Initially, I made this to share what I do in class with our school’s umbrella trust and I thought I may as well share it with everybody on Twitter too. Comprehension in classrooms has traditionally been about reading a text and then answering questions on that text. But, how often do we have reading sessions that include an activity that links directly to a specific skill, like inference, retrieval or prediction? I’m not advocating my approach below as a replacement for comprehension questions, but as something to do alongside it, that will hopefully improve children’s understanding of different question types and comprehension skills.
@LiteracyShed have some fantastic comprehension schemes for a vast selection of books thanks to the work of @redgierob and @MrBoothY6. I cannot recommend Literacy Shed Plus enough and it is very affordable for only £20 single user access or even the whole school access at £15 a class. The questions are broken down into VIPERS (Vocabulary, Inference, Prediction, Explain, Retrieval and Summarise), splitting questions into the different content domain references that children will need to know for their SATs test at the end of Year 6. Below, I have created a list of activities that will support each of these content domain references, broken down into the VIPERS areas for ease of understanding.
I have decided to call these CARTs (comprehension activities related to texts, as opposed to comprehension activities simply on a text like questions). These can be used as whole literacy lessons or simply as short activities to do during whole class reading – I’ve tried to think of non-traditional tasks as best I can, rather than simply suggest common ones used regularly in lessons, like writing a diary entry as a form of inference about a character’s emotions. Most are applicable to fiction, but there are some suggestions for non-fiction too. I realise there may be a lot of crossover between tasks split into the infer and explain sections but they are inextricably linked!
I have uploaded these CARTs to TES for free – find them here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/carts-comprehension-activities-related-to-texts-12059015
If you think of any more that can be added, please do contact me @_mrmorgs as I’m struggling for ideas!
- Draw a picture of the setting/character based on the description you’ve read in the text (or even draw a map if the setting is big enough – (would have been interesting to see children do that for the 2016 drawing of monument question – “It was a column of marble, weathered and mossy with age. A delicate crown sat at the top, and an inscription was carved into a flat slab at the base.” Or the whale from 2017 – Carefully, Michael leaned over to look: on one side of the boat lay the whale’s tapering tail; on the other side, the head with its scarred lines lay like a piece of huge, dark wreckage – would they have answered that question more successfully if they pictured it?)
- Using a thesaurus, find synonyms to help you write a description of the setting/character
- Showing children sentences on the board with a correct and incorrect context and discussing if it makes sense (call my bluff definitions)
- Picking out vocabulary that has set up the mood of the text – can children write their own example doing the same thing? Using similar vocabulary (synonyms – chance for thesaurus work)?
- Morphemic analysis – can they define by giving other words that have the same prefix/suffix/root word
- Contextual analysis – reading the sentence to identify the meaning, but also, are they aware of its position in the sentence with regards to other word classes? g. There was an acrid stench coming from the machine – it is an adjective placed before a noun to describe the noun. How might you describe a stench? Stench itself alludes to being unpleasant. So acrid must be a negative description.
- Go through vocabulary of a text before reading it – chn find the definitions of words on the board and write them down. They then have to use them in a sentence. Builds dictionary use, spelling and vocabulary all in one go. More likely to remember the meaning of the word having found it themselves and reading it again in the text in context, rather than just being told the definition. Chn keep these class definitions in a book or as a class you can keep them on a PowerPoint
- Display a sentence on the board from the text you are reading that includes a word you think children will not know – remove the word and ask children to think of alternatives
- Children draw two or more characters and contrast/compare their appearances
- Children stick in book cover into their book where they infer what the book may be about from the title and images – they can also predict what might happen in the story if the front cover permits or use the blurb to do so. Show them different front covers from the same book – show them the film trailer or a scene from the film. When showing book covers, start with the one that allows least inferences then progress upwards.
- Using a specific part of the text, get the children to explain the character’s emotions/thoughts based on their actions – chn to focus on the direct between action and emotion. I.e. each character behaves in a certain way because they are responding to events in their own individual way. This can be done by giving the entire extract and they infer for themselves or you could give them character actions and emotions as a match up activity
- Annotating/labelling their inferences – start off by modelling how to do it and only giving children small sentences or very short paragraphs. Eventually, give children a chunk of the text that they label/annotate with as many inferences as they can, doing it independently.
- Rewrite the text from another character’s perspective in a first person account (e.g. diary) to infer the feelings of other characters
- Get children to write speech that characters might say and then explain what they really mean by it
- Give children a sheet with speech that has been said by characters in the text and ask them to explain what it is they think the character means – how does what they say convey their emotion?
- Get children to draw/write a character web where each character is linked by their thoughts about each other
- Ask children to think about the writer’s intention and find evidence to support their idea
- Children can write an interview with a character, where they choose what questions to ask and write how they think the character would respond
- Children can write about an experience in their life (or make one up) that links to an experience a character goes through
- Children draw different faces with different emotions for different parts of the story
- Looking at one event, explain how each character has responded to it using evidence to support
- Children piece together a story simply through pictures – works well with picture books
- Drama activities – hot seating, conscience alley, freeze frames etc
- Song lyrics – give children a verse/chorus from a song and ask them to annotate it (works best with songs children are currently interested in but make sure they have the clean version of the lyrics!)
