Posted in comprehension, informational text, vocabulary

Background Knowledge and Comprehension Instruction



Students begin reading informational text as early as the first grade, although group reading of these texts starts in Kindergarten. Learning requires the ability to learn new content through reading content-area texts (Sousa, 2011). In “Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading Comprehension,” Duke et al. stress the importance of building disciplinary and world knowledge. The authors illustrate the relationship between comprehension and content knowledge: “knowledge begets comprehension begets knowledge in just the sort of virtuous cycle we would like students to experience” (Duke, Stratchan, Pearson, Billman, 2011, p. 55).




The Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading study suggests that “reading, writing, and language (e.g., vocabulary, discourse) are best developed when they are put to work as tools to help students acquire knowledge and inquiry skill in a specific domain” (2012, p.57)



In How the Brain Learns, Sousa describes the process of transfer. Working memory helps to combine the new learning from the immediate memory and the past learning from long-term storage to result in new learning. This process has implications for the comprehension of texts students are currently reading and related texts they will read in the future.

Fisher and Frey offer three ways to scaffold the reading of informational texts:

  1. use informational texts as an “extension of close reading” (p.350).
  2. to preview future reading.
  3. to address skills needed by specific students.


In addition, KWL charts  can be used a discussion tool and to help level the playing field of information that students bring to the text. Constructivist practices “question student understanding before sharing teacher knowledge” (157). This is important to facilitate discussion and provide the framework for building on student knowledge. Even if it comes from the perspective of another student.


Sousa suggests that we “conquer vocabulary” before having students read (2011, p.213). Vocabulary instruction allows students to develop their background knowledge as well.



Duke, N., Pearson, D., Strachan, S., & Billman, A. (2011). Essential elements of fostering and teaching reading comprehension. What research has to say about reading instruction, 51-93.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014). Scaffolded reading instruction of content-area texts.The Reading Teacher, 67(5), 347-351.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Washington, DC: Authors.

Sousa, D. A. (2006). How the brain learns (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.

Posted in comprehension, genre study, writing

Teaching Text Structures for Comprehension and Writing


The chapter on Essential Elements of Fostering Reading Comprehension provides teachers with several questions for reflection . The following question made me think about my experiences teaching students in elementary through high school:


“Based on your experience in schools and classrooms, which of these elements are most neglected, and what factors do you think contribute to their neglect?” (Duke, 2011, p.85).


Based on my experience, I think that instruction in sentence-level text structures is most neglected. Instruction in text structures includes the teaching of structures at the sentence level, paragraph level, and text level. Examination of structures at all levels can be especially helpful for student writing because problems at the sentence level may also occur at the paragraph and text level. Upon reflection, I think my teaching needs to include a wider range of the different text levels. While we cannot or should not teach every text structures for every genre, students need to know two things:


  1. Text has a structure and
  2. How to analyze text structure as a part of a genre or meaning of a text

(Duke, 2011, p. 71).


Genre study  is one way to incorporate study of text structures from the word level to the text level. One of the benefits of genre study is that it supports many of the other essential elements described in the chapter. In genre study, both implicit and explicit teaching are at hand: students are immersed in the works of the genre and, with teacher support and scaffolding, they make conclusions about the genre. At the sentence level, sentence combining is an effective teaching practice. A useful resource is Bruce Sadler’s  Teacher’s Guide to Effective Sentence Sentence Writing (2012). It is filled with exercises that help to practice different sentence structures.


Schools are providing students with more texts from different genres; student access to a range of texts is one of the ten essential elements listed in the chapter. This shift is promising because skilled readers are experienced with texts from different genres. Yet “reading success does not necessarily transfer between different genres” (p. 59). Explicit teaching of text structures should help students to read different texts differently. Moreover, this should help students with genre writing.

Posted in comprehension, spelling, visual supports, vocabulary

Vocabulary and Teaching: Top Five things “on my mind”



The above image makes me think about what not do when teaching vocabulary: copying lists and dictionary definitions. Thankfully, research lets us know that vocabulary instruction does not have to be boring! There are many opportunities for student-centered instruction through word study, student-written definitions, and student friendly definitions. I envision my classroom looking more like the image below:



  1. The relationship between vocabulary and comprehension is “almost perfect”—a correlation of .97, according to Elfrieda Hiebert. This is why I teach vocabulary before, during or after reading. I have given students a Vocabulary Inventory I created based on Dale’s levels of word knowledge.
  1. Students need to know that words can have multiple meanings. Studying idioms and homographs are two ways that students consider multiple meanings.
  1. A “generative approach” gives students tools to figure out unknown vocabulary.  Students need to expect that there will be many words that they do not know in a complex text; thus, teachers equip students with the tools or strategies to comprehend the words they read.
  2. Assessing student spelling patterns gives teachers information on how a child interprets the orthographic system. In the upper grades, studying spelling-meaning patterns is crucial for academic vocabulary growth, according to Bear et al (2010).
  3. Students need exposure to words in a variety of contexts. To quote Alfred Korzybski, “Words don’t mean, people mean.” One can argue that people place meaning on words through speaking and writing. This means plenty of independent reading, structured read-alouds, and visual supports.



Bear, D. R., Flanagan, K., Hayes, L., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F.

(2010). Words their Way (1st ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Hiebert, E. (Writer). (n.d.). 77sec on core vocabulary [Video file]. In YouTube.

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