I’m currently rereading Tanny McGregor’s Comprehension Connections. I read this as a part of a school book study a few years ago but decided to revisit it because I feel it works well with the middle to older elementary grades. Having taught first for many years a lot applied but some of the concepts kids struggled with relating too. Now that I’m teaching second grade again and even second graders working with third grade material I thought it would be good to brush up on her comprehension ideas. So here’s part 1 of my thoughts and take aways from the first half of her book. Stay tuned for part 2 next Wednesday.
I love when Tanny talks about how “thinking replaces the right answer” (page xii). So many kids these days focus on did I get it right rather than the thought process that gets them to an answer. Kids can be scared to think for themselves and it’s our job as teachers to help them learn how to do it and also feel comfortable doing it.
Another important thing to include is time for kids to talk about their thinking. I’ve called it eye to eye, knee to knee (from Debbie Miller’s Reading with Meaning), but it could be called turn and talk, partner talk, etc. I love giving kids time to talk to each other because it gives everyone a chance to share their thinking and allows students a smaller audience to share with. Some students are scared to talk in front of the whole group, but are more comfortable sharing their answer with a peer.
Chapter 1 – Bridge Building:
In Chapter 1, Tanny sets up the way she lays lessons out. The primary take away from this chapter was the importance of concrete examples. Thinking abstractly is difficult but if we show them how to do so starting with concrete items it makes it a lot easier.
The other important part is that teachers show their thinking process. Thinking takes place in the brain which no one can see. By teachers making their thinking visible to their students, it allows them to see how to do it so they can in turn do it themselves.
Launching Sequence for Lessons:
1. Concrete experiences
2. Sensory exercises
3. Wordless picture books
4. Time for text
Chapter 2 – Metacognition
Tanny explains metacognition as thinking about your thinking. Kids need to be taught to do this.
Lesson Idea – Salad Bowl
This lesson is a great way to get kids thinking about the importance of them thinking while they read. It delves into the difference between fake and real reading. It also incorporates the concrete ideas by comparing reading to a salad. A salad is a mixture of things – reading is a mixture of thinking and text.
*I’ve done this lesson with a first grade class towards the end of the year. They loved the salad bowl concept and it helped that I had the materials in front of me so that could see the reading salad coming together. I highly recommend this lesson. It is teacher led at first, but as students start getting it they start joining in and sharing their thinking. Great introductory lesson!
Lesson Idea – Thought Bubble
I love the thought bubble idea for students to hold up to show the difference between their reading and thinking. I haven’t tried this one yet, but some 3rd grade teachers I know did and their kids ate it up! It was a great way for them to see the difference and of course kids love being the one to hold up the thought bubble so you get engagement and participation!
Color Cards – I love the use of paint chips as color cards. This is one I want to implement early in the school year. The color cards are used as a way for students to rate their understanding – are they clear or foggy or in the middle?
Sentence Stems – I love sentence stems as a way to help students explain their thinking. Some kids (especially ELL and lower kiddos) get stuck on how to get the words out and how to start what they’re trying to say. When you provide sentence stems, I find students much more willing to share because they have a starting point – they’re more comfortable and willing to take risks then.
Metacognition Sentence Stems – p. 25
Tanny created an anchor chart with the sentence stems on them so they were present and available during discussion. I love, love, love anchor charts – and will be creating these with my class!
Chapter 3 – Schema
One takeaway from this chapter is the importance of using the actual vocab with the students. Kids can use the word schema and use it correctly if you teach them what it means. Instead of dumbing down language to all kid friendly terms – it’s important to teach them the actual vocab – they can and will use it. I’ve seen this first hand with my first graders in the past. They love learning new words and especially fancy words like schema. They can get it and it’s important we allow them the opportunity to expand their vocabulary.
Aha Moment – The lint roller. I’ve explained schema multiple ways – but love the lint roller idea! The main concept is that your brain sticks to things it comes into contact with (p. 32) and this is your schema. What a great way to introduce this concept to kids!
– Text-to-self connections – comparing text to your life
– Text-to-text connections – comparing text to another text
– Text-to-world connections – comparing text to things in the world
For schema, it’s important to use text that gets kids thinking. The cutesy stories don’t always work for this. In Tanny’s book she shares an example about using a song called “Rachel Delevoryas” which deals with bullying. Even those these are hard topics it’s important for kids to talk about them. I’ve found through past schema lessons with students that using thought provoking songs, poems, books, etc really provide a chance for students to think deeper. They are capable of it and even though I was a naysayer at first thinking that my first graders couldn’t possibly understand these concepts – they did and the conversations that came out of it were amazing!
Schema Thinking Stems – (page 42)
That reminds me of…
I have a connection to…
I have schema for…
I can relate too…
I like how Tanny provides a few different thinking stems. This way kids can find one they are comfortable using or change it up based on what they’re saying.
Chapter 4 – Inferring
Kids infer every day and love to guess. But, as Tanny mentions, when you throw text into it…it can be come a different story. It’s important that we help kids see how to infer with text so that it can be enjoyable.
Neighbor Mystery – Inferring Lesson
I’ve done this lesson many times and it is always a favorite with the kiddos. In this lesson, you fill a garbage bag with a few items – empty pizza box, toy catalog, plane ticket, whatever you may have. The kids have to help you figure out who your neighbors are based on their garbage. This is a fun lesson because it gives them the chance to practice inferring while using concrete objects. Kids can look at the plane ticket and infer that maybe it’s a business man who travels a lot, maybe it’s someone who likes to take vacations etc. This is always one of my starter lesson for making inferences!
Here’s an old blog post with how I used it in my class – Garbage Lesson
Inferring Sentence Stems (page 51)
My guess is…
It could be that…
This could mean…
Shoe Lesson – See how I used this in my classroom in my old blog post here
Wordless Books – I haven’t touched on this one yet, but Tanny is big on using them with all comprehension areas. Wordless books are wonderful because the kids are free from stressing about the text. It’s a great way for them to practice the various comprehension skills without stressing about the text. Wordless books are also great for inferences. Kids can make inferences about what is going on in the book based on using the clues from the pictures and their schema.
That’s it for part 1 of my review of Comprehension Connections. Next Wednesday, I’ll go over my thoughts and ideas from the second half of the book.
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Comprehension Connections, I highly recommend it. It’s very easy to read and it’s teacher friendly with lessons that are right there ready to implement!
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