- Get children to write the next part of the story using evidence from the text to support their predictions
- Get children to write a prediction of what happened before the story started based off what they have read
- What will happen to the setting? Will it improve/worsen? Will the setting change completely? Draw a picture of what the new setting may look like
- Give children your predictions for the story. Have some founded in fact and others completely irrelevant. Can children find evidence to prove/disprove your predictions?
- If this story were to have a flashback in the next chapter, what would happen in that flashback? If a character were to have a dream, what would happen in that dream?
- Think of texts that start in a similar way, how do they end? What is their purpose?
- Write a conversation/event that may occur between two characters
- Genie from a lamp – at where you at in the story right now, a genie emerges and can grant each character a wish. What would the wish be?
- Give children the key events of the part of a text just read – what is going to happen next based off of these events only? Children then order their predictions based on the likelihood of occurring
- Before, during and after questions – children write their own VIPERS questions based on the text before (using titles, pictures and subheadings), during (as they read) and after (once they’ve finished reading the entire text)
- Children predict the future for a character after the text finishes
- Discussing themes – get children to support the theme of a text by finding evidence to support it (e.g. a theme of Harry Potter is friendship, find evidence in this passage to support that)
- Children write a paragraph/label the text to explain how a chapter/event/character/part of a text contributes to the meaning as a whole
- Children find evidence in the text to support how the mood changes
- Discuss the effect the author is having on the audience – children write their own example trying to achieve the same effect
- Children write a short explanation of how different paragraphs or chapters are linked
- Write an analysis of how the character felt/acted at the start and how they act now/at the end. What is similar and what is different?
- Children do a cross-examination of two characters using a Venn diagram – what is similar/different about their appearance/demeanour?
- Children can write a how-to guide/manual of how to take care of, how to approach, how to look after etc of an object/character/setting
- Feelings graph – give children an empty graph with events from the story – chn add an emotion to the graph to show the emotional journey of a character. Underneath, they write a point and evidence sentence to explain their answer.
- Teacher reads while children act out the text – are they doing it correctly? Could also be done as freeze frames – discussion about how character emotion is shown through their actions
- Children choose a character to rate. Identify the qualities of the character or just general character qualities (kind, happy, funny, mean). Rate their qualities on a scale from low to high – e.g. not at all, slightly, some, mostly, all the time. Do this regularly to see how the character develops over the course of a text.
- Get children to write their own questions for somebody else to answer
- Skimming and scanning work – Where’s Wally?, other picture books, wordsearches
- Use the description of a character to draw a wanted poster of them
- If the book covers enough time, children can draw the characters at different stages
- Provide children with a paragraph that has the majority of words blanked out. Leave only a few words with some potential keywords. Can they guess what the text is about?
- Can children skim and scan for lexical similarities/synonyms? If a question asks what happened when the character was younger, do they skim and scan for young, child, childhood, year old, age, boy, girl etc.
- Skimming and scanning activity – provide children with a page full of random words. Ask them to circle the word you are defining. I use this when it is raining – umbrella. Helps to build speed and technique
- Teach children the difference between paraphrasing and quoting
- Children write true and false statements for the rest of the class to prove/disprove based on the text
- Children bullet point all the ideas of the paragraph and find the common idea among them – what is the main point of the paragraph? (e.g. in a paragraph about stretching before you warm up, it may have different stretches you can do but the main point is to stretch to prevent injury)
- Give children a limited word count in which they have to summarise what happens in part of a text or why a part of the text is there
- Children order events in the story chronologically and then also by order of importance – they justify their order of importance with evidence suggesting its link to the rest of the text
- Children summarise the text they have read today in one sentence – this can help them to realise what the main point/idea/theme of a text is. Challenge – can they summarise it in one word?
- Give children several one-sentence summaries of a paragraph/chapter/part of a text and ask them to identify which one goes with which – match up activity
- Summarise the text in 5/10/15/etc keywords
- Instead of the numbers given to chapters, give them a name instead. If they already have one, give them an alternative one. For non-fiction texts, give them a different subheading. Provide children with 4 potential subheadings, do they all work? Which one works best? Why?
- Fiction – write your own blurb for this story Non-fiction – write your own introduction to this text
- Imagine you are turning this book into a film, which parts/events could you cut out of the final script? Which parts would definitely have to be in the film? Why?
- Explain the importance of the current chapter – how does it link to what we previously read? How does it potentially affect what will happen next? What is its significance to the text as a whole? (a chance to look back at certain chapters after the text has been read completely)
- Children break a text extract into key parts and label them – or give children a paragraph and they have to come up with a suitable heading for it – could also give them the titles and they attach it to the right section
- Segmenting – give children entire extract as a block of text, they split it into paragraphs based on ideas and then give each one a title
- Children draw a picture to summarise a text, whether it be a chapter, sentence, event, paragraph, ending etc
- Who can summarise a part/whole of the text in the least amount of words?
- Children rank events/parts of the text from least important to most important in a group – they must justify their choices
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