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Plan Skill-Driven Reading Comprehension Lessons

Reading aloud and asking comprehension questions about the text are important activities that occur during the daily literacy block. Consequently, it makes sense that educational resources and adopted curricula provide such materials for teachers to utilize within their overall reading “lesson” plans. However, these activities don’t qualify as direct, explicit, whole-class instruction.

To build strong, independent readers, students need these practice opportunities after receiving direct instruction on a comprehension skill rooted in grade-level standards.

For example, before asking students to determine a character’s trait implied in a text excerpt, the teacher delivers a 10-20 minute mini-lesson identifying the type of text details all authors utilize to imply any character’s trait.

During a whole-class lesson, the focus is not on any one book, story, or chapter. Instead, the purpose of the lesson is to develop students’ proficiency with a single skill that can be universally applied to any text in the future.

Illustrate the skill with a Think Aloud

This short and engaging time of direct instruction follows the four-step mini-lesson rhythm and starts with the teacher introducing a single skill and stating specific information about how it works. After telling students about a skill, the teacher then executes a carefully-planned Think Aloud to show this type of thinking in action.

It’s during this “showing” portion of the lesson when students get a peek into a reader’s brain. Students watch and listen as the teacher delivers a first-person monologue, talking through every step required to execute the skill.

In the I-do, We-do, You-do instructional framework, this is the I-do portion of the lesson. This kind of best-practice direct instruction follows the gradual-release-of-responsibility model and honors John Hattie’s meta-analysis research on visible learning.

The learning becomes concrete as students observe the teacher doing the work and acting out the cognitive processes via the Think Aloud. This five-minute segment of the lesson offers a chance for the teacher to share her Thinking Voice with the students, allowing them to listen in to every thought she has as she attempts, struggles, perseveres, and works through a new skill.

A teacher might ask questions during a Think Aloud, but she doesn’t call on students to help her answer them. The questions are rhetorical and serve as a problem-solving strategy. The planned questions reveal that the skill is not easy and will require a growth mindset and individual grit.

Think Aloud Cards

While asking herself rhetorical questions and talking through the process, a teacher could hold up simple Think-Aloud Cards. These cards include simple thinking stems such as:

  • This has me thinking…
  • I see ____ and I think…
  • I remember…
  • I’m wondering if…
  • What if I…
Holding the cards up reminds students of two things:

  1. This is the teacher-only portion of the mini-lesson, so don’t offer help.
  2. These sentence stems help a reader navigate and successfully apply a specific comprehension skill.

After introducing the cards during a mini-lesson, many teachers give students the same cards to talk through their own thinking while working through a complex passage or difficult math problem.

CompCON: a comprehension conference for K-12 educators

“Having access to the recorded sessions for a year is a game-changer.”

Dr. Danielle Hickerson, K-5 ELA Coach
Clay Elementary School – Marbleton, GA

After the Think Aloud

After the teacher has illustrated a skill in action using the Think-Aloud strategy, the We-do portion of the lesson comes next. This is when the teacher asks the class to help her as she models a second example while applying the same skill. 

In the I-do, the teacher is fostering engagement by delivering an “edutaining” lesson that includes an effective Think Aloud. During the We-do, engagement comes in the form of short “turn-and-talk” activities or other quick “every-student-response” prompts.  

It’s only after students have received 10-20 minutes of teacher-led direct instruction that they are given the opportunity to dabble with a skill outlined in Step 4 of the lesson. This transitions into the You-do—which may be reading a text together and pausing to apply that skill when answering comprehension questions about the passage. 

Students benefit when whole-class mini-lessons are packaged within the I-do, We-do, You-do framework. That’s because this lesson approach gradually guides students through an instructional scaffold that grows with them as they work toward mastery.


CompCON: a comprehension conference for K-12 educators

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June 18-19, 2024

How CompCON supports the science of reading

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Educational research surrounding the science of reading has heightened the need for teaching phonics and specifically decoding. But, as we know from the research conducted by the National Reading Panel, effective reading instruction requires a combination of direct, explicit teaching of all five pillars of literacy: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

While each of these components is important and necessary, CompCON focuses specifically on the pillar of reading comprehension. CompCON attendees spend two days learning practical and engaging lessons to deliver explicit, standards-based comprehension instruction.

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Dr. Hollis Scarborough’s iconic Reading Rope reveals the essential strands for reading development. While many science of reading initiatives target the Word Recognition strand of Scarborough’s Reading Rope, CompCON addresses the Language Comprehension strand.

As important as it is that students learn how to decode words, they must simultaneously learn how to think about the words they are reading. This requires whole-class, teacher-led instruction on comprehension skills and strategies—and this is the focus of CompCON.

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According to the Simple View of Reading formula, both word recognition and language comprehension are necessary to create a proficient reader.

The Simple View of Reading provides an argument for teaching decoding and phonics with intentionality. Likewise, direct instruction on teaching language comprehension is imperative as well.

Consequently, K-12 educators need to have whole-class lessons that target grade-level comprehension instruction—and this is the focus of CompCON.

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