Comprehension Strategies

The Strategy of FIVE

Normally when students read text, it's the teacher who asks questions about the material, either orally or in print. For a change ... and to find out your students' depth of understanding ... have them create the questions according to the acronym FIVE:
F = Fact
I = Inference
V = Vocabulary
E = Evaluation

A FACT question has a verifiable answer within the text.
An INFERENCE question requires an answer that is based on a reasonable interpretation of the text, but may or may not be true.
A VOCABULARY question asks for the meaning of a new word in the context of the reading or to use it in an original sentence.
An EVALUATION question requires deeper thinking in which analysis or synthesis of information is needed, or a judgement is offered with reasons given.

Have students write at least one question of each type, then pose their questions to a small group or the whole class. Discussion can not only answer the specific questions, but evaluate how well each one met the criteria for the type of question required. The teacher can assess understanding of the content being studied, as well as each student's ability to think about the material more deeply. Any areas needing attention can be addressed.

Marzano's Six Steps to Teaching Vocabulary
1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
• Make this conversational, not a definition
• This should be informal, but should contain all the elements of understanding the word.
• Tell a story that integrates the term.

2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
• Students must repeat the words for meaning to be placed in their long-term memory.
• The key is restating the term in the student's own words.
• Copying the teacher's words will not work.
• Vocabulary notebooks are a great way for students to record their work.

3. Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the term or phrase.
• To store information in permanent memory, it must have lingistic (language) and nonlinguistic (imagery-based) representations.

4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in the notebooks.
• Highlight a prefix, suffix, or root that might help them remember the word.
• Compare terms.
• Identify synonyms or antonyms.
• Classify words and/or related words.
• Generate analogies and/or metaphors.

5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
• Ask students to think about how words are related.
• Set students up in pairs to discuss words.
• Ask students to make connections to new words.
• Ask students to make connections to other words.

6. Involve students periodically in games that allow them to play with terms.
• Set aside blocks of time each week to play games, or use words spontaneously throughout the day to energize students and guide them in review and use of important terms.

Vocabulary Instruction
From The Clarifying Routine-Elaborating Vocabulary Instruction
"Many of the traditional techniques teachers and students use to learn vocabulary does not work because most students, not just those with learning problems, rarely remember the meanings of new terms beyond the test. This raises a very disconcerting question: If students don't remember the definitions of new terms after the test, why bother requiring them to memorize these definitions in the first place since it seems to be a waste of time? ... There are a variety of tactics and strategies that can be mediated by the teacher to help students understand and remember new terms as well as the significance of important names, events, places, or processes. All of these tactics involve facilitating elaboration in various ways." How?

1. Less is more - select the most important and far-reaching terms for students to learn, not simply all of the words in bold that the text has to offer. Teach new terms in the context of a meaningful subject-matter lesson, and facilitate student discussion that centers on use of the new term.

2. Similar to identifying the main idea and important details of a paragraph, facilitate the paraphrasing of a new term's definitions so that students can identify the core idea associated with the overall meaning of the term, as well as distinguish the new term's critical features. This must be explicitly identified for students to understand the new term.

3. Help students make background connections to the new term, relating it to previously-studied subject matter, something from their own life experiences, through a metaphor or simile (Marzano), or with a description of how the term relates to solving a real world problem.

4. Identify BOTH examples and non-examples of the term being discussed. This helps students create an internal paradigm of the deeper meaning of the term and use it correctly in the future.

5. Provide practice with the new term in multiple ways: Verbal discourse, written explanation, acting out the term, creating mnemonic or visual ways to remember it, designing a chart that places important features of the word in their own space.

Each of these ideas is a scaffold to increased student understanding over time. Each time the teacher reviews a new term in one of the above ways, students connect it with previous mentions of the term and solidify its meaning in their thinking.