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How to Help Readers Talk About Texts to Develop Comprehension

'Time for students to talk about their reading and writing is perhaps one of the most underused, yet easy-to-implement, elements of instruction.' Allington & Gabriel

Our students must be involved in analytical interactions in the discussions about the texts being read.

Interchanges between a teacher and the students that are of the type: I-R-E (teacher initiation, student response, teacher evaluation, e.g. Teacher: “What did the girl do next?” Student: “She ran down the road.” Teacher: “Yes. Good.”) are very common in schools, but are not helpful for comprehension.

What style of talk will support all our students to deepen their comprehension as they engage with texts?

When we value our students' oral responses to texts, they become more conscious of their own thinking as meaningful and important.
Talk invites students to think about their learning, their reading and the text.

Building a habit of thinking and talking about texts is best achieved through modeling our own genuine comments and questions as a text is being read aloud.

Provide a risk-free environment for students to interject the reading with their own genuine comments and questions. Guide them if these do not relate to interpreting or understanding the text by further modeling the comments and questions that work.

Using prompts such as the following may help;

  • What do you think about..?
  • Tell us about…
  • Say something about…
  • Can you think of a way that…?
  • What if…?

Creating an anchor chart of such prompts with our students is a way to ensure they can take control of their thinking and talking successfully and independently.

Provide students with opportunities to turn and tell at the end of Independent Reading. Give each partner 60-120 seconds to tell their partner about their own thinking, questions, ideas, comments that arose during Independent Reading.

Through talk our students can learn to:

  • Interpret a text, recognising there are not single answers we're looking for, rather, a growing understanding of the text
  • Support their thinking about texts
  • Express their thinking so that they and their peers can consider their ideas
  • Develop deep comprehension of any text
  • Reflect on their own reading

Research has demonstrated that conversation with peers improves comprehension and engagement with texts in a variety of settings (Cazden, 1988).

'It doesn't require any special materials, special training, or even large amounts of time. Yet it provides measurable benefits in comprehension, motivation, and even language competence. The task of switching between writing, speaking, reading, and listening helps students make connections between, and thus solidify, the skills they use in each.'  Allington & Gabriel




Comprehension Overview, Diane Snowball

Every Child, Every Day, Allington, R.L. & Gabriel, R.E. Educational Leadership ASCD  2012


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Comprehension Overview Diane Snowball




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