Teaching Comprehension Strategies and Skills

This post has been a LONG time coming! I just keep adding to it, reorganizing it, and adding some more. I'm happy to finally push Publish on this one!

So I must warn you: This is like a three year photo dump. This post is a collection of pictures and activities that I've used with my 1st-3rd grade reading groups. I wish I took more pictures though!

I've been working hard to beef up my comprehension instruction. If you stick with this post and scroll down to the resources section, I break it down a little more for you. This might be one of those posts where you need a big cup of coffee! There is a freebie at the end for you, too!

I'll start with a very quick explanation. Then, you can scroll further down to see more examples and visuals to go with it. 

For every text, I choose a comprehension strategy and skill to focus on. 
  • The STRATEGIES are used while we read. I introduce those first. 
    • I explain the strategy and model how the strategy is used. 
    • I explain why that strategy is helpful. 
    • I tell them that we are going to practice this strategy with the text. 
    • After the usual book introduction, students read on their own a few pages (or however far I ask them to go. I try to chunk up the text in meaningful ways. For example, if the characters, setting and some background are introduced in the first two pages, I'll have them read that first then stop. Then they will read the next few pages to find the problem or conflict. 
      • Before each set of pages, I set a purpose. "Read to find out..." 
      • After each set of pages, I model how I used that strategy. As the text continues, I ask the students to share how they used it. If they are unable to do so, I will find a passage from the text that lends itself to that strategy and we will practice it together. 
      • Continue this throughout the entire book. Sometimes I provide sticky notes or a graphic organizer in a sheet protector for that strategy. 
      • After we have learned a few strategies, I give them a comprehension strategy bookmark so they can always remember and refer to the strategies we've learned so far.
  • Next, I introduce the SKILL. Before reading, I do tell my students what skill we will be working on and will show them the visual for it with a quick explanation. Then I remind them that they will learn more about the skill as we read or after we read. 
    • I may wait until after reading to explain it, if we are going to go back for the second read to practice the skill. 
    • In some cases though, I will introduce it somewhere during reading. For example, if the skill is cause-and-effect and there is a clear example of it in the middle of the book, I will point it out then. 
    • I always want to provide some kind of visual, like a graphic organizer or a group anchor chart. I usually "hold the pen" for this simply for time reasons. 
    • When they have already been introduced to the skill once and have seen me model how to use it, then they will "hold the pen" with a shared anchor chart or a graphic organizer for their notebooks.  
    • Usually it involves going back to the text and rereading. For example, I might ask them to reread page 10 and share an example of cause and effect. OR I will name the effect and they have to search for the cause. They have to show me where in the text they found the cause. This is so important. My students are always going back to the text.  I will often say "prove it" with a  smile. They use language like "I think _____ because the text says..." Providing sentence stems is so helpful! (More about that below.)

Here is what my lesson plans look like now:
PS. They may look like this week one but then they are pencil chicken scratch as the year goes on. ;) I'm sharing this as a freebie at the end of this post. 

I'll start with my photo dump. 

Part 1: Classroom Anchor Charts
Warning #2! You are about to see some NONPinterest-friendly, unartistic anchor charts. However, they are effective, give the job done, AND smell super yummy (because I always use smelly markers.) 

Before I introduce specific strategies, I show my students how I am always thinking as I read. It can be an "aha moment," a question, an exclamation, or just a random thought. An anchor chart like this is always a good place to start. Then you can do another where the kids all share their thoughts. 

This is a favorite! I put some of the same types of thoughts as I mentioned above. Then I place little stickies in the book where I had those thoughts. After students have read a section, we go back and reread the parts of the text that I marked. They choose which sticky note fits with that part of the text. 

This picture is from a 3rd grade group, but I do this with my first graders as well. Give kids the opportunity to write their thoughts as they read. The first time you do it, you should pick parts in the text that lend themselves to an "aha moment," an exclamation, a questions, an ""I think..." moment, etc. Then have the group write their thoughts on stickies. The next time you do it, you can have them choose places in the text. 

During Reading: Comprehension STRATEGIES
This is not news to anyone, but I'm saying it anyway: Model, model, model. The more I model my thinking and create a visual to go with my thinking, the more I get out of my students.  

