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Building Comprehension and Vocabulary with Text-Based Discussions. Goals ofTraditional Comprehension Instruction. Teach comprehension skills (e.g. finding the main idea) Assess whether students can apply a given skill Assess whether students have gained a specific meaning of a text

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Goals ofTraditional Comprehension Instruction Discussions

  • Teach comprehension skills (e.g. finding the main idea)

  • Assess whether students can apply a given skill

  • Assess whether students have gained a specific meaning of a text

  • Focused on mentioning vs. teaching

  • Remembering information vs. creating meaning

Traditional Patterns of Classroom Talk Discussions

  • IRE (Initiate, Respond, Evaluate):

    (Dillon, 1998; Mehan, 1979)

    Teacher: What was Toad looking for?

    Student: His button.

    Teacher: That’s right.

  • “Classroom quiz show”: Teachers act as quiz show hosts, asking questions that have one correct answer, which can usually be found right in the text (Roby, 1988).

  • “Bull sessions”: Students offer opinions, but comments are not connected or responsive to what others are saying (Roby, 1988).

How can we use storybooks to move beyond quiz shows and bull sessions? Why should we bother?

The Vocabulary Gap Persists… DiscussionsWhite, Graves, and Slater (1990)

Growth in Vocab.


  • Urban Gr. 1-3: 3300 words

  • Suburban Gr. 1-3: 3500 words

  • Growth in Vocab.


  • Gr. 1-3: 5200 Words

By the end of third grade, these differences in vocabulary

had increased to approximately 5,000 (or twice as many

words) known by the middle SES students

as compared to the low SES students.

But teachers CAN influence vocabulary development!

Text Talk Read-Aloud and Vocabulary Discussions(discussion/comprehension and vocabulary)

Summing Up the Research Discussions

  • The amount and quality of parents’ conversations with children is strongly correlated with socioeconomic status (SES) (Hart & Ristley, 1995)

  • Effective read-alouds (e.g., Text Talk) with good storybooks can promote a rich and robust vocabulary, rich discussions, and deeper comprehension (McKeown & Beck, 2003).

Choosing a Text Discussions to Read Aloud in Grades K-1

Texts should:

  • be I___________ C___________ to the students (harder than they could read on their own, but not so hard that they couldn’t understand them with scaffolding)

  • tell the story primarily through W______, rather than pictures

  • follow S_______ G_________ (setting, characters, plot: beg, mid, end)

Guided Reading Discussions/Word StudyInstructional Reading Level

Shared Reading/Text TalkToo difficult to read by self

Asking Questions Discussions

  • According to Beck & McKeown (2001), what kinds of questions should we be asking to foster deeper understanding and discussion?

  • Why?

Problem: DiscussionsConstrained/Closed QuestionsHarry the Dirty Dog

Solution: Ask DiscussionsOpen Ended Questions to generate more discussion

  • What’s going on?

  • Why?

  • What does that mean?

  • What do you think?

  • Multiple answers; students build off each other rather than always looking to the teacher (NOT I-R-E)

Solution: Open Questions DiscussionsHarry the Dirty Dog

What’s going on with Discussionsthese questions? OPEN or CLOSED?

Who’s one of the main characters?

What can you tell me about some of the characters?

What color is the train?

What’s the train like?

Would you want to be on that train?

So what do you think about her as a person?

So, is she more successful now?

Does she feel better about herself?

How Discussion During Reading Helps Support Comprehension Discussions

  • Discussion can link oral and written language

    • Students can think and talk about sophisticated texts even if they can’t read those texts themselves (read-aloud texts)

    • Discussion of texts provides students the opportunity to experience and use decontextualized language (ideas about something beyond the ‘here and now’; not just look at the pictures)

    • Models the process of “making meaning”

How Discussion During Reading Helps Support Comprehension Discussions

  • Students can expand their vocabularyknowledge through discussion about texts

  • The social context of the group can support student effort to comprehend text ideas.

    • An audience of peers can motivate students to talk

    • When students respond, they are modeling for other students, demonstrating how they are thinking and making sense of ideas

Preparing to Discuss a Text Discussions(Read-Aloud or Guided Reading)

  • Read the book several times

  • Identify the most important concepts students need to understand

  • Take note of whatmight be confusing

  • Based on ideas you have identified as important or confusing, decide what to talk about before reading

Designing A Text Talk Discussions

  • Comprehension: Select points in the story where you will stop reading and ask a question

  • Choose the questions you will ask (write each question on a Post-it note and insert it into the text)

    • Initial and Follow-Up Questions

  • Vocabulary: Choose three or four vocabulary words that are interesting and useful (Beck’s “Tier 2” words)

    • Link to student friendly definitions and extended examples

Introducing the text Discussions

  • Before reading, ask questions that focus on specific ideas that are relevant to understanding the story

  • Help students connect what they know to what they will be reading

  • Pre-reading discussions should be brief and specific.

    • Prolonged discussion can overemphasize the importance of what students already know (or think they know) about the content of the story (over-reliance on background knowledge)

    • Prolonged discussions can divert students’ attention away from what they might discover from the text (under-reliance on text)

Guidelines for Questions Discussions

  • The questions teachers ask send messages to students about what’s important

    “What did Papa Bear do next? (Students need to remember the information)

    “What does this tell us?” (Students need to think about what they have understood)

  • Develop open questions that require students to describe and explain text ideas

    • Avoid solely asking questions that require students to give one word answers or playback words from text

Responding to Student Comments Discussions(Following-up)

  • The ways teachers respond to student comments send messages about what’s important and scaffold students constructing meaning from text

    • Repeating/rephrasing

    • Reinforcing (on the right track)

    • Marking (focus on certain ideas)

    • Turning back to student (why?)

