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Introduce Each Comprehension Strategy

april 17, 2017

Introduce Each Comprehension Strategy

Consider introducing each comprehension strategy explicitly and deliberately. Provide a separate mini-lesson introduction for each strategy. This allows you to establish common language and then build on concepts in reading throughout the year.

Outlined below are five common ways to introduce each comprehension strategy. As you choose from the different options, execute the same method for every strategy. Such consistency will help students to see that each comprehension strategy bears similar weight and significance.


Introduce each comprehension strategy individually and with a kid-friendly explanation.


Use your Reading Voice to read aloud a picture book. Use your Thinking Voice to whisper the comprehension thoughts you have while reading the text. Download a list of suggested text to read when introducing each comprehension strategy.


Reading is an invisible skill. One way to make it more visual and concrete is to use icons and triggers to help students “get it.” Click here for the rationale behind each comprehension icon. You can also download 8.5 x 11 mini-posters (OPTION 1 and OPTION 2) or access an editable Microsoft Word version of the icons (OPTION 1 and OPTION 2).


Some students learn better with music. For those students, we’ve developed a series of comprehension songs. Within each of the short verses, students learn the meaning of the comprehension strategy. The Smekens Education original lyrics are set to simple nursery rhyme tunes.


Teach students the comprehension motions developed by Dr. Cathy Collins Block. Knowing these gestures, students can indicate the type of thoughts they are having without voicing them aloud. (This also honors the bodily-kinesthetic learners in the classroom.)

Retelling/Summarizing Ideas

Introduce Comprehension Strategies ICON Retell/Summarize
Comprehension Motions Sequence & Summarize
  • DEFINITION: Readers need to be able to recall specific details and retell them in the correct order. A summary is a more concise retelling; it highlights only the major ideas and key points.
  • MENTOR TEXT: Read a text with several ordered steps, phases, stages, or events:
  • GRAPHIC ICON: Use the train icon to remind students that since all texts include a beginning, middle, and end, so should their retelling or summary.
  • COMPREHENSION SONG: Sung to the tune of “Ring Around the Rosie,” the song reminds students to include all three parts of every text in their retelling.
  • COMPREHENSION MOTION: Counting on fingers helps students remember to keep their retellings in order.

Determining Main Idea

Introduce Comprehension Strategies ICON Main Idea
Comprehension Motions Main Idea
  • DEFINITION: Define main idea as a single sentence that tells you what the text is all about.
  • MENTOR TEXT: Read a text that identifies the text’s topic or its main idea within the title:
  • GRAPHIC ICON: The collander shows students how to sift out unimportant details and how to save only the big idea.
  • COMPREHENSION SONG: Sung to the tune of “Hokey Pokey,” the song emphasizes the importance of drawing conclusions to determine what a text is about.
  • COMPREHENSION MOTION: Starting with hands outstretched, students then bring their hands down together to represent focusing in on the main idea.

Visualizing Ideas

Introduce Comprehension Strategies ICON Visualize
Comprehension Motions Visualize
  • DEFINITION: Visualization is the movie playing in your mind while you read. The reader creates the visuals to go with the text. The author is the writer; the reader is the illustrator.
  • MENTOR TEXT: Read a text with vivid word choice that lends itself easily to visualization:
  • GRAPHIC ICON: This caricature with black-out glasses demonstrates that readers have to imagine the details of the text in their heads while they read.
  • COMPREHENSION SONG: Sung to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” the lyrics emphasize how the students have to “see” the details in the text like mind movies in their minds.
  • COMPREHENSION MOTION: Students create a cloud of imagination above their heads with their hands, reminding them to use their imagination to create visualizations while they read.

