloud while reading to students
(Duke and Pearson, 2002).
Good readers can self monitor their own reading comprehension. They decide, when thinking aloud, which
strategies they may need to use in order to assist their understanding of the material at hand. They employ a
range of strategies such as self-questioning, predicting, retelling, visualizing and summarizing as a means of
creating meaning. All of these may be used as part of Think-aloud, which is helpful because your students
will realize that comprehension strategies are interrelated.
Many developing and struggling readers do not employ self-monitoring strategies and consequently do not
construct meaning that assists them comprehend what they are trying to read.
It is crucial for you to gain some insight into what a student is or isn’t doing during this process of reading.
Listening to students as they use Think-aloud is a useful form of assessment. It gives you the ability to
determine each student’s comprehension and self monitoring strategies. This helps you to make informed
decisions about how you can assist the students develop and improve the process they use in constructing
meaning from text. With that knowledge, you can plan a flexible, responsive, and stimulating instructional
program to assist your students improve their comprehension by
acquiring the ability to self monitor their reading comprehension;
thinking about what they don’t comprehend;
learning a range of fix up strategies to be used to support and refine any breakdowns in
learning how to use comprehension strategies whenever they are reading.
The strategy of Think-aloud can be used to assist your students to do this across all subject areas,
and can be modeled in Social Studies, Science, Mathematics and any time there is an opportunity
to say out loud the thinking that is taking place behind an action. Good readers are thinking
about their interaction with the text all the time, trying to make sense or comprehend the
information in front of them.
THINK ABOUT TEXT STRUCTURE Strategy
The text structure is the organization or framework of the text and the text features are the elements of the
writing that accompany each text type, such as the language (tense, vocabulary, participants, signal words
for time and order) and the type of supports, such as the artwork (illustrations, photographs, diagrams,
graphs) and aids to organization or language (contents, index, headings, glossary, references). This module
provides suggestions for ways to study the factual text type — reports, recounts, explanations, procedures,
and persuasion, and the fictional text types—realistic fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy/science fiction,
with a focus on mysteries.
Strategies for Deeper Comprehension
Studying text structures and features of the reading in which your students are engaged takes them ‘back
stage’ and into the architecture, or bones of texts. They are able to see how texts are crafted by
deconstructing them with your support.
Some evidence suggests that students who attend to the structure of texts learn more about the content
even while attending to the structure. They are able to identify the features of each text type and therefore
predict how to read more effectively (Duke & Pearson 2002: p.217).
Why It’s Important
You will find, as you explicitly teach your students about text structures and features, that your
students become reading detectives, keen to tell you what they have noticed about the architecture
of the text.
Their metacognitive language about text structures and features gives them more control of the
piece they are reading and, maybe, eventually writing.
Their comprehension broadens, allowing them to analyse and synthesize what the author is writing.
They become more critical readers.
They will learn that different types of texts have different purposes. Some will inform, persuade and
report, while others will entertain and give you an appreciation of literature.
You can teach your students to read and comprehend fiction and factual text more deeply by
studying text structures and features, highlighting through metacognitive thinking aloud your
integration of the content, and the structures around the content.
The process of sifting information from a text is made easier if your readers have a mindset about
the type of text they are reading. It’s part of cracking the code as a reader, leading to better
Visualising is a powerful cognitive tool in comprehension. This module addresses the use of visualising
techniques and the production of visual representations of what has been read. When these are used with a
variety of other comprehension strategies, comprehension is greatly improved.
Sadoski and Paivio (1994), after reviewing research studies on imagery and comprehension, concluded that
‘mental imagery improves comprehension, memory, and interpretive understanding of text.’ And according
to August, Flavell and Clift (1984), Garner (1980) and Paris and Myers (1981), ‘Visual imagery also helps
readers in the crucial task of comprehension monitoring, that is, increasing awareness of whether text is
being understood’ (Block & Pressley, 2002, p.306).
Using visualising techniques involves students engaging directly with text to envisage, imagine and 'see' in
the mind's eye images from that text. According to Gambrell and Bales (1986), Lindsay (1988) and Sadoski
and Paivio (1994), ‘The research on imagery and reading comprehension is based on the theory that mental
imagery is a knowledge representation system that readers can use in organizing, integrating, and retrieving
information from written text’ (Block & Pressley 2002, p.305). It activates the use of all the senses: seeing,
feeling, smelling, touching and tasting. Using approaches that enhance your students’ ability to articulate
‘this is what I'm picturing’ helps them to develop and strengthen their comprehension of text. Students say
that visualizing text makes difficult parts easier to understand and makes the reading more interesting. This
in turn motivates them to read more.
Visual Representation involves using graphic organisers and other visual displays to represent the text, to
communicate the information and show relationships beyond the use of words. ‘Teaching readers to use
systematic visual graphs in order to organize ideas will benefit readers in remembering what they read and
improve reading comprehension and achievement . . .’ (Block, 1993).
This module provides examples of how you can scaffold and improve students’ comprehension development
through the use of a variety of visualising techniques and through using visual representations. Obviously
other strategies — such as using prior knowledge to predict and knowledge of text structure — assist your
students to visualize, and producing visual representations helps them summarize. These and other links
should be discussed so that your secondary students draw on a variety of comprehension strategies when
required to understand texts even more.
