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Using Reading Comprehension Questions to Read Between the Lines

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Ask Questions to Boost Reading Comprehension

Absorbing and interacting with reading material often brings questions—and questioning is a skill that comes naturally to most children. While some questions can be challenging to answer, it's important to encourage your child to continue this practice, because thoughtful and insightful questions help readers understand and draw them more deeply into whatever they're reading.

The 5 W's (and How) of Reading Comprehension

To get started and help your student learn to summarize a passage, think of the basic W's of reading comprehension: what, when, where, who, and why—and the one stray H, how. If the readers can answer all of these questions about a selection, they understand. They comprehend. They "get it."

Asking the five W questions (and one H) is just the beginning, however. In 7 Keys to Comprehension, one of my favorite sources for reading strategies, the authors suggest generating questions while reading. The most valuable questions, the authors suggest, are often the self-questions, the questions that arise in readers' minds while they're reading.

Poems are great for this approach because they pack a lot of thought into a few lines and often generate self-questions. Let's try Jack Prelutsky's "Louder Than a Clap of Thunder."* After each stanza (like a paragraph), stop, think, and question. I've included in italics a few samples generated by my own students.

Louder than a clap of thunder,
louder than an eagle screams,
louder than a dragon blunders,
or a dozen football teams.

How loud does an ...

How Prior Knowledge Helps Kids Understand What They Read

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
Activating Background Knowledge for Better Comprehension

In my sixth grade class, we were reading a scene from a novel in which the character was waiting impatiently for her sister. Immediately one of my students waved her hand energetically to get my attention. "I can identify with that," she announced. "I'm supposed to walk home with Elizabeth after school, and I'm always waiting while she talks and talks and talks."

The girl in my class knew exactly what it felt like to be the character in the novel we were reading. She had experience that helped her understand what she'd just read; background knowledge contributed to her comprehension.

Background knowledge enlivens reading material. Knowing something about a topic gives readers a point of contact, a connection to the material or the story. Without the understanding that prior knowledge brings, reading material can be more difficult to comprehend. Activating and connecting background knowledge is one of seven key strategies to reading comprehension, which are valuable principles for teachers and parents or Learning Coaches.

Consider Bruce Lansky's poem "The Virus Cure." *

Your laptop has a virus?
Don't tuck it into bed.
Don't give it tea, no matter what
the family doctor said.
Don't take it to the school nurse.
Don't rest it for a week.
The only way to cure it is to
show it to a geek.

Today's students are likely to know what a laptop is. Sadly, they probably also know what a computer virus is and does. As they read how the humorous ...

Picture This: How Visualizing Stories Supports Reading Comprehension

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Visualization Supports Reading Comprehension

"The fog comes in on little cat feet." Carl Sandburg wrote this vivid image more than a century ago. Every time I see fog, I picture the fog to be like an old and wise feline softly padding along its way and then sitting silently, as cats do, to watch people go about their day, the sounds muffled somewhat because the fog blankets the world.

Why authors use sensory imagery

When the weather is foggy, it brings up a sensory image—for example, a mental picture inspired by the words of a brilliant poet. Creating sensory images is one key to reading comprehension: a strategy that helps readers better understand reading material. Readers who lack reading comprehension, i.e., people who do not visualize the scenes depicted on the pages they read, rarely enjoy reading. To them, books are just words, dry words without meaning or pleasure. But fortunately, imagining sensory details is a skill that parents can help their children develop! Laura Ingalls Wilder was a talented artist who worked with words and inspired my imagination. When I was a young person reading her books, I'd take breaks, closing my eyes to envision the scenes that were without modern distractions. In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura sees a town for the first time: the town of Pepin, Wisconsin. Before this point, she had never seen two houses together, so the sight of a town with buildings from one end of the horizon to the other leaves her speechless. ...

5 Study Tips to Making Tough Subjects Easier to Learn

By: Beth Werrell
How to Make Tough Subjects Easier to Learn

When faced with studying a difficult topic, do you procrastinate, freeze, or dive in with a kind of brute-force, problem-solving approach that yields more frustration than understanding? Well, thanks to neuroscience, we now understand more about why that happens.

