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Again this is for Gini and Karl to read when they have children of their own:
Help your kids with reading comprehension
Dear Gini and Karl,
I hope that when your kids are big enough to go to school that schools have changed completely even though unfortunately I wouldn't hold my breath for it. As I have said before if I had to do it all over again I would not have sent you to primary school in French. I don't think that the way you were taught in school was a good or suitable way to make you appreciate reading. Still if you decide to send your kids to school (in French) and not to homeschool them or if they have for whatever reason to pass tests like this here are some ideas to help your kids with understanding the texts that they need to read for school:
- Let your kid draw the story
When Gini was in primary school her teacher would give her and her class stories to draw. So later when Ben was the same age I remembered it and found that it was very useful and beneficial for him to actually draw the story. If the story is long you can break it down to paragraphs or even to sentences and let your child draw one picture per paragraph or sentence.
At the beginning Karl was often not reading carefully and making up part of the story instead of reading what the text was saying. Having to draw everything helped him learn to concentrate and work with the text, even though it was in French, a language he was still struggling with at the time. Of course at first he only drew a small part of what was in the text. When we then reread the text again and he had to check sentence for sentence if he had drawn the action he began to see how much he had overlooked. It took a while but eventually he started to read more carefully and catch what was really said in the text.
You can start as easy as you want. Just make up a small story where every sentence is drawable. E.g. "It's the giraffe's birthday and she gets many presents. She has invited 4 guests and has already prepared the table and chairs. The giraffe and the little bear are already sitting at the table. There is a cake on the table with 4 candles. One candle is red, one is blue, one yellow and one green. A ball is lying under the table. The giraffe is wearing a scarf. Both, giraffe and bear are wearing a party hat." I hope you see what I mean. When your child can master this you can go on to other stories that are a bit more challenging to draw. For Karl this really was an important step in learning to process all the information that he was reading.
- Find some pictures and make some sentences and let your kid find the sentence that fits to a particular image.
- Find some pictures and let your kid sort it in the right order.
Later you can do this with sentences as well.
- Make sure your children work with the text.
Let them have a pencil ready while reading so that they can underline important words or even whole sentences. Be careful however that they don't just randomly underline something.
- Start with a text and questions where all answers can be found in the text. Let your children underline the right answer and copy it.
- Read the title and subtitles carefully as they give often give you a hint about the content.
- Work with them through common questions so that they know what to look for in the right answer
This asks for the characters / the persons in the story. Grammatically speaking you are looking for nouns.
What is happening in the story? What do the characters in the story do? This asks for the action in the story. Your answer usually must include a verb.
This asks for a time. This can be a particular time but also just a day of the week, a month, a season or just something like 'morning', 'evening', 'today', 'yesterday', 'last week' etc. Sometimes this is only given implicitely. That is when the text e.g. says 'on their way to school' then we know that it must be in the morning because usually kids go to school in the morning. Does the story happen now (present), did it happen before (in the past) or is it going to happen later (in the future)?
This asks for a place.
This asks for a reason or cause. Tell your kids that if they read 'why', their answer must have a 'because'.
- how is it happening?
This is asking for action like the what questions.
- How can you describe the characters? how does s/he look like / how does s/he behave
This asks for a description, for adjectives.
Sometimes the teachers differentiate between physical and character traits.
Physical traits are descriptions like a big nose, fast, beautiful, brown eyes, black hair, blonde, everything that describes how someone looks but also adjectives like fast because the reason someone is fast is mostly because of his physical characteristics
Character traits are descriptions like nice, mean, smart, loyal, friendly, grumpy, that is words that show how someone behaves.
- How do the characters feel?
Look for explicit words that tell an emotion. You are again mostly looking for adjectives here.
- Do you like the story? Why? What do you like best? Who do you like best?
Sometimes a question asks for their opinion. These often look like yes or no questions. Tell your kid that the teacher wants a reason and so they need to write yes/no, because...