Repeating or rephrasing Discussions

Rephrasing what students are struggling to express or repeating a student comment

  • Acknowledges the importance of student comments

  • Encourages elaboration

  • Invites other students to connect to ideas

    Teacher: Why would she care whether or not he’s nice?

    Student: Because he might try to eat her.

    Teacher: He might try to do something bad to her.

Reinforcing Discussions

Let’s students know they are on the right track

Teacher: Why are they worried?

Student: They're probably looking for her. She hasn't been back.

Teacher: We got it. That's right.

Marking Discussions

Responding to student comments in a way that focuses on certain ideas. Lets students know that a particular idea is important to the discussion.

Teacher:How has your opinion changed about Mr. Tumnus? Has anyone's opinion changed?

Student: I think he's mean because the witch is making him.

Teacher: You think he's mean because the witch is making him? That's an interesting point you just made. Maybe he's not so mean?

**Turning back Discussions

Turning responsibility to students for thinking through idea, probing for elaboration, turning attention back to the text to make connections

  • Student:He's trying to, like, make her do something that she won't do.

  • Teacher: Why? Why do you think that?

  • Student: Because he's, like, blowing that flute all the time.

  • Teacher: You think there's something up with that flute?

  • Student: I think that flute is magic.

  • Teacher: You think the flute is magic. Does anyone remember what she said whenever they were about to go back to his place? Find it in your text.

A Tip About Using Background Knowledge During Read-Aloud Discussions

  • When children use background knowledge rather than story information to answer questions…

    • Confirm knowledge, and then lead back to text

    • Yes, _____, you are right, but let’s think about what the story tells us about

Let’s Look at Some Examples Discussions

  • Jot down some notes:

    • What kinds of questions is the teacher asking? (rephrase, reinforce, mark, turn back)

    • How are students responding? One word? Long sentences?

    • How does the teacher help students construct meaning individually? build on previous students?

Your notes Discussions

Practice Developing DiscussionsText Talk Queries

  • Q: Initial: OPEN question

  • A: Student Response:

  • Q: Follow-Up: (repeat, reinforce, mark, **turn back)

  • A: Student Response:

  • Q: Follow-Up: (repeat, reinforce, mark, **turn back)

  • A: Student Response

Make Way for Ducklings #1 Discussions

  • Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for a place to live. But every time Mr. Mallard saw what looked like a nice place, Mrs. Mallard said it was no good. There were sure to be foxes in the woods or turtles in the water, and she was not going to raise a family where there might be foxes or turtles. So they flew on and on. (pg. 1-2)

Text Talk Example #1 Discussions

  • Initial: (0pen) So, what’s the problem here?

  • Response: The ducks can’t find a good place to live.

  • Follow-up: (Turn back) But Mr. Mallard found two nice places – in woods and in the water - why weren’t they good places to live?

  • Response: There were foxes and turtles there.

  • Follow-up: (Reinforce) Yes, you are right – Mrs. Mallard said that those were no good. (Repeat and Turn back) So, why are foxes and turtles a problem?

Make Way for Ducklings #2 Discussions

  • As soon as Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings were safe on the other side and on their way down Mount Vernon Street, Michael rushed back to his police booth. He called Clancy at headquarters and said: “There’s a family of ducks walkin’ down the street!” Clancy said: “Family of what” “Ducks!” yelled Michael. “Send a police car, quick!” (p. 34-36)

Text Talk Example #2 Discussions

  • Initial: (0pen) So, what’s going on here?

  • Response: Michael rushed back to ask the police station to send a police car.

  • Follow-up: (Reinforce) Good. (Turn back) What do they need another police car for?

  • Response: Maybe the ducks need help?

  • Follow-up: (Reinforce) Yes, (Turn back) what do you think they might need help with? (Scaffold) Where do you think they might be headed next?

  • Response: Oh, maybe they’re going to cross the road again in another place!

  • Follow-up: (Reinforce) Good prediction Alex! Let’s keep reading to find out if your prediction is right.

Make Way for Ducklings #3 Discussions

  • Just as they were getting ready to start on their way, a strange enormous bird came by. It was pushing a boat full of people, and there was a man sitting on its back. “Good morning,” quacked Mr. Mallard, being polite. The big bird was too proud to answer. (pages 7-8)

Make Way for Ducklings #4 Discussions

  • “I like this place,” said Mrs. Mallard as they climbed out on the bank and waddled along… “There are no foxes and no turtles, and the people feed us peanuts. What could be better?” But… ”Look out!” squawked Mrs. Mallard, all of a dither. “You’ll get run over!” And when she got her breath, she added, “This is no place for babies, with all those horrid things rushing about. We’ll have to look somewhere else.”

Text Talk Example #3 Discussions

  • Initial: (0pen)

  • Response:

  • Follow-up:

  • Response:

  • Follow-up:

  • Response:

Text Talk Example #4 Discussions

  • Initial: (0pen)

  • Response:

  • Follow-up:

  • Response:

  • Follow-up:

  • Response:

Homework Discussions