Episode 8: Clues For Comprehension

In Episode 8 of ATBR Amy Van Hoose talks to Peyton Freschi about how students comprehend what they read.  They discuss skills taught in class and how parents can help at home.  Comprehension is a broad topic and we have included some of the basics in this episode.  Look for more detailed information for specific skills in future podcasts.

Peyton Freschi is a kindergarten teacher at Silver Creek Elementary. She graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2015 with a Bachelors of Science in Early Childhood Education. This is her third year of teaching and she is excited to be a part of the Triad District. She currently lives in Troy with husband. Go Knights!


Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read. It is our main goal of reading.  We read to understand something.  To be able to accurately understand written material, children need to be able to (1) decode what they read; (2) make connections between what they read and what they already know; and (3) think deeply about what they have read.

There are several skills taught in class that aid in student’s comprehension of texts including:

  • Understanding words in context
  • Identifying a sequence of events
  • Retelling or summarizing
  • Making predictions and drawing inferences about a passage or story
  • Identifying the main idea
  • Asking and answering questions about a text
  • Recognizing literary devices and determining a story’s tone and mood
  • Determining author’s purpose and point of view
  • Finding a problem and solution and cause and effect

Why is comprehension important?

  • As an adult, the focus will be less on how you read, but what you get out of what you have read.  It is important to start teaching comprehension early and continue to practice so students have the ability to gain a rich understanding from the text they read.

What do teachers do at school to teach comprehension?

  • In general students are asked to read books that are an appropriate level for them.  Once students become more fluent readers, they also read texts that are a little more difficult than their current reading level in order to stretch their ability to use their comprehension skills.
  • Teachers teach specific comprehension skills and strategies.
    • Young kids will start with pictures and explaining what they see and hear.
    • Later in the year, young students will learn story elements and begin to describe who, what, where
    • As students get older more strategies are added like retelling, summarizing, finding the main idea, compare and contrast, cause and effect, making predictions, and inferencing.
    • Teachers, especially at the elementary level, often work in small groups where kids have the opportunity to talk about the book or independent conferences with the teacher.

How can parents help improve comprehension at home for skills like questioning, cause and effect, compare and contrast, summarize, and inferencing?

  • The number one thing you can do is ask questions about your child’s reading.  Just because your child can read the words, doesn’t mean they understand the story.  The goal of reading is to understand something.
  • I’ve heard kindergarten parents say “My kids can tell about the story, but they can’t read the words.”  Don’t worry, that is actually a great skill!  They are showing early comprehension strategies…Learning to decode takes a long time.

How often would you ask a child a question while you are reading with them?

  • For young students, I would do once a page for a long page or once every few pages for shorter pages.
  • Once students get a little older you can do a couple questions per chapter.  They can be throughout the chapter.  You can ask your child to summarize at the end of the chapter and then ask a few thought provoking questions.  These often start with why or how.

How would a parent know if their child is having trouble with comprehension?

  • A teacher may let you know their concerns
  • A child might not be able to summarize or retell a passage
  • A child might be able to tell you what happened, but they can’t explain why events happened the way they did.
  • Can’t explain a character’s thoughts or feelings
  • Is not able to link events in a book to similar events in another book or to real life.

Vocab is very important to comprehension too because kids need to know the words to understand the story.

  • Teaching students to use context clues or go back to reread is very important.  You can miss a whole meaning from not understanding one word.
  • Context clues strategies could include – read on and go back to the word, use the picture (for younger grades), look for a definition in the sentence, or find a synonym nearby.
  • Use big and interesting words when talking to  your child.  Highlight words that students might not know.  It doesn’t have to be only in books, it can be words you hear or words you see anywhere.

