Author Archive for Amy Mackenzie – Page 3

Discussion: The Foundation of all Reading Comprehension Lessons

Improve Reading Comprehension Lessons through Conversation

Reading Comprehension LessonsOne of the best things you can do to improve reading comprehension lessons in your classroom  is to encourage students to discuss the books they’re reading.  It is human nature to want to discuss new information, to talk about new understandings and sort out misconceptions.  That’s why one of the most important things you can do to improve the reading comprehension lessons in your classroom is to cultivate a community based on the ability to discuss text.

One way to begin building a classroom community based on text is to model how to have conversations about books and reading.  You might model how to have conversations  during a whole-group mini lesson.  For example, try introducing a book like Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon during your next reading comprehension lessons.  Next initiate a conversation using the prompts below.  Encourage students to turn and talk with one another about the text.  Invite students to share their thoughts.  Then continue to read the book, pausing to initiate conversation based on the “During Reading” prompts.  Last, support students as they reflect on the text using the prompts under “After Reading.”

Once your students build confidence talking intelligently about the books  and the reading comprehension lessons that they enjoy, you will find that your class discussions are much more powerful than traditional worksheets and other reading comprehension lessons.

Before Reading

It is important for readers to do some thinking before they begin to read.  By thinking about the book, readers activate their prior knowledge and prepare their brain to understand the text.  Instead of giving students a traditional worksheet or activity to activate prior knowledge, try using the following prompts to build communication skills while tapping into their schema:

  • Read the title and look at the front cover.
  • Discuss what the book might be about
  • Read the blurb on the back of the book or on the inside flap of the book jacket.
  •  Discuss what you already know about the topic of the story.
  • What do you think you will learn from reading this book?
  • What are you wondering about the book

During Reading

It is important for readers to stop while reading to check their understanding.  By asking themselves some of the following questions while reading, readers are able to decide whether or not they are understanding what they read.  If a reader has a hard time answering these questions, they go back and reread or decide that the book is too challenging and choose a just right book instead.

  • Stop to predict what will happen next
  • Stop to discuss how a character feels
  • Stop to discuss how you might solve the problem
  • Stop to discuss the connections you made to yourself  and your experiences(text – to – self), the connections you made to another book (text – to – text), and the connections you made to the world (text – to – world)

After Reading

It is important for readers to do some thinking upon finishing a book.  This helps the reader to think about the book and choose the information that is most important to remember.

Retell:  Ask your studetns to start at the beginning and tell you what happened in the story.  IF the text is informational, ask the studetns to share some of the things he/she or she learned while reading.

  • Discuss what you liked about the book.
  • Discuss the problem and solution.
  • Describe the setting.
  • Describe how you might have solved the problem differently.
  •  Discuss how the character must have felt when ___________ happened
  •  Make connections to yourself and your experiences, another book, or the world
  • Discuss the author’s message.  Why do you think the author wrote this book?  What did the author want to make you think about?

By consistently employing these methods you will create great reading comprehension lessons, and help your students develop into better readers.

Reading Comprehension Strategies

What You Need to Know About Reading Comprehension Strategies

Reading Comprehension StrategiesReading is not a passive activity.  It is an activity that requires the brain to fully engage and think in order to comprehend the words on the page.  When you begin to read, your brain naturally begins to use a variety of reading comprehension strategies to make meaning of the text.  The reading comprehension strategies that you use have been developed through years of reading practice.  You were either taught them in school or developed the strategies on your own to problem solve your way through the often tricky task of reading.

Successful reading comprehension strategies will result when a child is able to do the following things:

1.)    Accurately read the words on the page

2.)    Read the words fluently

3.)    Comprehend what the words mean.

Understanding what the words on a page are communicating is the main goal of reading.   The Thinking through Reading program will introduce children to a variety of reading comprehension strategies that will help them to improve their comprehension of books and other texts.  Not only will our strategies help children to think their way through books, our reading comprehension strategies will train them to use a variety of thought processes that can be applied to other areas of their life.  Children will learn how to useinferential thinking, ask meaningful questions and learn to communicate their thoughts clearly and effectively.

