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After a few weeks’ hiatus, we’re back with the second part of the Things Good Readers Do series!
Hopefully the timing of this post (and others) will be right on target for teachers who are doing some research over the summer on how to more explicitly target strategies when teaching reading comprehension to students.
If you’re just joining us here on my blog, check out the introduction post here. It has links to all the other posts from the series so far.
I’d also encourage you to look at the previous post in this series, Things Good Readers Do: Skim and Scan, since it explains the acronym SQP2RS that we’re going through in these posts.
I love these two reading strategies of predicting and questioning because good readers do them so often, and when struggling readers begin to practice these, their engagement with texts skyrockets.
So, not only are they helpful for teachers, but they’re also helpful for grownups at home who are encouraging their littles to become readers.
I model and ask my nieces to engage in these strategies all the time as I read books to them, and they’re four and two.
Sidenote: When I saw them for the first time in seven months, “read a book” was the first thing they asked me to do with them. I loved that ♥️
So why teach predicting and questioning? Why are they such effective strategies?
As I tell my students, predictions and questions help us check our own understanding of the text.
Good readers are constantly making predictions – often unawares – in their own minds about how a story is going to go. Or, if there is a clue dropped by the author that doesn’t seem to fit, they ask questions about how that detail fits in with the story the author is spinning.
Once we, the readers, have enough information about whatever we predicted (I predict the princess will fall in love with Aladdin or I think Jack is worried because he and his mom don’t have enough money), we then check if our predictions were correct or not and adjust our expectations of the story accordingly.
If we are surprised by something that happens in the story – and I mean utterly surprised – that might mean we missed some important details in our earlier understanding.
Readers make both large-scale predictions and small-scale ones: large-scale would be about where the story is headed and what the ending might be. Put another way, it’s how the tension in the plot will be resolved. Small-scale predictions are about the details in the text: what a certain character will do or say to overcome a particular moment in the plot.
Because readers make large-scale predictions about how stories will end, it’s why why we are sometimes unsatisfied with an ending: if we think the story is moving toward a certain type of ending and then it ends differently, we can feel a little cheated.
Questions are also important because they guide our focus as readers. Questions are especially used when reading nonfiction texts, because we might be wanting to know specific information about a topic. However, good readers also ask questions about actions and dialogue in stories too.
When readers deliberately ask questions, their minds look for the answers as they read.
For instance, in the Whangdoodle unit that I do with my fifth graders, students always ask the question, whether silently or out aloud, “Is the Prock a good guy or a bad guy?” when we get closer to the end. His actions start to become more ambiguous toward the end, so then they start questioning what they thought they knew about that character.
Both of these strategies help readers be curious about what they are reading, which increases their engagement and helps them check their understanding of the text as they move through the pages.
How I teach this strategy
Once again, as I mentioned in the previous post in this series, I turn to my foldables to teach these strategies. I’d show you a picture in action, but I think I left that notebook in Ecuador for the incoming fifth grade teacher. Here’s a picture of the document itself, though!
We talk through what the strategies are, when readers use them, and when they already use that kind of thinking in their everyday lives.
After taking notes and discussing the strategy, we try it out with whatever text makes sense. It could be a picture book that I’ve decided to use for practicing purposes (like Enemy Pie), or it could be the current class read-aloud. No matter the text, I pause at strategic points in the plot to ask questions like:
- What do you think is going to happen next?
- Do you think so-and-so is really going to go through with [fill in blank with action]?
- Do you think so-and-so’s plan is going to work? Why or why not?
The “why or why not” piece is especially important. I find that kids often have hunches but can’t explain them. However, whenever one of the students can explain why they think X will happen, it’s usually because they’re thinking like a reader. And for the struggling readers, hearing other readers’ thinking is vital to helping them develop their own.
As we practice together, I start to hear more students putting into words their justification for their predictions.
I also choose to stop and model readerly thinking. For example, if the author foreshadows, or drops a BIG hint, I’ll pause and say, “Okay, right now, my reader brain is thinking, ‘Uh-oh, something bad is going to happen'” or “So I’m predicting that ______ will happen when so-and-so does _____.”
I’ve said it before, as have countless educators before me: MODELING the thinking and behavior that we want kids to adopt and develop is ESSENTIAL.
After we’ve practiced with some discussion – or perhaps in tandem with it – I then direct the students to write down their predictions as we read. This is an ongoing practice that we do in our classroom.
Forcing students to capture their thoughts on paper helps them become aware of the thoughts they’re actually having when they read. This, in turn, helps them predict and question more often, which is the goal.
Some hiccups you might encounter:
Students say they don’t have any predictions.