When I make predictions, it doesn't end there! We must read on to confirm and change our predictions. In this first chart, I modeled what it means to confirm predictions. Then in the next one, I modeled how to confirm or change a prediction. 

First, I teach them to choose what is important to the story before we work on actual summaries. In this first chart, we reread to find things that were important to the story and things that were just added details. Then, we practice writing the summary together. I also use the "______ wanted _______ but __________ so __________" frame often. The kids love when I project that on the white board so they can fill it in with markers.  

This is from an old post that you can find HERE.

I like to make simple charts that guide my students thinking.  The chart above shows how to evaluate a nonfiction text. The chart bellows shows my class' evaluation of a fiction text. They shared their thoughts, which I recorded on the chart, but they had to give me reasons from the text. 

Sticky notes are a constant theme...

Sometimes you just need to draw a puzzle on the fly. That's about as far as my artistic ability goes. ;)

This one involved a projector and a pre-made PowerPoint slideshow with a thinking bubble that grew. As we gained new ideas, we added our sticky note ideas to the growing bubble.

This is an activity I do quite often. I take a sentence, either made up or from a book, then I show student how many strategies we could use for a single sentence. For example, from this sentence you might wonder if she's on a business trip or if it is a vacation. You might wonder why there is bad traffic. You might infer that she's super frustrated. You might predict she will be late for something. Explain that when reading this sentence in a full book or reading passage, we would likely read on to find the answers or reread if it is something we need to clarify.

After Reading: Comprehension SKILLS
I often take a comprehension question, then I really break it down. After that I will provide a sentence stem and model how I would answer the question. Kids need lots of practice with both of these steps in the process. 

Here, I modeled for a second grade group how I would answer this question using text evidence. 

These are a few ways I have broken down my thought process while drawing conclusions. I especially like using the different colored sentence strips. 

I used this visual to explain how details support the main idea.

I used this with a third grade group to show the difference between theme and main idea. 

You can stop here and focus on character lesson or you could take it once step further and find the themes. 

And of course, I am all about sentence stems to get kids talking! 

This is shined up on the big white board using a projector. Then we wrote in our thoughts. The next time, students wrote their thoughts. 

Part 2: Resources

This year, one of my professional goals was to beef up my comprehension instruction. Specifically, I wanted to be more explicit with my teaching and find ways to organize and track the skills and strategies I was teaching. In years past, I taught strategies and skills but it felt more haphazard with how and when I delivered it. When we read books, I would always incorporate a strategy focus and I would follow up with a skill that worked with that book. I realized though, that I was using those two interchangeably. Honestly, some can be used interchangeably in my opinion, but once I took time to really separate them out and categorize them once and for, everything got easier and my teaching became more explicit. This was not a quick process. I looked at the resources that I've been using including readings-z.com books, some supplemental leveled readers from our basal program, and some random reading passages.  I reflected on the main strategies that I use first. These are the strategies that I want my kids actively using while they are reading. Then I sifted through the skills that I wanted them to have in order to complete activities after reading. 

Comprehension Strategies
First, I made this strategy bookmark.  It is a guide for my students, a reminder of strategies we've learned, and a sneak peak at strategies to come. It also keeps me on track.  It reminds me to model previously learned strategies and encouraged me to make sure I was getting to all the strategies. 

I made posters to go with the bookmark. I used these as anchor charts when I introduced a strategy and referred back to them when needed. Once I introduce a strategy, the big poster can go on the wall.  

(These come in brights, no color background, and classic colors)

I had already made graphic organizers for strategies but they were all scattered. I put them together, spiffed them up a bit, but tried to keep them simple and usable. I put them all into sheet protectors and stocked up on Ultra Fine Tip Expo markers. This way, students could use them over and over and I never had to worry about making more copies. 

I've learned that ULTRA fine tip EXPO dry erase markers are the best! The picture on the far right is ultra fine tip. It makes a big difference. 

Comprehension Skills

This year, one thing that I tried to be better about was focusing my lessons around a skill. I'm not bound to a basal, so I'm able to do that.  I would pick a skill, like character analysis, and focus on it for two(ish) weeks.  In that time, we would read different texts that lend themselves to practicing that skill. As we read those texts, I would focus on a different strategy as well. For example, while focusing on the skill character analysis, I may read 3-4 texts, each with a different strategy focus. To help students distinguish between the two, I made these comprehension skill notebooks. I sort of made these on accident. I was using the notebooks to keep it all together, then realized I wanted them more organized. Years ago, I had made these writing notebook tabs and loved the organization, so I thought I'd do the same for these comprehension skills. It has been SO helpful! Kids can look back at different skills and different activities we've done. Win-win!

