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The Elements of Comprehension. By Witt, Hutchinson, Boisis, Davis, and Roberts. Based on the 7 Keys to Comprehension by S. Zimmerman and C. Hutchins. Introducing…. The Elements!. Sensory Images Making Connections Questioning Drawing inferences Determining what ’ s important Synthesizing

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the elements of comprehension

The Elements of Comprehension

By Witt, Hutchinson, Boisis, Davis, and Roberts

Based on the 7 Keys to Comprehension by S. Zimmerman and C. Hutchins

introducing the elements
Introducing…. The Elements!
  • Sensory Images
  • Making Connections
  • Questioning
  • Drawing inferences
  • Determining what’s important
  • Synthesizing
  • Solving problems: Fix Up Strategies
element 1 sensory images

Sensory images are the pictures we make in our minds when we read.

They are what you imagine in your mind that you taste, touch, smell, see, hear, or feel when reading a text.

Element 1: Sensory Images

strategies for teaching sensory images
Strategies for Teaching Sensory Images

Taste:Have students brainstorm a list of adjectives or describing words for something in the story. For example, in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Lilly makes cheese straws for her teachers. What do you think they might taste like? An addition: Make the cheese straws and compare what you thought to what you know!

Touch: Think of some objects that you read about in the story, like a fuzzy bear or a gravel road. How do these things feel when you touch them? Use concrete objects in your classroom like carpet, sandpaper, and Playdoh to make these more tangible to the students.

more strategies
More strategies…

Sound:Have students (especially in the primary grades) act out the sounds they read about in the story. What does a fire truck sound like? Fireworks? A whisper? Encourage them to use sounds from a particular story during dramatic play. An example would be the story Daisy the Firecow. What did it sound like when Daisy was riding in the fire truck?

Smell: Many students struggle with describing smells. They often say “good” or “bad”. Use this time to explore other words for common adjectives. You can also bring in different items that have distinctive smells, like flowers, fruit, or vinegar. The use of hands-on activities assists in creating mental images.

and even more strategies
…and even more strategies!

Sight: This is the easy one! Have students draw a picture of the image in their mind. The use of poetry without pictures is an excellent way of tapping into these sight images. Students must create what THEY see, instead of relying on the illustrator’s interpretation.

Feel:The most abstract of the senses, students are asked to think about how a story makes them feel. This is a perfect introduction to the next comprehension element, making connections to text!

Sensory images are perfect for the use of adjectives!

element 2 making connections
Element 2: Making Connections

Making connections to text allows a reader to access his or her background knowledge, and make meaning out of the text. Connections can be text-self, text-text, and text-world.

making connections how
Making Connections: How?

Text – Self : Connections are made between the story and the reader. Does this remind you of something that has happened to you?

Text – Text: Connections are made between two different texts. For example, different versions of Cinderella, or two different stories by the same author. How are the texts similar? How are they different?

Text – World: The most abstract connection, this connection is made between the text and something happening in the “world”, like a war story being related to our current war in Iraq.


Comprehension Strategies

  • Wonder….

I wonder what…

I wonder who…

I wonder why…

Tales of a Fourth Grade


I wonder if…

I wonder where…

element 3 questioning
Element 3: Questioning

Good readers question

BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER reading.

  • It is an “inner conversation” between the text and the reader”.
  • It involves the use of background knowledge, picture clues, context clues, and predictions.
  • Questioning creates a vested interest in the text. “Now I want to know what happens!”
guidelines for questioning
Guidelines for Questioning
  • Don’t have students spend too much time. Students should not spend more time answering question than they spent reading a selection.
  • Do not provide answers to questions
  • Try to avoid yes/no questions or either/or questions. Students have a 50% chance of a right answer just by guessing.
  • Focus on some questions that require long answers. Encourage students to explain the reason for their answers.
  • Focus on asking higher level questions, such as those calling for inferences and predictions.
  • To increase comprehension, students can be encouraged to formulate their own questions.

A great idea for encouraging questioning is a Wonder Box. Questions are just a fancy way of wondering about something. Before reading, take a picture walk, and write down what you might wonder. During and after reading, come up with things you might wonder about in the story. Put them in the box, and pull out wonderings. Encourage them to do this will all texts, or during their independent reading.

Good texts for Wondering:

Wordless books allow students to formulate questions without confusing text.