How to solve this:
- If the student saying is a generally good reader: Explain that many times with readers, they do this kind of thinking so automatically that they’re not even aware of it. Coach them and encourage them to think about their thinking. Prompt them with a question or two – the more specific you can make it, the more it will help them think of a prediction. For example, “What do you think is going to happen to Lindy if she goes with the Splintercat?” is a more effective prompt than “What do you think is going to happen next?”
- If this is a reader who perhaps actually hasn’t ever thought of predictions or questions, use the same type of specific question mentioned above to prompt them to create a prediction.
Students say they don’t have any questions.
This one can be a little trickier, depending on the text that you are reading with the students. If they are doing research projects, then the questions can be more authentic, because they will have specific research questions that they are looking for in the text.
If it is a text you are reading as a class, there will be specific points where you, as the teacher, can model asking questions. For instance, “Why did the character say ______?” or “Wait a minute. What does the author mean when he/she describes the situation like that?”
Some kids’ questions will be as simple as, “Why did [character] do [fill in the blank]?”
Others will be more profound. It just depends on how well they’ve developed their critical thinking and question-asking abilities up to this point.
The good news is that you, as the teacher or grownup, can model deeper and more critical thinking as you interact with them and their predictions and questions. That actually goes with the last hiccup you might encounter.
Students write questions or predictions that are generic and don’t demonstrate true understanding of the text
This is something I’ve encountered just about every year.
I think in particular of my struggling reader student “Isaiah.” At the start, the thought of producing a question or prediction made him wither in his seat and put his head down on his desk in defeat.
He wanted out and told me “But I don’t have any questions!” or “But I don’t know what’s going to happen, so how can I write anything down?”
When I encouraged him that his prediction doesn’t have to be correct, and that there isn’t really any right or wrong answer, he wrote down a cop-out prediction like, “Something bad is going to happen.”
Now, I’m glad he wrote anything at all. However, just like God does with us, a good teacher accepts a student where he/she is, but doesn’t let them stay there.
So when I see generic responses like that, I know some more specific coaching is needed.
Specific coaching could look like this:
When we are surveying a text before reading, I ask them to write a question down about the text in general. If they struggle, I suggest that they can turn the title into a question. For example, if we’re about to read a text entitled “Julie Andrews,” they could write, “Who is Julie Andrews?”.
If we are in the middle of a story or nonfiction text, I ask them specific questions to help them consider what they might be curious about, or to encourage them to be more specific in their predictions.
One reason I think kids can struggle with making predictions is that it requires a bit of risk and a healthy dose of courage – especially if you’re sharing it with the class.
Some kids – and adults, too – really, really hate the possibility of being “wrong.”
If/when you have a hunch that the fear of being wrong could be what the child is experiencing, remind them that the reason we make predictions in the first place is to help us become better readers and check our understanding of the story. They might also need the reminder that making mistake is one of the best ways to learn and get better at something, as long as we are considering why we weren’t correct.
Tips for Grownups at Home
This section is going to be fairly short, because the process in my classroom is going to be quite similar to the process that can happen in your home.
The most important thing to remember as a grownup with little readers is to model making predictions and asking questions, and to help them practice.
The best way to do both of those is to read with your child(ren) every day.
While you read, ask them what they think is going to happen next, and to explain their thinking. If they have a hard time coming up with something, try making your question more specific (see above sections for more ideas on that).
For really little ones (kindergarten and younger), it might help to ask yes or no questions to help them make predictions.
For example, with the book Blueberries for Sal, you could pause and have your child make a prediction at different points: “Do you think Sal is going to fill her bucket with blueberries?” or later in the book: “Do you think that the mama bear will hurt Sal?”
A few do’s and don’t’s:
- Do pause occasionally, especially in exciting parts, to ask their thoughts on what will happen.
- Make those pauses as short as possible, so they don’t lose track of who is doing what in the story.
- Don’t stop on every page, or even every other page, because otherwise they’ll lose track of what’s happening in the story. Just stop a few times for a regular-length picture book.
- Don’t worry about picking the “perfect spot” to pause. There are better places than others, but there’s really no such thing as perfect.
Also, just as making predictions is a learning process for littles, helping them practice is a learning process for adults! Over time and with practice, it will feel more natural to pick a place to pause and ask for their predictions or questions, or to model your own. But, especially if a story is unfamiliar, you probably won’t know the “just right” spots to pause. Happens to me too!
Whatever you do while reading with them will help your child become a better reader!
Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: Habits of Good Readers
Finding Just Right Books
Setting Goals & Tracking Reading
Make it a Habit
Talk About Books
Part 2: Strategies of Good Readers
Skim and Scan