Hi friends! This blog is for teachers and families- all for the sheer joy of literacy. When we are enthusiastic about reading and writing our students and our own kids become excited to read and write. I hope that we all can be models for those in our care- how did you show your passion for reading, writing, learning, language, or words today?? It's in those small, daily moments that we teach kids to love literacy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Teaching Tipster with Free Printable: Reading Comprehension in Small (Intervention) Groups

The Why:
It's taken me a while to discover what works best when teaching reading comprehension in a small group. For phonics, fluency, and phonemic awareness I use systematic intervention programs, and alter content and format according to a student's reading intervention need. I use systematic intervention programs for the mentioned reading pillars (I favor SIPPS) and with these easy-to-track skills (phonics and fluency are easy to assess and  growth is very measurable), I always see monumental growth in my students' reading.

I see students begin to really struggle with comprehension around the 2nd and 3rd grade reading levels. At these levels, vocabulary becomes more complex (a major stumbling block to poor comprehenders) and the writing becomes more nuanced, expecting that the reader can make inferences and go beyond the text while reading.

There are a lot of advantages to teaching reading comprehension in a whole-class setting, or to a group of students you spend a great deal of time with. First off, students are able to understand text with greater depth by making connections with classroom content (past/present) and the current text being read.  The more shared experiences you have with your students, the more deeply you can push them to comprehend a text. Also, you can immerse your students in a theme (author study, etc...) or a set of vocabulary words far more easily than in an intervention setting. You can also set up daily routines that foster reading motivation, which ultimately goes a long way in helping a student understand what they've read.   

All that being said- I'm not in a traditional classroom. I've has to find ways that successfully develop a group of students' comprehension in four short sessions weekly.  With reading intervention, I see my students for a limited time each week, which really limits how I can teach reading comprehension. There's no quick fix in teaching reading comprehension!

This last intervention cycle I have tried a new lesson sequence in teaching reading comprehension. It is a spin off on reciprocal teaching. But my students are far from being able to lead the lessons (as is the purpose with reciprocal teaching.

I use one book with each group of students each week. The leveled books tend to average about 30 pages. I am using non-fiction only with these readers. Their comprehension ability is greatly affected by poor vocabulary knowledge and lack of background knowledge (my students are mostly ELLs who speak Spanish at home). My goal in choosing non-fiction texts is to build their background knowledge, to widen their reading, and to foster vocabulary learning.

I have four 30-minute sessions with my students weekly. This lesson sequence was crafted to fit within that time frame. And again, I use one text with my students for an entire week.

The How:

Day 1: Prediction
Before reading the text, students share predictions about the text first based on the cover. Then we look at the table of contents together, and the students make another prediction. Finally, we look through the subtitles, captions, and pictures and the students make additional predictions.

The kids usually want the jump to look at the photos before making predictions about the cover, or the table of contents. However, I encourage them not to peek ahead. I like them to see how their predictions change once they have more information about the book. Also, it is a skill on the DRA and other reading assessments to be able to make predictions solely based on the table of contents of a book- it takes inferring, a valuable comprehension skill to develop.

After the students make predictions, they read the entire text.

When small group is done, their exit ticket is to ask a question, state something they learned, or add a word to their group's word wall.

Day 2: Clarifying
Wow! Day 2 really helps me, as the teacher, get into the mind of my students and really understand what they do and don't understand about a text.

I have them start Day 2 by rereading the text. During this time I am giving a running record, or stopping students to have them tell me about what they are reading. I have them highlight words they don't know with highlight tape while they are reading the book this second time.        

Usually students are stumped on words- and many times words that present them with a new concept. I am often astonished what words my students do not know, words I often assume they know. Having them share words they do not know can be embarrassing, but we talk a lot about the importance of asking for help with words/ideas they do not understand. And you'll see, once they get started, they love it!

After they share their words, we discuss them together. A lot of times students that know the meaning of the word share what they know about the word to the other students. Then we add the new word to our word wall. Many times I explain the word and draw a quick sketch or show a picture from google to help them fully grasp the meaning.

Like Day 1, When small group is done, their exit ticket is to ask a question, state something they learned, or add a word to their group's word wall.