Where Do Balloons Go? By Jamie Lee Curtis models how to question.

element 4 making inferences
Element 4: Making Inferences

Text and Word



Background Knowledge

  • Good readers use their prior knowledge and information from what they read to make predictions, seek answers to questions, draw conclusions, and create interpretations that deepen their understanding of the text.
  • Making inferences involves understanding BEYOND what is explicitly stated in the text.
  • One of the best strategies to use with making inferences is the Cloze procedure.
  • Students can also make predictions about text, and later confirm or disconfirm these predictions

how can i teach little kids to infer
How can I teach little kids to infer?

Suggestion using the book No! David by David Shannon

  • Create a t-chart with the left side labeled “What I saw” and the right side labeled “What I infer”.
  • Begin by looking at the pictures. “I see a woman in this story yelling “NO!” at David.” Write this under the left column.
  • “I infer that this is his mother or someone he lives with”. Write this under the right hand column.
  • Remind students that inferences are guesses that are probably right!
  • Continue using pictures in the text and have students help you infer.
  • A follow-up activity could be to give each student a picture of something happening (a glass sitting on the edge of a table, the sky full of dark clouds, a kid making an angry face).
  • Have students fold paper into two halves pasting the picture on the left side, and writing their inference on the right side of the chart!
element 5 determining importance
Element 5: Determining Importance

Good readers identify key ideas or themes as they read, and they distinguish between important and unimportant information.

What does the author think is important?

What do I think is important?


How can we help students determine importance?

Before reading, decide what you think the author is trying to tell you in this book. For example, if you are reading a non-fiction book about spiders, what do you think the author wants us to know about spiders?



During reading, have students mark pages with sticky notes, or have them write on the sticky notes, three or four facts learned from the text.

  • Use a KWLA chart (A=How did this affect me and my learning?) to make a list of questions you have before reading.
  • After reading, collect sticky notes and attach under the L side of the chart. Go through and discuss each fact, and determine if it is important. “Do you think it is important that the spider was sitting on a leaf? Why or why not?”

The key to helping students determine importance is to MODEL!

element 6 synthesizing information
Element 6: Synthesizing Information

Synthesizing is the ability to sort through information gained from text, determine what is important, why it is important, and determine overall meaning. It involves drawing conclusions. It is metacognition, or the monitoring of one’s own thinking!

ways to help synthesize information
Ways to help synthesize information:
  • Retell a story with words or pictures
  • Summarize a text
  • Use Reader’s Theater for students to demonstrate their own interpretation of a text.
  • Make notes in the margin or on sticky notes of ideas or connections.
  • Create and answer “What if” questions. “What if Little Red Riding Hood got tired and went back home? What would have happened?”
element 7 fix up strategies
Element 7: Fix-Up Strategies

Strategies to use when a reader gets “hung up” and needs help “fixing” the problem!


Go back and Reread!

Think Aloud!

Analogy Strategy

Use context clues

Read on !

Use graphic organizers!

Adjust reading rate!

suggestions to assist ell and students with special needs
Suggestions to assist ELL and students with special needs:
  • Set realistic and appropriate expectations.
  • Avoid use of slang or idiom.
  • Use predicable text or brief passages.
  • Use visuals and graphic organizers
  • Address all learning styles
  • Think Aloud
  • Provide students with word lists before reading.
  • Give extended time for reading a passage or text.
  • Include multicultural and diverse literature!!!!!
  • Scaffold Instruction
  • Webites:

Articles and Books:

  • Brown, R., (1995). A transactional strategies approach to reading instruction. The Reading Teacher, 49 (3), 256-258.
  • Harvey, S. & Goudvis, A. (2000). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension to enhance understanding. New York: Stenhouse.
  • Massey, D. (2003). A comprehension checklist: What if it doesn’t make sense?, The Reading Teacher, 57, 81-84.
  • Pressley, M. (2002). Reading instruction that works: The case for balanced instruction. New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Pressley, M. (2004). Comprehension instruction: What makes sense now, what might make sense (Retrieved June, 2005).
  • Richek, M.A., Caldwell, J.S., Jennings, J.H., & Lerner, J.W. (2002). Reading problems: Assessment and teaching strategies (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon
  • Williams, J. P. (2005). Instruction in reading comprehension for primary-grade students: A focus on text structure. The Journal of Special Education, 39 (1), 6- 18.
  • Zimmerman, S. & Hutchins, C. (2003). 7 Keys to comprehension. New York: Seven Rivers
  • Zimmerman, S. & Keene, E. (1997). Mosaic of though: Teaching comprehension in a reader’s workshop. New York: Heinemann