Student reading together on laptop

How to use collaborative strategic reading

Reading comprehension is an important skill for students to master, not just in school but also in life in general. So, with that in mind, how can we make sure that our students understand what they’re reading?

Collaborative strategic reading is the name of the game. That may seem like a mouthful, but if you break it down, we’re really talking about group reading. Students work together, with guidance, to make sense of what they’re reading. The ultimate goal is to strengthen reading comprehension while providing students with a tool they can use in the future. There are basically four steps in the process (and one pre-step!).

Before you begin

First up, you’ll need to introduce the strategy to your students. You’ll want to employ role-play, modeling, or any other preferred activity that helps your students learn new concepts effectively. Discuss the importance of reading comprehension with your students, and emphasize how it will help them later on in life.

In a nutshell, the process goes like this: pre-read, read a passage and decide if it made sense, identify the important parts, and then review. There’s more to it than just those steps, of course, but this is the general idea that you’ll want students to have before they begin.

Step one: Preview

Students will first preview the material they’re going to read to get a sense of what it’s about. Use this as a whole-class activity so your students can get used to the idea, and then eventually move on to small groups. You can do this part individually once you feel your students have sufficient experience with it.

Explain the concept of previewing text. Where else do we see previews? Make some parallel connections: Previews for movies, previews for social media posts, previews for magazines, and so on! What do all these have in common? They’re intended to pique the reader’s interest.

Once students are familiar with previewing books, discuss how they can preview reading material. We can skim through the text, read the titles and subtitles, view accompanying pictures, etc. Chat with them about anything they notice as they preview the assigned text, and ask a few focused questions: What do you think this will be about? What characters have you identified so far?

This process will vary depending on the grade level of your students and the type of material read (fiction versus nonfiction, for example), so adjust your line of questioning according to your circumstances. When they’re finished, jot down your students’ observations on the board, and discuss what these may suggest about the text.

Set a time limit for the preview process; a few minutes should be the maximum allowed. You may want to begin with students having one to two minutes to independently preview the text, followed by two to four minutes in a small group or with a partner, culminating in a class discussion, also of a few minutes. This process will allow students to bounce ideas off each other; those who struggle with reading comprehension will get to hear their peers’ understanding, which may set them on their own path to comprehension strategies and skills.

Step two: Click or clunk

We want students to be able to quickly recognize when something is not making sense, and to have the tools to fix it so they can move on. So for the next part of this strategy, students will read the text in sections and determine if each section “clicks” or “clunks.”

If a section clicks, that means it makes sense — whew, no problem there! But if it clunks, something isn’t making sense — either the meaning of the passage and/or a particular word or phrase.

At the beginning stages, you may even consider giving your students colored cards to hold up to indicate a click or clunk situation. Frame this activity as nothing more than giving your students insight into their own understanding — it’s a great thing to be able to identify when something is not making sense because then you know what to fix.

During this time, if students are in groups, they should have defined their individual roles. Examples of roles are a timekeeper, the student who reports the group’s findings when the class comes together to discuss, a moderator who makes sure everyone gets a turn to speak, and a clunk master who has solutions on hand for common problems the group may run into. This ensures that everyone is actively participating in the process.

If you notice your students struggling, consider giving them a few solutions to clunk situations. If a word or phrase isn’t making sense, show your students how they can use context clues (or picture/visual clues) to understand it better. Breaking a word into smaller parts is another good strategy. If an entire passage is just not making sense for some students, allow those who are clicking with the material to explain their understanding to their peers, either in a whole-class scenario or in groups.

Once your students are comfortable with the process and its lingo, they can easily use the click or clunk method when reading any new information or story.

Step three: Getting the gist

Reading comprehension boils down to understanding the central idea of a text. Have your students identify what they understand to be the most important message from their reading and/or the most important characters or events. Students should then compare their understanding with that of their peers, either in groups or as a class.

While there are typically only one or two defining events, characters, or messages in a text, there’s some wiggle room for interpretation. Seeing what some students consider to be the most important ideas will provide you insight into their reading comprehension. As your students hear what others felt was most important, they may also rethink their own understanding of the material and see different perspectives. This is fabulous for building critical-thinking skills right alongside reading comprehension.

Step four: Wrap it up

Now that your students have read and worked through the text, you’ll want to tie things up neatly. Review the main ideas one last time, and then have your class come up with their own questions about the material based on the five Ws — who, what, where, when, and why … — and the sole H: how. They can write and answer their own questions or swap with group members to answer each other’s questions. This activity will drive home the main ideas of the text, solidifying comprehension. Aim for higher-level questions when possible, the sort that promote critical thinking — for example, comparing and contrasting, hypothetical questions, predictions for what would happen if the story were to continue, etc.

Feel free to use fun wrap-up activities beyond just questioning. Perhaps students can make short “sequel skits” where they stage their own previews for sequels. They may also wrap up the activity through longer written pieces, collaborative presentations, or visual representations such as posters for the beginning, middle, and end of a story.

You can also use Classcraft’s Boss Battles. They’re a fun and effective tool that can be useful for wrapping up different kinds of activities. You’ll find this feature within the Class Tools section of the Classcraft app. It’s a great way to assess your students’ understanding of any given lesson in a fun way, with students responding to questions verbally within the classroom.

Through each step of the way, your role is to circulate around the room, offering support and guidance and making sure that everyone is on track.

This strategy allows your students to collaborate and work on their own comprehension skills with support from you as well as their peers. Each student should be actively involved throughout the process, learning and growing as you go along. Eventually, the process will become second nature, and students will apply the concept to better understand any material they’re reading (and quickly correct any misunderstandings!).

Happy reading!

Photo: Google Edu

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