Day 3: Summarizing
Summarizing a text is cognitively challenging. This is the day where I find I need to scaffold the students the most. 

The students reread through the book, or a portion of the book (depending), a third time. This time they are on the search for key words. On the worksheet I created to correspond with this process, they record their key words. Choosing the most important words/concepts in a text is a challenging task. But students become increasingly savvy with this week after week. I have to give some students more support than others during this process.

After students come up with the key words, they use some or all of these words to develop a main idea sentence from the book. Many times I will write a sentence frame to help narrow their focus.  I may have the students write these sentences on their own, or depending on the group, we may write the main idea sentence together.

When small group is done, their exit ticket is to ask a question, state something they learned, or add a word to their group's word wall.

Day 4: Questioning
Kids often have questions about a book throughout the week, so I don't limit questioning to Day 4.

But after a final reread of the text on Day 4, I encourage students to ask questions that go beyond the text read. Some groups are ready to start delving into the different types of questions they can ask (I use: on the line, in between the lines, or beyond the line question types). But for starters, I tell them to ask questions with who, what, when, why, or how.

Many times students like to answer each others questions. We also look back to the book to find the answers together. Or talk about that that is a question that we may have to do more reading to find an answer.

When small group is done, their exit ticket is to ask a question, state something they learned, or add a word to their group's word wall.

In closing, this has worked well to give structure to teaching reading comprehension in small groups. I have seen the students become more motivated about the reading. Teachers have also reported back that the students are using the vocabulary (impressively) in class which definitely boosts the confidence of these lower struggling readers. I also like how it helps the students know how to attack a book when they're reading independently. Week by week their comprehension skills are become sharper and their comprehension tool kit growing,  while they are also learning new words and concepts, and become savvy with discussing a text in a small group.

Time will tell, and data (for sure!) will tell. But I'm pretty confident that this new crop of students are becoming comprehension all stars.

Here's the worksheet I use- follow link to download for free:

Be well! Read on!


  1. Wow! You are doing an amazing job with these kids! I taught third grade years ago. One third grader I taught, who was not an ESL student, did not know what part of his body was his ankle. There are vocabulary challenges for many kids.
    Nice job. Keep up the good work. My favorite book to help teach reading comprehension is called 7 Keys to Comprehension.

  2. Thanks for sharing what works for you. What a great way for teachers to develop professionally by sharing online together. I'm staying at home right now but I taught small intervention reading groups before staying at home, lots of ELL students and many students with poor oral vocabulary. We actually implemented the Oracy method of oral language development because the vocabulary was so low. I love how your ideas function within context and also how you add writing on day 3. Sounds like a workable plan!

  3. Michelle, Thanks for stopping by and the tip on the book. I've heard it several times- I think I should order it! From what I can see on Amazon, it looks spot on.

  4. Jackie, I, too, love sharing ideas in this online forum and it's really helpful to get ideas from other teachers/reading specialists. I love you blog too!

    I haven't heard of the Oracy method- by this, do you mean oral language development? This year we've created other ways to target low vocab of our student population. In K-1 we have small oral language groups run by an intervention aide. In grades 2-5 we also just began academic vocabulary small groups- which another intervention aide runs. For this we use a Michael Graves' vocabulary program (love him!). I work closely with the aides to monitor student progress and to manage/implement curriculum.

    I meet with about 30 students at the school. The intervention aides meet with about 50, combined. Then we also have after school word learning (phonics and vocab)/Read 180 classes to give additional support. Vocab learning takes a lot of time, but we're hopeful that targeted these needs we can really support student learning and reading.

    Next step- getting ELD in the classrooms?! For some reason charter schools can usurp this law. We're going to make a push next year to beef up our ELD/ELL professional development.

    Thanks for stopping by! :)

  5. Wow! You guys are doing a lot of great things. Very cool. Yes, I did mean the oral language development. How cool that you have small groups targeting vocabulary- do you pull out kids for other skill based groups also?
    Thanks for linking up at we teach. This post is featured on the Featured On We Teach video and pinterest board today. Check out the discussion on we teach!

  6. Hello! I am really interested in the worksheet you created that corresponds with the process above. When I click on the link I am not able to get the worksheet. It takes me to GoDaddy.com. Can I get the worksheet some other way?


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