When you pick up a book, magazine or newspaper, you do more than just read the words.  You connect the information on the page to information that you already know.  You anticipate events and determine which words are most important to remember. You think about what the author is trying to tell you.  All of the thinking that you do while reading, works to help you understand what you read.  The Thinking through Reading  comprehension strategies are listed below:

Each of the reading comprehension strategies works like a piece in a puzzle.  Once a child learns how, and when to use each of the reading comprehension strategies, they will be able to achieve a level of deep comprehension.

In order to comprehend, children must learn how to use each strategy and know when to use each strategy.  They will learn to do this through practice.   After learning and practicing the strategies a child should begin to read books for enjoyment and not for the purpose of practicing one isolated strategy.  The goal is not for a child to pick up a book and think that visualizing is reading or making connections is reading.  Instead, the goal, once they learn the strategies, is for a child to automatically use the strategies to deepen their comprehension.

Therefore, remember that the Thinking through Reading and Book Club programs are intended to support readers who are learning to employ reading comprehension strategies while reading. When a child is using the strategy cards, they should be focused on learning and applying a specific strategy.  When a child begins to read the independently, they should be focused on reading and using the reading comprehension strategies when needed to deepen their comprehension of the text.  Please, never tell a child to go visualize or go retell.  That is not the purpose of reading.   Rather the purpose of reading is to think your way through the text, and respond to it in some way.

Visit our home page to learn more about reading comprehension strategies or the lesson plan library to select book and lesson plans that will help you teach readers how to effectively comprehend.

Fantastic Phonics Lesson Plans

We Make Teaching Phonics Lesson Plans as Simple as Click, Print, Teach

Phonics SamplePhonemic awareness and phonics have been identified by the National Reading Panel as essential to improving reading achievement.  For many teachers, teaching phonics lesson plans comes down to teaching isolated skills.  They give students a worksheet with examples of words that follow a specific phonics pattern or provide them with a collection of words to be sorted based on specific phonics rules.  This type of phonics lesson plan is often tedious and is not ever connected to real reading. believes that phonics lesson plans should happen in a meaningful context.  One of the easiest ways to provide students with a context in which to learn phonics is to provide them with a known text.  This text can work as a springboard for phonics lesson plans, making them more enjoyable for students.

For example, you might read Diary of a Worm once from beginning to end and then return to the book to focus on long vowel digraphs.  Through connecting phonics study to real text, students will begin to understand the importance of improving phonemic awareness.

The next step to providing students with meaningful phonics lesson plans is to provide them with an opportunity to engage with interactive practice.  Fantastic Phonics Lesson Plans include games that provide students with an opportunity to use their understanding of a phonics skill in a meaningful way.  The Fantastic Phonics Lesson Plans include materials and directions for games like memory,  go fish and bingo.

Last, Fantastic Phonics Lesson Plans provides teachers with worksheets to support additional practice with each comprehension strategy.  These worksheets might also be used as a tool for assessment.

We believe that every teacher should have the opportunity to introduce easy to use and fun phonics lesson plans into the classroom, and we strive to provide materials that support this goal.  Check out our Fantastic Phonics Lesson Plans page to learn more about our phonics lesson plans.

A Back to School Message for Parents

What’s In Your Child’s Back Pack?

What's In Your Child's Back Pack?Every year your child walks into a new classroom where he will meet a new teacher and make some new friends.  When he unzips his backpack he will proudly pull out his new set of markers and his all important lunchbox.

He’ll quickly scan the room to make sure that he has everything he needs:
Pencils?  Check.
Kleenex?  Check.
Hand Sanitizer, Eraser?  Check. Check.

Then he’ll take a seat at his brand new desk, take a deep breath and smile feeling confident that he has everything he needs to have a great first day of school.