Sometimes there are questions where you need to bring several sentences, actions or parts of sentences in the right order. To solve those questions correctly you need to find all points that you need to put in order in the text and underline them. After you have found ALL of them, you number them and then you have the right order.
Practise synonyms with them
Make a list of different words that express joy, love, happiness, sadness, fear, surprise etc. Let them make sentences with each of them. If you read a story with your child point out when you come to expressions that express those words.
(The ghost made "booooo" and her face turned white, she trembled with fear.)
For French I found that this is a good synonym finder:
Ask your kids to retell the story to you in their own words.
Work to increase their vocabulary
Maybe they don't understand the story because their vocabulary isn't big enough yet. This is especially true if they study in a language that isn't their mother tongue. Go through the story together and make sure they understand the words. You could read with them paragraph by paragraph and let them tell you what is going on. Then you will notice what exactly they don't understand. Before you tell them what the word they don't understand means ask them if they can find it out by themselves. Maybe they can guess the meaning from the story around (from the context). Or maybe the word is similar to a word they have already learnt (écrire - écriture for example) or similar to a word from English they already know. Or maybe the sentence contains a "but". This could mean that the opposite of the word can be found on the other side of the "but". Of course none of this always works but it is worth a try. Your children get better at their ability to infer the meaning which is important in a test when they can't ask you and it also helps them to better remember the word.
Repeat the story again on several other days so that the vocabulary can sink in.
Again the more they read the wider their vocabulary will become. Read some texts where you go over every word and read other texts without explaining any words.
There are lists with the most frequently used words for every language. I used "mon premier Bescherelle illustre" with you as the other lists that I could find were more geared towards adult's texts which contain a bit of a different vocabulary. I really liked the idea though to be able to learn the most often used words first. But I just wished there were better lists with words used in primary school available. Maybe they will be created until your kids are going to school.
You can also have them invent stories and write them down. If they don't know a word let them find a way to express what they want to say in a different way and then teach them the more precise word. By writing they have to use their vocabulary actively. Don't underestimate this method. I mostly learnt English by writing letters to my pen pals and not by reading books alone. Maybe you remember the letters I wrote to you, Gini. And maybe Karl, you remember the letters to and from Amp, the alien from Erde that you hoped so much would come to visit you.
Sometimes it helps to teach some words like although, even is, while etc. explicitely.
As soon as they can roughly read in French or whatever language they learn how to read in, teach them to read in English or whatever their strongest language is. Being a good reader in one language automatically improves your reading in the other.
Teach them about affixes, that prefixes and suffixes. For example the prefix 're' means to do something again.
You can also teach them sentence structure. Usually it is also taught in high school but if your child is struggling with reading comprehension it might prove helpful for them.
If your children still have difficulties try to find out why
Maybe they can't concentrate long enough and have already forgotten what was at the beginning of the story when they finished reading it. Start with very short stories and practise reading with them. The more they read the better they will become.
Some teachers are very strict and only give half the points if you only write part of the answer as they see it.
Example: The king lived in a big castle in Camelot.
Where does the king live? If you only write Camelot or in a big castle you lose half or all the points with those teachers. It's silly in my opinion but it is how it is. So make sure that you look around the sentence if you think you have found the answer. Make sure to write the full answer.
I know that sometimes it seems rather arbitrary how teachers give or withhold points. And often the way they evaluate tests has nothing to do with the original goal of improving reading comprehension. Unfortunately many teachers mindlessly correct things. In such a case you can only make sure that your kids pass the other subjects. The next year with a new teacher the problems will miraculously disappear all by themselves.
Maybe it is something else. Don't give up on them and try different things until they improve. Because you should
always remember: There are a few cases where simply practising more will help. But mostly more of the same will not help. You need to try something that is different from what is done in school if you want to see an improvement in your kids' achievement.
Copyright © 2004-2022 Katja Socher, tuxgraphics.org