A teacher is approaching a student, at a standing desk in the back of a literacy-enriched classroom filled with bookshelves bursting with texts and sound walls filled with letters paired with sounds.
“Tell me about what you just read,” the teacher asks, eyes wide open, hands clasped, excitedly waiting for the student to impart the knowledge gained from the story that was just read.
The student stares down at the book for a moment, and then, closing the text, hesitantly looks up to meet the teacher’s eyes, and says, “Um…I don’t remember.”
Reading comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading. We know we have learned to read when we comprehend what we have read. We know we have accomplished our goal as teachers when students comprehend text. But to understand the meaning of texts, students must have sufficient language comprehension skills.
What is language comprehension? Language comprehension is the ability to understand spoken and written language. When it comes to reading comprehension, language comprehension can be seen in students’ ability to understand the meaning of words and how words come together to form sentences that give meaning as well.
Language comprehension requires
Similarly, proficient reading comprehension of a text is influenced by the same language comprehension skills plus…
-accurate and fluent word reading skills,
-adequate syntactic knowledge,
-knowledge of cohesive cues,
-comprehension monitoring, and
-knowledge of text structure
(Torgesen, 2007; Cain and Oakhill, 2009).
Reading comprehension is a process, not a product, that requires multiple processes to come together at once, to make meaning of written language.
Students who demonstrate proficient reading comprehension have the ability to…
-integrate the meaning of the words into a mental model of the text, and simultaneously,
-attend to the text’s content,
-shift their attention to what is important,
-make text connections,
-strive for coherence, and
-use their background knowledge of the subject to facilitate comprehension
(Perfetti, et al., 2013; Beck & McKeown, 2006).
Picture it - Sicily...1922...
To know this reference, you may have to be of a particular generation - or personality. So let me explain.
Sophia Petrillo, the wisest and eldest member of the Golden Girls, had the right idea when telling a story. She set the scene. She let you "picture it" -pun intended - before she told the story.
And guess what? Sophia was onto something with her “picture it”.
Setting the scene helps your listeners visualize your words which improves comprehension, understanding of language, and memory of text!
"I Can’t Remember or Understand What I Just Read!"
Students often struggle to recall what they have just read. And language comprehension is a contributing factor to this.
Reading comprehension is the product of two major facets of reading: decoding and linguistic comprehension. To read words accurately and fluently, students need strategies to read words they have never seen before in print as well as words they have previously encountered.
But to understand the meaning of texts, students must have sufficient language comprehension skills. Therefore, there are many skills required in achieving comprehension of a text.
So if a student can proficiently and efficiently read the words of the text, but is not comprehending the text, then, the student’s language comprehension needs to be addressed.
Tier One instruction of reading comprehension should include deliberate, planning additional language-oriented activities, targeting vocabulary development, grammar, and other expressive and receptive language skills.
But what about the students who continue to struggle despite a strong Tier One curriculum? What about the students who struggle to remember what they just read?
What can we do for these students?
We can use my See & Say Strategy!
Let me teach you the BEST strategy for teaching reading comprehension. This is a strategy that I initially designed for Special Education students, but is beneficial for ALL students because it teaches them a tool for understanding text!
Visualizing and Verbalizing
Visualizing and Verbalizing, an intervention program created by Nanci Bell of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, targets the development of concept imagery to essentially improve facets of reading. At its core, the program emphasizes the use of teacher directed questions to assist students in forming images while eliciting language.
Mental imagery has “reliable effects on improving memory for text” (National Reading Panel, 2000, p. 4-42). This skill is naturally developing for most students. However, those diagnosed with a learning disability in reading often struggle to form pictures in their head for presented words. This is often due to the fact that their focus, during reading, is on decoding the words.
If a reader has to spend most of his/her time decoding each word within a sentence, comprehension fails. This results in an inability to develop concept imagery impacts comprehension; thus, delaying the progression of reading for students.
The Verbalizing and Visualizing program employs an explicit and systematic instruction in order to support this lagging skill for struggling students.
Programs require time. And who has time for that?!
As a result of the realities of being a teacher and squeezing it all in, I modified the concept. It’s principles stand as the basis for a learning strategy that I call Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing!
Here is the teaching strategy I use to improve recall and overall comprehension of a text:
Begin by asking the students to visualize (imagine, picture) what they read in their heads as they read, stopping periodically to first, model what you are visualizing (“I’m picturing her face looking angry. It’s red and her fists are clenched…”). Ask the students what they are picturing. Stop after each part of the story (beginning, middle, end). At each stopping point, ask the students to verbalize the part (beg., mid., end) as they visualize it. Then, have them draw what they visualized. After reading the whole text, ask students to use their drawings to retell the story’s beginning, middle, and end. Lastly, write a sentence or two next to each picture in order to produce a complete retelling. (Tip: For added support, give students sentence frames… i.e. In the beginning, ___.)
The text can be read round robin style of reading with a small group or as a mini-lesson with the whole class.
