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 eagle scream?
What does a dragon sound like when it blunders?
Louder than a four alarmer,
or a rushing waterfall,
louder than a knight in armor
jumping from a ten-foot wall.
How many sirens would come to a four-alarm fire?
Why would a knight in armor jump from a ten-foot wall?
Louder than an earthquake rumbles,
louder than a tidal wave,
louder than an ogre grumbles
as he stumbles through his cave,
What's a tidal wave? What’s an ogre? What in the world could be so loud?
Louder than stampeding cattle,
louder than a cannon roars,
louder than a giant's rattle,
that's how loud my father SNORES!
Now that the punch line has been revealed, the reader knows that the narrator was building up to a complaint about a snoring parent. In true Jack Prelutsky style, the comparisons include real and imaginary noises, all with ear-shattering implications.
Questioning piques readers' interest in nonfiction, too. By asking questions that start with "I wonder," readers will read on to find an answer. Students might be reading about ancient Egypt and find themselves wondering how the Egyptians handled living in such a huge, hot, dry desert area. The answer turns out to be true not just in the ancient civilization, but also in today's Egypt. Ninety percent of Egyptians live near the Nile River. A curious student can also think about hot and dry areas in the United States, asking, "How do people in Arizona and New Mexico get fresh water?"
Learning Coaches can encourage questions by offering starters, such as:
- I wonder…
- What if…
Learning Coaches can also model the questioning strategy by self-questioning while reading aloud.
- What might happen next?
- What do you predict?
- That's a tough decision. What choice will the character make?
- Who do you think did it?
- How did the character solve the mystery?
Some questions don't have answers – or don't have easy, "right there in front of your eyes" answers. Sometimes questions lead to more questions, and then curiosity leads readers to think more, wonder more, and even read more. And that's a pretty good answer to any question that involves reading.
* "Louder Than a Clap of Thunder," Jack Prelutsky,