As Barbara Oakley, PhD, explains in "A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra)," our first impulse is usually to focus as hard as we can on the details of a difficult subject—like the narrow beam of a flashlight on a dark path. But without first shining a broad light ahead, we fail to see the big picture concepts—all those connecting paths that make mastering a subject possible.

Neuroscientists call these narrow-beam, broad-beam approaches focused and diffused modes of thinking. And it turns out that the ability to switch between these modes at the right time is key to learning complex or difficult subjects.

Five Practical Neuroscience-Based Learning Tips

In her book, Oakley draws from her own early struggles with math and science as well as the latest findings in neuroscience to show students how to make those well-timed switches.

Here are five of Oakley’s study tips we think you’ll want to give a try. Though focused on studying a chapter of text, they readily apply to any assignment—from solving math problems to writing a research paper.

  1. Scan the headings, subheadings, and illustrations of the chapter first. Now take a moment to visualize the chapter and reflect on the broad ...

An Introduction to Using Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
How Reading Strategies Improve Comprehension

How do you know if your student really understands what he or she reads? Parents often resort to a strategy, such as sounding it out or decoding the letters that make the words, but decoding isn't enough. Skilled readers think while they read in order to understand the meaning of a text.

Long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I attended a meeting with a goal of revising elementary progress reports in my school district. We were talking about assessment and subsets for evaluating a student's reading progress when a committee member declared, "Let's have a line that reads, 'Uses reading strategies effectively.'" Comprehension, or understanding, was the only strategy that ended up on the final draft of the new progress report.

To help you better understand how reading comprehension works for young students, below is a brief rundown of a helpful book by Susan Zimmermann and Chryse Hutchins that highlights the essential components of comprehension: 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!

What does it mean to comprehend something?

Let's put it in perspective by using Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning. Knowledge, or remembering, is the first level of learning. For example, I know the words in the book The Cat in the Hat, but can I put those words in context and understand what they mean? Comprehension is a step above knowledge. If I understand the book The Cat in the Hat, I can explain that ...

Time Management for Students in 5 Easy Steps

By: Stephanie Osorno
Time Management 101 for Students

So, are you an Early Bird, Multitasker, Helper, or Deliberator? In last week’s post, we showed you how to identify your personal time management style—the first step in making more time and less stress for family, friends, and school. Today, we’re going to show you how to apply that knowledge in a Five-Step Time Management Plan you can customize to fit your unique style.

Your Five-Step Time Management Plan
  1. Analyze how you’re currently spending your time. Have you heard the saying “You can’t control what you can’t measure”? Well, that’s especially true of time. So, for just two school days, track how you spend every hour of the day. Be thorough and honest! Include eating, sleeping, studying, LiveLesson® sessions, spending time on social media, playing video games or sports, and watching TV. As an enrolled student, you can use our activity tracker to log your time for reading assignments, music practice, and physical activities. If you want to track everything in one place, use our downloadable time tracking sheet template in PDF format.

  2. Create a priority list that includes everything you need to do today, including any social or family commitments. Group the items based on whether they’re onetime, daily, or recurring tasks. Don’t worry about the order; we’ll get to that in the next step.

    Now, rank each of the items on your to-do list as A, B, or C, based on their importance:

    A = Important and urgent
    B = Important, but not urgent
    C = Not ...

6 Stress Management Tips for Online Students

By: Tisha Green Rinker
Six Stress Management Tips for Online Students

Your class assignment is due in an hour. Your Internet connection is down. Your little brother is making entirely too much noise. Sound familiar? You are stressed out!

As the holidays approach, we can all become stressed with too much to do at school, at home, or in our communities. So today, we’re sharing some of the best student stress management tips covered during a recent National Counseling LiveLesson® session. Although geared specifically to students, we think students and parents alike will find these tips useful year-round.

What Is Stress?

