Tag Archive: reading tips

IMG_0104I started a lesson a couple of weeks ago with my 3rd graders asking them to take a post-it note pad and sticky note text features in the book we would be reading for that day.  I had a student immediately say, “What is a text feature?”  Two thoughts came through my mind.  1. I was so happy he was willing to say he was unsure.  2. This is something they study extensively in 2nd grade.  Why was this still unknown?

So in the world of teaching adjusting your plans will happen often.  I had to adjust and we began to talk about text features briefly.  I knew we’d need to come back to this.

Fast forward to last week where I brought it up again.  It was a little more well known, but students didn’t know how they helped them in the books they were reading.  We went over how the features are helpful (as are the 3rd grade classroom teachers)

IMG_0108Today we went through magazines to find the different text features and then wrote about how they could help us as readers.  We made a large chart together (We still have a couple of features to finish writing about).

This ended up being an excellent learning day.  Students were cutting out random things and shouting, “I FOUND ONE!”  I would reply back with, “Well, which one did you find?”  Once they had to really think about it, then they realized it wasn’t really a text feature.

I have to say I was quite impressed with the team work that went into putting this chart together.  My motto is “team work makes the dream work” and students today rose to that quote.  If one student wasn’t sure how it helped, another was there to assist.  They were asking each other for their opinion on what kind of text feature they found and if it fit the criteria we were looking for.  Wow!  Real discussions about literature topics.

Next week I’ll be starting a 3 book non-fiction series with my 3rd graders.  I’m hoping this extra time we took to go over how text features help us will aid in our readings for the next 2 weeks.



I have several inspirational quotes hanging on the wall above my desk and one of them says, “Am I better today than I was yesterday?”  As an Instructional Strategist for reading I’m always asking myself this.  One of the things I realized I wasn’t becoming better at was my level of questioning for students.  I noticed I was doing a lot of “right there”/find it in the book/surface level questions that didn’t require much thinking.  And I want to be better than that.  My students deserve more from their teacher.  So I started a quest on how I could “be better today than I was yesterday” for my kids.

I quickly stumbled upon my good, close, personal friend Benjamin Bloom (I wish)!  Oh Bloom’s Taxonomy.  How could I forget about Bloom’s Taxonomy?  (To learn more about Bloom’s Taxonomy take a quick visit HERE).  I have been on a “mission card” kick lately and thought, “By golly, Sarah, get some Bloom’s Taxonomy mission cards!”  And so I did.  (You can, too, by clicking HERE!)

I’m really trying to get my older students ready for the DRA2 assessment at the end of the month by trying to ask more challenging, deeper questions.  I’ve found myself using the teal (synthesis) and green (application) cards the most.  I would say we are still in an area where evaluation (purple) is a little too challenging for us, but I’m going to be working that way so students are able to make more connections quickly and be reading in a way that has them thinking about the story instead of just reading to get through it.

I didn’t use these with the “Top Secret” envelopes last time and my kids about fell off their chairs.  They love the secret envelopes so I’ll make sure I’m bringing those more regularly.

I use these for not only the reading/discussion portion of the lesson, but also the writing portion occasionally.  This is another great way that I can differentiate and prompt at the different levels students are in the group.  Yesterday my students had to answer questions such as:

  • What events in the story could not happen in real life?
  • What changes would you make to the story?
  • Combine two characters in the story in order to invent a new character, and write a short story with this new character as the main character in your story.
  • Create a new ending for the story.  Share this new ending with your classmates.

This has been a fun and more challenging way to get my students to think deeper, as we prepare for the DRA2 assessment and as we transition into a literature circle group where discussions and deep thinking are going to be essential to reading growth.

I was finding my students kind of grumbling when it came to discussion after reading a new book.  Normally this is an opportunity for me to check their reading and comprehension.  I decided I needed to make this time of the lesson a little more fun.

I decided to make my own Top Secret comprehension cards.  Really Good Stuff makes their own cards, but I wanted to customize my cards based on what we’re working on in the classroom.  I ended up with about 30 cards.  I tried this today with my 2nd and 3rd graders and they absolutely loved it.  I started out by telling them to read their story carefully because I would be giving them an ultra-top secret mission after they finished reading.  Students began to giggle, but they were all very curious what this secret mission was.  They read and as they were reading I went through my cards and picked out the card I felt was most appropriate for each student.   On little envelopes I wrote TOP SECRET and slid the mission cards into an envelope for each student.

As they finished reading and were waiting for their card I totally played it up.  I made them promise they would keep it completely top secret–that they would show no one their card.  It was for their eyes only!  Each student had a ginormous grin.  Who doesn’t love a good secret??  Some students were so into the secret that they went and go dividers for their desk so no one could see what they were writing.  It was so cute to see students carefully slide their card out of their envelopes just far enough to read it and then push it back into the envelope until they needed to check it again to make sure they had written down the correct information.

From there students wrote their answers either in a journal or on a post it note.  We did end up sharing our secret notes at the very end, but it was really cool to see students looking back in the book for information, taking their time, and really thinking about the story.  They were all so bummed when group was over and secret mission time was over.  I promised them these cards would be back.  I’m super excited to see how these cards will continue to help students read more carefully, comprehend more information, and take their reading to the next level.


1st grade has been working on problem, solution, characters, and setting in their classrooms.  Today, I decided to do a little comprehension check and incorporate what they’ve been doing in the classroom as a quick little “get up and move” activity.  My 4 boys absolutely loved this activity.

