Helping students to make connections between what they know and what they are reading improves their comprehension. Teachers can model making such connections, and prompt students to make links with their own knowledge and experience, when they are introducing and discussing texts for reading and in writing and oral-language activities. When activating students’ prior knowledge for a particular purpose, teachers can help the students to predict, infer, and build their own interpretations as they read.
A hypothesis about a text is an expectation or opinion that the reader forms about the text before reading it. The reader then tests and revises this as they encounter and act upon new information. Hypotheses are formed on the basis of what can be discovered about the text before the content reading begins: this may include the cover, the title, the opening section, and the illustrations, and it also includes what the reader brings to the text. Depending on the goal for the task, a hypothesis may relate to the plot or character development (in a narrative) or to the conclusion of an argument. The hypothesis often takes the form of a question. The teacher can usefully model hypothesising when introducing a text and can encourage the students to seek and give feedback about their own hypotheses.
As in any activity, formulating questions should be directed towards a goal or intended outcome. In comprehension development, questioning helps to reinforce the habit of reading for a purpose. The teacher needs to help the students to formulate appropriate questions, for example, by modelling such questions during shared reading or writing. Asking questions helps readers to engage with the ideas in the text and with the author and gives focus to the reading task. After their reading, it’s useful to help the students to evaluate the effectiveness of the questions they posed for themselves and to give them feedback for further learning.
The ability to visualise or picture what is happening within a text draws readers into the text and helps them to achieve greater understanding. Studies have indicated that creating an image in the memory helps the reader to retain what is read and use it later on.
Readers experiencing difficulties often need help with creating mental images and may not realise how this can help their comprehension. Asking questions such as ”What picture do you see in your head?” and sharing responses will support students. It sometimes helps to have students make a sketch.
Inferring means using content in a text, together with existing knowledge, to come to a personal conclusion about something that is not stated explicitly in the text. When the author provides clues but not all the information, we read “between the lines” to make predictions, revise these, understand underlying themes, hypothesise, make critical judgments, and draw conclusions. Inferring involves synthesising information, sometimes quite simply and sometimes at complex levels.
Teachers can help students to make inferences by asking inferential questions during shared reading or during discussion in guided reading. Or teachers may pause, when reading a text with students, to draw out clues from the text and prompt the students to make connections between different parts of the text in order to reach a conclusion.
It is important for readers to recognise that behind every text is an author, that the author has a reason for writing, and that the reader has a reason for reading.
The purpose of the author may be to:
By supporting students in discussing the purpose and point of view of a text, teachers can help them to recognise that writers bring their own experiences and concerns to their writing. Such activities contribute richly to students’ awareness of the functions of texts and of how authors position readers; they also help students to build the habit of responding thoughtfully to what they read. Students then carry their new awareness to their own writing and learn to plan and articulate their specific purposes for writing as they consider purpose and point of view.
Identifying and summarising main ideas can help students build knowledge and awareness of how texts are structured and how ideas within a text are related. Identifying the main idea or ideas in a text can present a challenge for readers. Not every text provides a neat hierarchy or clear sequence of ideas. To identify a text’s most significant points, students often need to retrieve information and summarise it. They may also need to use other strategies, such as inferring the text’s purpose. Teachers can show students how to identify and clarify the main points in a text by modelling how to formulate questions – for example, during in-depth discussion of a text in guided reading or when helping students to form intentions in their writing.
When students take apart a text they have read, examine it from their own viewpoint, and put it back together again, they make it their own. This helps them to remember what they have read and transfer what they have learned. They may feel empathy towards a character, be excited by events or information, or enjoy the style of the writing. They integrate or synthesise their newly acquired understandings and attitudes with their existing view of the world to make a new and slightly different world picture. The ways in which a reader analyses and interprets text and synthesises ideas are affected by that reader’s prior knowledge, experiences, and cultural values.
Good readers make a personal, informed response to a text. They not only understand the information in the text but can also generalise from it and make judgments about it in the light of what they already know. They examine and evaluate the ideas in the text and may consequently go on to confirm, extend, or change their personal views; or they may disagree with the content of a text or find an argument unconvincing.
I was discussing “Swallowed by the Sea” with a group of students. We had read and discussed it for meaning the previous day – now we were reading and discussing it for the impact of its language. I wanted to link it closely to the students’ own pieces of mood writing. I posed the question: “How does the author convey the atmosphere of the storm to the reader?”
Teacher: Read the first section of the story again, to see if you can create an image of the storm in your mind. What does the storm look and sound like?
Andrew: (after reading) I think it’s really rough and nasty and cold.
Teacher: I agree. Let’s see if we can all work out why Andrew thinks this. What clues does the author give us?
Amanda: She uses strong words in the paragraph – like “creaks” and “slap” and “pelting”. They’re exactly the sounds I can hear when I’m snuggled up in my bed, listening to the wind and rain outside.
Teacher: Good. Just like the main character in this story lies snuggled up in her bed. I’m pleased you’ve picked up on strong verbs because we’ve noticed them in other stories, haven’t we?
Andrew: I think the author is conveying the atmosphere earlier than that. I think the first clue is when it says that the girl’s breath makes a ghost on the window. I get a really cold picture in my mind from that.
Teacher: What gives you that?
Andrew: Because ghosts are all white and that makes me think of freezing cold.
Teacher: I can see some strong clues in the second paragraph as well. I can feel the wind really strongly in that paragraph. What part do you think gives me this feeling?
Hana: “The house is being sucked up and spat out.”
Teacher: You’re right. But what picture does that sentence create?
Hana: The wind is so strong that it can suck up something as big as a house.
Amanda: And it spits it out, just like really heavy rain spits out water all over the place.
Teacher: Great. I hope you’re picking up lots of ideas for your own writing.
Teacher, year 4 class
With a group of six children, I read Island to Island as a shared text. I wanted the children to think more deeply about their responses to text, and so the focus was higher-order thinking – hypothesising, inferring, synthesising, evaluating. I posed this question: “What are the good points and bad points about travelling to school by bus and boat?” After initially thinking this would be a fun thing to do, the children engaged in a focused discussion about some of the possible issues. The children set and maintained the initiative in the following discussion.
Emeli: What would happen if James was sick at school and wanted to go home?
Tayla: His dad might have to take the boat all the way around the other island. You couldn’t just sail over unless you had a car somewhere on the other side.
Grayson: You couldn’t be late in the morning. The bus has to go a long way. It’s much too far to walk. If your dad dropped you off in the boat and thought the bus was coming but it had gone, you’d have to wait all day. I can’t see any other cars or buses or houses or people by the wharf.
Jack: What if a storm came and the dad couldn’t get the boat across the channel – where would James go then?
Emma: He might be able to go to those people where he waits each day, but what if they were away?
Emeli: You couldn’t take other kids home to play or go to other kids’ houses after school. It might be lonely.
Tayla: And you couldn’t ring your mum if you forgot your lunch or your gym money – because they couldn’t come.
Grayson: It would be good if they had a special machine that could go in the sea and on the road too. One that had wheels that would come down out of the water – then the dad could come any time.
Jack: We could design one!
Teacher: What an interesting idea! You could do this as a language response. You could sketch one and describe to the class how it would work.
Teacher, years 1 to 2
Published on: 21 Mar 2016