The Mayo Clinic defines stress as a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever-increasing demands of life. As part of our biological programming, stress causes our bodies to secrete a cascade of hormones that increase our heart rate, raise our blood pressure, and cause our muscles to tense. While this so-called “fight or flight response” in our bodies might be critical in an actual fight, it’s not so useful when you just need to get through a tougher-than-usual school day.

Are You Stressed? What Are Your Stress Triggers?

To manage stress, you first have to recognize when you are stressed and what is stressing you—your stress triggers, in other words. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes we don’t even know we’re stressed out until we tune in to our own thoughts and bodies for signals.

If your jaw muscles are clenched, your shoulders are tight, or your stomach is churning, chances are you are stressed. If you are ...

Why Developing Soft Skills during High School Matters

By: Tisha Green Rinker
soft skills

Did you know that 77% of employers say that “soft” skills like communicating effectively are just as important to getting hired as technical job requirements or “hard skills” like knowing a computer programming language?

What Are Soft Skills?

In a recent college and career counseling LiveLesson® session, we discussed soft skills and why they matter to high school students who are starting to explore career paths. Soft skills are the personal traits and attitudes that allow you to succeed in the workplace, college, and life. They’re the cluster of skills that enable you to work well with groups, solve problems, manage your time, and take personal responsibility for your work. In today’s competitive job market, these are the skills that can set someone apart from other candidates. In college, they’re the skills needed to stay on top of your studies.

With many employers saying they can’t find employees with the soft skills they need, students should know that there are strategies they can use to develop these in-demand skills while still in high school:

Build Your Communication Skills

To become an effective communicator, you have to first become an active listener. When conversing with family, friends, or teachers, listen carefully, paraphrase their comments back to them, and ask questions to clarify their meaning or draw them further into the conversation.

In “Five Ways to Listen Better,” TED Talk speaker Julian Treasure refers to this technique by the acronym RASA: Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, and Ask. Not only does ...

Break the Multitasking Habit with These Study Tips

By: Beth Werrell
Breaking the Habit of Multitasking

It’s easy to get lost in thought when you shower, brush your teeth, or do your hair. But have you ever gotten so distracted in the shower that you wash your hair twice—or forget to wash it at all? If you’ve ever done something like this, then you have fallen into the trap of multitasking!

Multitasking, or doing two or more things at once, is something we do every day. An example is having a conversation with your child while you’re driving. There’s no harm in talking in the car because it’s easy for your brain to handle these tasks, but multitasking becomes a problem when one task interferes with the other. You might talk in the car, for example, but you wouldn’t text while driving because texting and driving both require your vision.

Virtual students are especially prone to multitasking because they’re surrounded by digital distractions. When students try to multitask while studying, they often fail without realizing it. Psychology professor David Meyer says, “Under most conditions, the brain simply cannot do two complex tasks at the same time. It can happen only when the two tasks are both very simple and when they don’t compete with each other for the same mental resources. […] But listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.” When these types of tasks compete for mental ...

Taking Breaks: A Surprising Technique to Enhance Online Learning

By: Beth Werrell

Taking Breaks to Enhance Online LearningHaving a productive school day takes concentration. Students have to be motivated and focused on each task they need to complete. They also need to learn how to look at the big picture, set priorities, meet deadlines, and achieve goals. Then there are the different lessons and activities to juggle—math, trumpet practice, science, lunch, robotics club, reading. It’s hard work keeping everything straight!

School can be challenging at times, so it’s normal for students to get tired, get distracted, and lose motivation. Successful students, however, need a way to avoid frustration and stay on track.

To stay focused on learning, there’s an unexpected technique students can try: taking breaks.

Refresh Your Brain

Your student probably already takes breaks during the day, reserving time to eat lunch or grab a snack. But if he or she gets distracted often, it might mean that your child needs to take more breaks.

“In problem-solving, when you get stuck, you’ve run out of ideas, distraction is really your best friend,” says Benedict Carey, the author of How We Learn. “You need to stand up, let it go … and that is really your best shot at loosening the gears a little bit and allowing yourself to take a different and more creative approach to the problem.” Getting distracted is really just a sign that your child’s brain needs a rest before moving to the next lesson.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that students should take breaks every time they get distracted. With some ...

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