Asking Questions

Introduce Comprehension Strategies ICON Questions
Comprehension Motions Question Predict
  • DEFINITION: Curiosity about the reading comes in the form of questions, wonderings, and predictions.
  • MENTOR TEXT: Read a text that encourages students to question and/or predict with the incentive that they will find out if they’re right as they continue to read:
  • GRAPHIC ICON: Shaped like a question mark, the road represents the text. The driver of the car is the reader. And the reader should have questions as he reads a text. To find out the answers, a driver has to continue driving to discover what’s around the next curve. A reader has to continue reading to find out what’s on the next page.
  • COMPREHENSION SONG: Sung to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” this song encourages students to question and predict while they read and to read on so they’ll know what happens.
  • COMPREHENSION MOTION: This motion begins with two fingers pointing to the eyes of the reader and then moving away beyond the other hand. When students question while they read, they’re looking beyond where they are in the text and predicting what they think might happen.

Making Connections

Introduce Comprehension Strategies ICON Connections
Comprehension Motions Make Connections
  • DEFINITION: Readers draw comparisons or connections while reading.
  • MENTOR TEXT: Review multiple texts previously read and compare versions of the same text/ideas:
    • Primary–Compare the main characters from Chrysanthemum and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, both by Kevin Henkes
    • Intermediate–Compare the information learned across multiple books on the same topic: Bug Butts, Dawn Cusick (out of print), Going Buggy, Dona Herweck Rice, and Nasty Bugs, Lee Bennett Hopkins
    • Secondary–Compare the parallel themes (the treatment of those different from you) within Be Good to Eddie Lee, Virginia Fleming and The Other Side, Jacqueline Woodson.
  • GRAPHIC ICON: The idea of plugging into different connectors helps students realize that every text will trigger the possibility of many connections with their own experiences, other texts, and their general knowledge.
  • COMPREHENSION SONG: Sung to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the song emphasizes that as we read, we can connect to other texts, ourselves, and the world.
  • COMPREHENSION MOTION: The act of linking fingers demonstrates how we link or connect ideas from one text to another text, our experiences, or our general knowledge.

Synthesizing Ideas

Introduce Comprehension Strategies ICON Synthesize
Comprehension Motions Synthesize
  • DEFINITION: Synthesizing happens when readers combine what they already know with the new information learned from the reading.
  • MENTOR TEXT: Read a narrative text that evokes strong reader feelings of empathy or a unique perspective. Or, read an informational text that has shock value and includes amazing facts (e.g., Guinness Book of World Records):
  • GRAPHIC ICON: Synthesizing is much like baking a cake. Different ingredients (texts) come together to make a cake (new idea). But, just like making a cake, some “bake” time is necessary before readers have an aha! moment.
  • COMPREHENSION SONG: Sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques,” this song focuses on the reader using his mind to bring ideas together to form a new thought.
  • COMPREHENSION MOTION: The motion of expanding from a single point represents the aha! moment of synthesis.

Download the rationale behind Kristina Smekens reading comprehension icons.

Reading Comprehension Rationale

Great Teacher Comments:

After introducing each comprehension strategy with a song, Erica Shadley, teacher at Ada Elementary School (Ada, OH), invited her fifth graders to take it a step further.

She had her students form small groups with each group responsible for one comprehension strategy. Using the appropriate triggers, students had to develop a routine to go with the song for their assigned comprehension strategy. What a great way to reinforce the strategy introduction.

Erica Shadley Classroom: Comprehension Strategy Small Group Retell/Summarize Ideas 1
Erica Shadley Classroom: Comprehension Strategy Small Group Retell/Summarize Ideas 2
Erica Shadley Classroom: Comprehension Strategy Small Group Visualize
Erica Shadley Classroom: Comprehension Strategy Small Group Questions

South Adams Elementary School teacher Kristi Geimer (Berne, IN) utilized information from previous Smekens’ workshops and developed a growing bulletin board to aid her students in reading comprehension strategies she’s been targeting.

Kristi Geimer Classroom: Comprehension Bulletin Board

For each strategy, she identified a kid-friendly explanation and visual icon to help students recall the strategy’s purpose and meaning.

Kristi now plans to add example thinking stems to correspond with each strategy. For example, under Connections, she’ll post sentence starters like, “I’m connecting–” or “This reminds me of–” or “This book is like–” These added thinking stems reveal the types of thoughts readers might be having when they are making connections.

Wow! What a great classroom reminder for comprehension! Thanks, Kristi!

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