As students read, whether reading stories or
passages from academic content areas, they rely on their higher
order thinking skills. Students must have the knowledge base needed
to understand new materials, and must link new readings to this
existing knowledge, or schema. Schema can be thought of as a reader’s
background knowledge, or pre-existing familiarity with a subject.
Comprehension requires using a balance of both
top-down and bottom-up approaches to reading. In a top-down approach,
the reader uses his/her background knowledge (schema) to help
interpret new text. In a bottom-up approach, the reader focuses
primarily on the text, allowing the meaning to come from the text
Students must not only understand the concrete
examples in their reading, they must relate them to more abstract
concepts. In addition, students must integrate new concepts into
what they already know, in order to grasp the broader ideas and
principles reflected in their readings.
Here are some strategies for enhancing students’
comprehension by focusing on concept formation.
- Confirm that students’ skills in word
decoding (reading words rapidly and accurately) are at, or near
grade level. Provide opportunities for students to make decoding
skills ‘automatic,’ so that they are able to focus
on understanding the concepts in their readings. Click here
for more about word decoding.
- Introduce students to new concepts through
instruction before asking students to read about these concepts.
- Activate students’ prior knowledge
about a topic before reading activities. For example, begin
with guiding questions, asking students to discuss what they
already know about the topic, to list things they would like
to learn about the topic, to make predictions about what the
reading will include, etc.
- Provide opportunities for students to read
about areas of interest (affinity areas) in order to expand
their knowledge about a certain topic. Encourage subscriptions
to special interest magazines, and trips to the library or bookstore
to find material about their topic.
- Provide students with opportunities to practice
using tools that promote and reinforce comprehension. For example,
have them fill in outlines, complete tables, and create semantic
maps to organize and consolidate ideas as they read.
- Have students represent concepts using multiple
methods, for example, explaining a concept in their own words,
drawing a picture to represent the concept, and acting out a
simple skit in which the concept is described or clarified.
- Create an interest in vocabulary words
and new concepts by using games or classroom competitions. For
example, have students keep track of times they see, hear, or
use a new vocabulary word outside of class, or times they find
an example of a newly learned concept in the real world. Encourage
students to report their observations to the class.