Get Loud! 5 Fun Activities to Encourage the Comprehension Connection
For many literacy educators, student engagement is measured by what we see, not what we hear. After all, students are primarily learning reading and writing skills, so if they are busy processing and analyzing the text, the classroom should be quiet—right?
Not at all. In fact, encouraging student discussion can be instrumental in building language and literacy skills. While students might need a quiet space to read and write, they also need engagement and discussion in order to analyze, reflect, and comprehend.
So, how do we create these opportunities for students to think and share out loud? It’s a difficult task that’s relatively new in the world of education. In the first chapter of their book, Content-Area Conversations, authors Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Carol Rothenberg reflect on how the evolution of classroom discussion has impacted student learning. Over time, our classrooms have shifted from the one-room schoolhouse where teachers lectured and students listened to the more interactive classrooms of today, in which students are encouraged to share their thoughts and questions aloud. However, the shift from teacher-dominated discussions to student-led reflection is ongoing. As Fisher et al. noted, “Classroom talk is frequently limited and is used to check comprehension rather than develop thinking.”
It’s true that many of us tend to engage students in the text by asking them to answer comprehension questions or recall specific details from the reading. However, we also know the value of guiding students to make connections to their reading and share their own perspectives with others. Ann Ketch, a literacy trainer for Des Moines Public Schools, refers to conversation as the “comprehension connection.” By sharing personal experiences related to the topic and listening to others’ ideas, students make deeper, more meaningful connections to the text. In that sense, speaking and listening activities actually allow students to practice their critical thinking skills, challenge their perceptions, and articulate their reasoning.
We can help students build these crucial skills by planning activities that guide them to listen to their peers’ interpretations of the reading and share their own impressions aloud. Try these five speaking and listening activities to complement—not compete with!—reading and writing instruction.
1. Pair and Share
Before reading, ask students to pair off and quickly discuss their prior experiences with the subject of the text. Not only will students review their prior knowledge before reading the material, they’ll be able to practice speaking and listening to each other’s experiences. This exercise could help students make stronger connections to the reading—and their classmates!
2. Introduce Your Partner
Put a new spin on sharing reader responses with the rest of the class. Ask students to pair up and quickly discuss their opinions on the reading material with each other. Then, ask students to summarize and share their partner’s perspective for the class. Students will need to use their listening and speaking skills carefully for this activity!
3. Adopt A Role
For older students, exploring texts that use irony, unreliable narrators, and satire can be especially different to comprehend. Ask students to play the part of one of the characters and share their thoughts on the events in the text. Speaking from the perspective of the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart or Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal will show students the importance of tone when reading aloud or to themselves. Additionally, hearing the work through the perspectives of their peers can help students who have difficulty understanding how satire or irony can be used to make a point.
After reading a text that explores opposing views, give students a chance to share their perspectives. Divide the class into teams that support each view and give each side the opportunity to make their case in two or three minutes each. The time limit takes off the pressure for students to speak for long periods of time, while also encouraging students to practice summarizing their thoughts effectively for a quick delivery.
This activity takes the opposite approach of the mini-debate: Rather than limiting the time students have to share their thoughts, it encourages students to speak for as long as possible. Divide students into teams and give each student a turn to summarize as many points from the text as they can. If a student stops speaking for longer than 10 seconds or repeats an earlier point, their filibuster is over and a student from the next team gets a turn. With a team cheering them on to continue speaking, students will have motivation to filibuster as long as possible! While “brain dumping” or “free writing” can be difficult for some students to do on paper, talking about a topic for as long as they can may reveal some interesting connections to the text!
While our classrooms might typically be quiet spaces during reading and writing activities, there can—and should!—be time for students to speak and listen to each other. Encouraging classroom discussion that goes beyond recalling information for comprehension checks takes a little creativity, but students will reap the rewards. Conversing with each other about the reading allows students to share their impressions while learning from the perspectives of their peers. This just goes to show that literacy lessons don’t have to be solitary, quiet activities. In fact, processing the text can be active, engaging, and even loud!
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