I first had the boys re-read the story Pinky the Pig.  I told them to read carefully as I was going to be asking/telling about certain things that happened in the book later on.  We then went out into the hallway and I put 4 pieces of paper on the lockers in 4 sections of the lockers: Characters, Setting, Problem, Solution.  I had the boys take pieces of paper (although I think tape would work better so no one slips, but I didn’t want to take the extra time since this wasn’t my classroom and couldn’t permanently be there.) and divide the hallway into 4 sections/squares.

I then made a series of statements or questions (I.E. Who is Pinky?) and then said–is Pinky a problem, solution, character, or setting?  The students then had to move to the appropriate square.  Sometimes the students agreed and sometimes they disagreed.  Characters and problems seemed to be the easiest for the students, but for some reason (and it could have been because of the way I phrased the question) the students struggled with setting.  The solution questions made the students really think, but they were able to get those questions relatively easily as well.

The boys absolutely loved hopping into different squares and were all eager to tell their teacher what we had just played once we went back into the classroom to write.  This definitely was a good strategy to use with the kids and I’ll try to incorporate it again at different times throughout the year, but maybe fashion it with different categories as what they are learning will change throughout the year.


One of my students’ very favorite reading strategies is called Stepping Through The Story.  Today I did this retelling strategy with my first graders.

What is this strategy for?: To be used as a retelling tool for students.

How does the strategy work?: Students are given 1 piece of paper per plot point in the story.  You hand each student their pieces of paper and ask them to lay them out–can be in a line or a curve.  I ask my students to lay them out with spaces in between.  (My kids in the photo above didn’t leave themselves very much room.  I typically like there to be a good 8-12 inches between the papers so the kids really get the movement of stepping through the story.)  Students are to start on the first paper and tell what happened at the beginning of the story.  Students then step to the next paper when they tell the next plot point or what happened next in the story.  They continue stepping to the next pieces of paper as they retell the story until the land on the final piece of paper and tell what happened at the end of the story.

Why use this strategy?: Students in our building really struggled with retelling when it came to DRA2 testing throughout the year.  We quickly realized this was something we needed to work harder on.  Brain-based research has shown a connection with students retaining more information when you cross both sides of the brain–such as involving moment/Physical Education into the learning.  My kids love getting out of their seat and hopping on pieces of paper to retell the story.  It always seems that they remember the story much better after we use this strategy rather than just a verbal retelling or just comprehension questions alone.  Students are eager to share and can’t wait to move to the next paper.  It’s good to get the wiggles out while having fun and learning.  I’ve found that all of my groups in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade love this strategy.

Materials needed: 1 piece of paper per plot point in the story times however many students you have in a group.  (10 plot points x 4 students = 40 pieces of paper)  I am big of visual representation and so I really like to use a different color for each plot point.  I think it just really shows that this is a different point in the story and it’s easy to see with the color change.

Helpful information: The first time I did this last year I used one piece of paper for a group of 4 students.  I thought they could each put a foot on the corner of the paper.  This did not work.  There was plenty of pushing and arguing and I spent more time doing crowd control than helping them with retelling.  I decided to cut the paper into 1/4th the size so they each could have their own section.  This takes up more space, but it has eliminated all behavior problems.  Now they get to lay down their own cards in their own space and it just makes more sense!  All students love to help so I have them each pick up their own papers and hand them in when finished.

This is a strategy that I use with my groups as frequently as possible.  I usually devote 10 minutes to this strategy by the time you hand out papers, step through the story, and pick up the papers.  It’s a quick way to move, learn, and have fun!

It’s inevitable that at some point when your child is reading, he or she will come to a word he/she doesn’t know.  What are some strategies your child should be using?  What are some strategies you could prompt for?

  1. Look at the picture. (Yes, we want your child looking at the picture!  Please don’t cover the picture up.  There are many helpful clues he or she can find from searching the picture!)
  2. Think about the story.  What would make sense here?
  3. Get your mouth ready.  Point and slide your finger under the word.  Then go back and re-read the sentence.
  4. Read to the end of the sentences and then go back and see if you can figure out the word.  Then go back and re-read the entire sentence together.
  5. Try a word!  Does it make sense?  Does it look right?  Does it sound right?
  6. Look for chunks or parts in the word you know!

Encourage your child to try multiple strategies before telling them the word.  If after several attempts at the word and your child is still struggling, give them the word, but run your finger under the word slowly while you tell them.  Most importantly, help make reading fun.

Do you ever have a cute little face come up to you in your house either asking you to read them a story or are telling you they need to read you a story for their homework?  To the left is my son and this is the face I see looking at me all the time.

Do you want to be more involved in your child’s reading but aren’t sure how?

Below are a list of questions you can ask before, during, and after reading a book!


  • What does the title tell you about the story?
  • Is there anything in your life that this story reminds you of?
  • Is the story fiction or non-fiction?
  • What would you like to find out in the story?
  • What questions do you have about the story?
  • What do the pictures on the cover tell you about the story?
  • What do the pictures in the book tell you about the story?
  • Identify the author, illustrator, and unfamiliar words.


  • Who are the characters?  Who are the main characters?
  • Which character can you relate to so far?  Why?
  • What questions do you have about the story?
  • What is a problem in the story?
  • How could the problem be solved?
  • How do you think the problem will be solved by the end?
  • Did the solution to one problem cause another problem?
  • How would you solve this problem?
  • Where does the story take place (setting)?


  • Retell the story from beginning to end in your own words.
  • Summarize the story.
  • How does the story end?
  • How was the problem solved?
  • What is the main idea of the story? (What is it mostly about?)
  • How are you and the main character alike or different?
  • How might you end the story differently?
  • What lessons can you learn from the story?
  • What did this story remind you of? (Making a connection)
  • Why do you think the author wrote this story? (Author’s purpose/message)
  • How might you retitle the story and why?