I made several graphic organizers to go behind each tab because different books may use a skill in different ways. For example, one book may be good for looking at how a character's actions affected another character. Another story might be better at simply analyzing the character and looking for text evidence. These each need a different graphic organizer.  I cut around the outer box and glued it right behind the tabs when needed. FYI: I have to keep it real here. This is a sample. The real kids' notebooks have graphic organizers that are not cut so straight and glued so perfectly. ;)

I spend a little more time thinking about my learning outcomes for each skill. 

Strategies and Skills on one poster:
Finally, I made these mini-posters to have right at my reading table. Once I introduced a strategy or skill and put the big poster on the wall, I found myself wanting another poster right at my fingertips to display at the reading table. Now I can't imagine not using it! It helps me to be more explicit with my teaching. It helps me to be accountable every time we are at that reading table. 

Part 3: Putting it all together

So just to recap:
  • Introduce strategies and use these strategies as you read. Model, model, model how to use these strategies. Use posters as a visual aide when you introduce. 
  • Depending on the strategy and story, provide a graphic organizer or sticky notes for students to use as they read. Read the text in smaller portions. I have my students whisper read or read in their heads. I will tell them to read to a certain point in the text. Then, when they finish, I model how I used that strategy for that text. Before reading the next set of pages, I remind students to try to use the strategy as they read. As they whisper read, I listen in to one student and I may encourage use of the strategy if applicable. After reading a few more pages, I invite students to share how they used the strategy.  If we are using a graphic organizer, I will model how to fill it out in a way that helps me stay engaged with the text. 
  • Make sure you practice each strategy with several different texts. It doesn't need to be all in a row though. Once I introduce a strategy, I always review it, but may wait a few weeks before focusing on it again.
  • After a couple strategies have been introduced, I bring out the strategy bookmarks. Then, we use these every time we read. We review the strategies we've learned. Even if we are focusing on a new strategy, I always invite kids to share any strategy they may have used. 
  • Keep your strategy graphic organizer in page protectors so you have easy access and can use them again.
  • I usually focus on comprehension skills after reading as a post activity. Those graphic organizers are usually put in the skill notebooks or just printed on paper
  • I use the mini-poster display to show students what skill and strategy we are using for a particular text. Before reading, I'll put up the strategy card using velcro. As we read or after (depending on the text) I will add on the skill. This helps me to be explicit with my teaching.  
I am a HUGE fan of readinga-z.com. Honestly if there is ONE thing you should spend your money on, it's that subscription. Endless books at ALL levels and they keep adding MORE! They have close reading packs as well! And I just discovered their shared reading books. I'm telling you, it's the best thing I ever did. I first subscribed in 2003 when I started out and didn't have any books and I haven't looked back. I don't blink an eye when renewal time comes up.

If you are interested in any of these resources, you can find them all HERE:

And since you've made it ALL the way to the bottom (cheers to that,) I am sharing a little freebie with you. This is what I use to plan my guided reading instruction. It reminds me to find a focus for strategies and skills. 

The one on the left if for first grade and early second. The one on the right is for later second and third grade. You can get this HERE.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Your blog consists of good information and teacher is always worried about the information they he or she want to deliver to the students. I think your plan and strategy is good to help the teachers. So, this is the great stuff but superiorpaper provides great instruction to make your work excellent.

  3. I enjoyed reading your blog, I am not a teacher yet but I like reading and learning!

  4. I find this work quite rewarding Sarah. I am a father of two boys(7years & 11years) who love drawing, i will tap that skill and use your freebie with them at home to reinforce what they learn in school.I encourage all parents to get involved , thank you for good work and keep it up

  5. I'm a mom of 3 kids actually 2 kids one adult kid( 18, 12 n 9 ) and find your information so very valuable.I know this with truly help my younger 2 not only in their Literature but also the Sciences.God bless and continue the good work.

  6. this is really amazing :-) thank you so much for sharing and helping us all learn :-)

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  8. Do you have any videos on how you implement these strategies?

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