Before too long, his new teacher will walk to the front of the room, greet the class and say, “Today we are going to write all about what we did on our summer vacation! Then you will have a chance to read what you wrote to the class. I know that many of you went on exciting trips and I can’t wait for you to share all of the fun things you did over the summer!”

In a desperate scramble to avoid writing, some children will get up from their desk and ask to go to the bathroom.  Others will become completely enamored with the ceiling, as they try to figure out how to get their pencils to magically write for them.  And others will confidently pick up a pencil and begin to write, easily forming sentences, pausing to think about how to spell “waverunner,” and complete their assignment just in time to browse through books in the classroom library.

The children who are able to complete the assignment are not any smarter than those who made a run for the bathroom.  No, these children simply had more in their backpacks.  They came to school armed with both fancy new school supplies and the necessary skills and confidence to help them realize academic success.  

One way to help your child prepare for writing in the classroom is to read a lot at home. Reading and writing go hand in hand.  When a child reads a lot, they have a strong sense of story structure along with an understanding of author’s craft.  In other words, they know and understand what good books look like and sound like.  This will translate into the writing that they produce in the classroom.

Wondering what you can do to ensure that your child has a strong foundation based on reading?  Try teaching your child about the reading comprehension strategies needed to fully comprehend and appreciate text.  When a child understands that readers visualize while reading, they will know how important it is to include descriptive language in their own writing.  Likewise, when a child understands that readers look for an author’s message while reading, he or she may attempt to include their own messages in the writing they produce at school and at home.  There are several really good reading comprehension lesson resources available to help your child build a strong understanding of books and what writers do for their readers. 

Pack  your child’s backpack with all of the tools he needs to feel confident and be successful in school.  Sure, sharpened pencils and a new notebook are important, but the skills that you carefully prepare and pack in your child’s backpack are what will carry him through the day.

How to Use Read Aloud Mini Lessons to Teach Reading Comprehension Strategies

Read Aloud Mini Lessons and Reading Comprehension

Elementary teacher guided readingA mini lesson, by definition should be mini.  In other words, a mini lesson should last no longer than 5-7 minutes.  The read aloud is an ideal place to use mini lessons because you can use an anchor text to introduce a reading strategy in a very short period of time.   The key to an effective mini lesson is explicit, intentional instruction.

It is important that you introduce the anchor text prior to the mini lesson.  An anchor text is a book that you repeatedly read with your students but have a different purpose for reading each time you read the text.  As a result, the students become very familiar and comfortable with the characters, plot, etc. and are able to focus on specific strategies to improve comprehension.  In this way, all learning and practice with new strategies becomes anchored to specific texts.

Deliver your mini lesson using the following steps as a guide.  Remember to keep your instructional language to a minimum.  The goal is define a very clear purpose for your students.


State your teaching point.  Tell the students why today’s work is important to them as readers and connect today’s work to previous learning.  For example, you might say:

“Today we are going to re-read The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.  While reading we are going to work on identifying the author’s message.  It is important for readers to think about the author’s message in order to determine the theme and purpose of the book. When an author decides to write a book, it is usually because they want to share information or a story with readers.”


Show the students how a reader goes about identifying the author’s message.  Select a specific place in the text where the author provides the reader with a message. Guide the students as they work with you to identify the author’s message.   Invite the students to discuss the author’s message: What do they think the author is trying to say?  What evidence do they have to support the author’s message?

Because you have already read the book, you and your students can focus solely on comprehension strategy work.  It is unnecessary to read the entire book during the mini lesson.

Active Engagement

Move onto another page in the book where the author’s message is revealed.  Ask students to turn and talk with a partner about the author’s message.  Allow 2-4 the students to share their thinking with the class.


Restate the importance of the teaching point.  Remind students that they should use this strategy today and everyday from now on.  Provide students with an opportunity to try the strategy during independent reading or during small group/guided reading.