A Bird’s Eye View Before, During and After Reading
Good readers use visualizing techniques and visual representations in the following ways.
Before reading students can visually organize their thinking, visualizing the possible content, linking
background knowledge and forming predictions.
During reading students can visualize the content, comparing predictions with ideas, themes and
information in the text. They begin to form a visual representation of what they are reading.
After reading students can visually link new information with prior knowledge, visually represent
what they have read in a graphic summary, and build new understandings.
It’s All in the View!
Good reading-comprehension instruction encompasses the strategic use of visualizing techniques,
such as imagery and the use of visual representations and thinking frameworks to engage the
learner in a dynamic way. Research continues to highlight that the active transformation of text into
a visual display improves knowledge, comprehension and memory.
By teaching visualizing techniques and visual representations through explicit modeling, you are
providing learning opportunities to cater for all your students, recognizing that learners have
different styles of learning and all need a repertoire of strategies to be successful.
Through continual guidance in how to produce visual representations, explaining why they are
useful and involving your students in constructing the visual representations, you and the students
will notice substantial improvement in comprehension.
Understanding and making visual images is referred to as visual literacy. In a society where we are
bombarded with visual images, students need to make sense of all the visual cues around them. Using visual
practices such as imagery, attending to visual images, and using visual representations in your classroom will
assist them in developing and improving their visual literacy.
Developing visualising techniques and using visual representations will enable students to
help them to make sense of their visual world and develop visual literacy;
understand how words and images influence the way meanings are conveyed;
employ and use mental imagery as a self-regulating strategy to monitor comprehension;
construct displays to represent text relationships visually;
learn to construct organized summaries;
learn about text structures;
focus on concepts and relations between concepts;
learn how to view critically and thoughtfully.
Visualising Techniques - Picture This in Your Mind’s Eye
You can teach your secondary students to first picture in their mind’s eye what they predict a story is going
to be about; they can check and recheck that prediction during and/or after the reading by picturing in the
mind’s eye again. They can be using think-aloud and summarizing strategies at the same time. When you
teach your students to visualize, you teach them to make mental images or pictures in their minds that can
trigger the imagination to activate all five senses: hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and seeing.
You can also ask your students to sketch what they are picturing and then discuss what is in their pictures
and why they are sketched in that way. One way to do this is Sketch to Stretch, where students do
individual sketches and then explain them to a partner or a group.
After the sharing, they decide if they wish to change the sketches in any way based on their explanation(s).
Students with limited life experience and little background knowledge of what they are reading about have
fewer visual images to draw upon, and will benefit from
seeing films, DVDs, videos, web pages or TV shows such as documentaries, travel shows and news
clips that provide them with pictorial information about a range of topics;
seeing things firsthand through field trips and neighbourhood walks;
having access to websites with pictorial information;
having access to photographs of places, events and people in various cultures and different historical
reading or being read many picture books and factual materials on a range of topics with lots of
pictures and diagrams.
Summarising aids comprehension. When you summarise, you reduce a text to its bare essentials by
understanding and putting what you have read into your own words. You summarise constantly as you read,
sorting out significant ideas and events and other bits and pieces of information. Summarising provides a
shortened version of another’s text that includes all of the main points of the original, but reduces the detail
of the original text by pulling it back to its essence.
When teaching summarising to your students, make sure that you
keep the main points of the text;
delete unimportant ideas;
maintain the author’s point of view;
sequence the information logically
Summarising is not an easy thing to do. It is one of the hardest strategies for students to grasp and one of
the hardest strategies for you to teach.
When students are taught how to summarise they improve their ability to distil the text into key elements,
and comprehend the content, structure and style of a text. Students comprehend a text by connecting the
new information they are gathering as readers with their own knowledge bank.
How Does Summarising Help Students Comprehend Text?
By learning to omit unnecessary items, summarising allows students to focus on the main points of
Summarising helps students establish in their own minds what they think the text is actually saying.
Good summarisation allows deeper knowledge of what students have read.
This module provides examples of how you can give your secondary students opportunities to summarise by
repeated modeling, working together and giving your students ample time to practice.
Instructional Practices Summary
Effective teaching of comprehension takes careful planning and good management on your part. The
program needs to be interesting and include a flexible use of a range of instructional practices to ensure you
meet the learning needs of your students. With careful organization you will be able to monitor your
students' progress, demonstrate new comprehension strategies, work with the whole class, in small groups
and with individual students while still allowing time for independent practice.
Guiding Principles Summary
Your teaching of comprehension is more likely to be most effective if you have high expectations, inform
students about purposes for learning and allow time for your students to practice and reflect on how to use
the strategies to improve comprehension. You will need to maintain ongoing assessment and routinely
demonstrate the use of reading across all learning and curriculum areas and explicitly show the strategies
proficient readers use to make meaning. By providing opportunities to discuss texts, supporting, guiding and
encouraging your students and allowing daily opportunities for them to read independently, your students
will develop an understanding of the structure and features of texts, build upon prior learning and make
connections between what they know and what they are reading.
Reference: Di Snowball - Reading Comprehension Strategies Years 5-8