Scaffold the approach by gradually releasing responsibility (i.e. allow the student to identify the beginning, middle and end, instead of explicitly stating it and determining it for students).
You can also use this approach with non-fiction. Vary the strategy by stopping after reading each section, and model what you visualized (i.e. “I pictured the frog in my head changing from an egg to a…”). Ask the students what they pictured. Then, have them draw what they visualized. After reading the whole text, ask students to use their drawings to retell the main idea and supporting details. Lastly, write a sentence or two next to each picture in order to produce a complete retelling. (Tip: For added support, give students sentence frames… i.e. Frogs change from ___.)
Tip: I have my students complete retelling sheets after each book we read ...BUT... since paper is a hot commodity along with a teacher's time which can be saved from copying, I place my retelling sheets inside these pockets so I can have them for the ENTIRE school year... yes, you read that correctly!
Grab this strategy here:
AND compatible graphic organizer for retellings…
Visualizing, Verbalizing and Vocabbing:
Teaching Reading Comprehension AND Improving Writing Using My See & Say Strategy
Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing in Reading!
I consistently teach my students to visualize the text’s words in their head. There are moments in our reading groups, where we pause to imagine and/or act out the text.
While my students are amazing, they are like all students. We didn’t just jump right into these learning moments. Instead, I utilized some key tools to improve students’ reading comprehension.
The first step was through STORY MAPPING. Story mapping is a visual framework strategy for building comprehension. The map enables students to summarize main ideas, organize information and ideas, make connections, recall text events, and communicate about a text.
After reading a text, create a visual of what you read. Students should identify story elements such as characters, problems, setting, etc. Essentially, you are drawing what happened.
To help your students with this skill, ask them questions. Where were the characters? What could they see? What were the characters doing? What were the characters saying? What is the problem of the story? What actions did the characters take toward solving the problem? Did the setting change? Was the problem solved? What is the lesson learned? (Insert a social emotional learning moment here!)
Create a visual with these questions as a scaffolded support towards independence with the skill.
Have students verbalize the answers to the questions you ask. Teachers should promote a class discussion of the events that occurred in the text. This promotes oral language development, not only social language, but also academic language is being developed as students learn how to discuss text.
Verbalizing a text’s ideas also allows students to wrestle with the text! Any misunderstandings can be ironed out, while different perspectives can be debated.
The oral discussion enables students to apply newly learned vocabulary connected to the text as well as practice oral discussion rules and the language of book discussions!
My story maps include words and pictures. The words that I jot on our story maps are key vocabulary related to the text. The pictures tell the text’s story, while the words help to match ideas and images. Both tools go hand-in-hand to support understanding of the text.
You can use a variety of graphic organizers to support this strategy or just wing it with your own on the fly mapping!
Story mapping can be applied to the content areas too! After reading a non-fiction text, we re-read it, going line by line. We analyze what the sentences are saying by Visualizing and making connections between the ideas. We Verbalize these concepts through discussion. Simultaneously, we draw the ideas. Next, we do some Vocabbing, by jotting down keywords needed for comprehension.
Another tool to support my See & Say Strategy is visual thinking.
Here’s how it works!
I will post an image on the front board related to the text we are reading. Students will come to the front and write around their images, their reactions, questions, things they noticed, etc. around the image.
I then have them discuss the image in groups. If they have any new ideas, they can write it around the image. Lastly, we discuss the image.
The writing around the image enables students to apply newly learned vocabulary in the context of the written language. It also gives struggling students a written support for the oral discussion of the image.
In both instances, students are getting multiple and varying opportunities to apply vocabulary.
For example, one of my groups is currently reading Number the Stars so I have been using primary source images from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The students have begun referencing the images while discussing the text. Anecdotally, I believe that the images are helping the students visualize and as a result, are demonstrating improved comprehension and verbalization of this understanding.
Read alouds are another excellent practice that supports Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing. Read aloud texts are chosen for their lively and explicit language. When we read aloud to our students, we should be modeling the language of a text.
So how do I implement read alouds using my See & Say strategy?
Read the text aloud. Have your students form mental images. Ask them to close their eyes and picture the image that the author’s words are creating.
Build oral language through discussion of these images. Make your visualizing real through modeling your visualizations of the text with visual representations. Draw quick pictures of what the words help you to imagine.
Talk about specific words and sentences. How do these change what you are visualizing? What tools is the author using to help the reader visualize?
Connecting Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing to Writing
You can connect this strategy to a writing prompt or lesson! Have your students use language that creates vivid mental images. Partner them up to visualize each others’ writing!
Read a text about Paul Revere’s ride in Social Studies. What does the night look like? How are the people feeling?
Ask questions! How do the author’s words and your background knowledge help you to visualize? How does the vocabulary support your learning and understanding? How does this tool help you comprehend a text better?
Read a math picture book and follow the same procedure!
So teach your students to pull a Sophia and “Picture it” with my See & Say Strategy!
~By Miss Rae
National Reading Panel (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. NIH Publication No. 00-4754. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
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