Websites for Practice

  • Roomrecess.com has reading games to practice context clues, fact and opinion, main idea, cause and effect and several more areas.
  • IXL is also a subscription that the district pays for that has math practice.  Our upper elementary also has a language component
  • Starfall is great for pre-k through 1st grade
  • Storyline online is a place where you can listen to stories.  You can listen together as a family and use our question stems to talk about the book and check comprehension.
  • Abcya.com games for K-5 in every subject.
  • Funbrain has some educational games and many books to listen to.  Not all games are learning based so you may want to monitor your child on this site if you are expecting them to play educational games.
  • Read Theory is a good place to go for older students.  You can sign up as a parent and you child will read short passages and answer questions about what was read.

Our literature focuses on younger kids for this episode, because once a child gets into chapter books, they will have lots of opportunities to practice many skills throughout the same book.  Kids can make predictions and inferences, create questions, practice using context clues, and summarize for any chapter of a book.

Books that Get Young Kids Asking Questions

The Empty Pot by Demi is a fantastic little book that teaches the value of honesty, but the author gets kids guessing along the way.   Why didn’t his seed grow?   What will happen when he goes before the Emperor?   Why did all the other kids’ seeds grow into beautiful flowers?  You could even use this to practice questioning through a science experiment where kids try growing regular seeds vs. cooked seeds.  
  More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby will get kids asking questions simply because it is not written in our time period.  It’s also great because kids have to infer what exactly he wants to do more than anything as it’s not completely revealed until the end of the book.
In The Wise Woman and Her Secret by Eve Merriam, the woman’s secret is a mystery and kids will find themselves asking questions left and right along the way until they discover it at the end.

 Mysteries and books that are full of suspense make GREAT books for getting kids to asking questions. You really can’t help but ask questions with a mystery book and you really do want to keep reading to find out the answers! Young readers may enjoy Nate the Great, Cam Jansen, Magic Tree House, or A to Z Mysteries.

Books that use Figurative Language

White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt features many different kinds of figurative language including metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia, personification, and assonance.  Young students don’t need to know the names of the types of figurative language (start with that around 3rd grade), but they can practice determining the meaning.
  Pigsty by Mark Teague has a few metaphors and idioms sprinkled throughout the book. It is also a good book to read with your child if he doesn’t want to clean up his room!
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish- a book list about idioms and figurative language would not be complete without including good ole’ Amelia Bedelia. Older kids may also enjoy the Amelia Bedelia chapter books.

Books for Making Predictions

Any book with a clear storyline and good “cliff hangers” makes for a good book to use for making predictions.  Mysteries also make for GREAT texts to work on making predictions.

I Went Walking by Sue Williams is a favorite for younger children and is a great book for making predictions based on what they already know about farm animals and the pictures. Younger kids LOVE guessing which animal will come next.
What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jerkins is another great predicting book based off the pictures. It is a fantastic nonfiction read, too!
The Stray Dog by Marc Simont is a book with a clear problem and solution that we love for making predictions and inferring.
 Elmer & Rose by David McKee keeps kids guessing as to what color Rose’s elephant herd is, but he provides subtle hints along the way that kids can use to help them predict.  
 Enemy Pie by Derek Munson is a great book for predictions. Even the front cover begs for a prediction.
 Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes is a fun book for making and confirming/denying predictions. Kevin Henkes’ books are also great for inferring emotions and making connections.
 Doctor De Soto by William Steig is another book I like to use for making predictions because it really keeps readers guessing. Will the fox eat Dr. De Soto? What does Dr. De Soto put on his teeth? Steig also has a way with words. This is a great book for teaching vocabulary too.
 William Steig’s book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is another favorite of mine to use for making predictions. All of Steig’s books I’ve read are rich with vocabulary and have such fantastic story lines that they could go with several comprehension strategies!
 Ruby the Copycat by Peggy Rathmann  is a book that teaches a great moral through the characters of Angela and Ruby.  Ruby is new at school and wants to be just like Angela.  At first, Angela likes it; but after a while, the copying gets old. Her teacher has a little talk with Ruby and Ruby decides she won’t copy Angela anymore. But that isn’t the end of this story. Can readers predict what might happen next?

Question Stems

Parent Pipelines are idea sheets to help your child at home with reading.  Several are included below to help with comprehension skills:


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