Reading Comprehension: Building Independence in beginning readers

Teaching reading is a huge passion of mine, and has always been really. Well , if I’m being honest, first it was a great mystery to me. I was afraid when I began my educational training that I would never be able to “teach” students how to read? Watching it come true as a first grade teacher years later still feels like magic every single time. I have changed perspectives, identifying more as a “coach” to my students rather than the keeper of the secrets to reading.  One major advantage to this sort of student centered thinking has definitely been an increase in student independence with routines, yes even in first grade!

In search of a streamlined routine to use during reading groups during a year where interruptions were inevitable due to the student needs in my class, I began trialing some routines during guided reading groups that may work with (almost) any story and that students could internalize and build independence with.  My reading prompt cards were born.

This set basically contains question prompts that can be applied to pretty much any narrative story (as well as one or two which can be used with informational text) and help students, in a really basic way, answer the “right there” literal questions, as well as determine importance, identify story elements, retell, and make predictions. The text and explanatory graphics on each card give students the visual cues that help all my beginning readers access the text. Even very basic emergent reader texts can be addressed with questions such as “What is the most important part”.

There are five basic components to this resource:

  1. Picture and word reading comprehension question cards.

  2. Written response pages

  3. Sticky note templates

  4. Student tracking sheet

  5. Guided reading planning sheet

Today I am really going to focus on how I use the first three components of this resource in different reading settings in order to increase independence with reading comprehension, reading routines, and even meaningful questioning.

Guided Reading Groups:

During small group instruction these cards are invaluable to me! Of course, as with all routines, I model and we practice each question card as a model. The card is placed on the table while reading the text, then students are asked when they are done reading to answer the question and find a page (or paragraph for more advanced readers) that helped them to decide on the answer. Then they practice whisper reading that page of evidence until we’re ready to share ( see how that fluency sneaks in there?). This is a great way to manage the downtime when students are waiting for others to finish reading. It also is great because if I need to leave the table to address an urgent need during group, the students know what to do once they have finished reading the text.

After some time, we have a group leader for the day. This person chooses the question card for the group. This is a great way to help students really have ownership of their reading discussions.

Sometimes, I even use the sticky note templates to print the question of the day onto sticky notes. This is especially helpful as the year goes on and my students may be spending some time doing reading on their own. This is a great way for them to remember the question cue wherever they are, and they can plop the sticky note right on their evidence.

I honestly very rarely have students complete written response to text during guided reading time, however, you definitely could use the matching written response templates to capture their answers during this time.

Reading Workshop

A few years ago, my school began adopting components of the reading workshop model. The sticky note templates REALLY helped to keep my students focused as they were reading. I printed one copy of each sticky note and attached it to a laminated piece of paper as a bookmark. Students could then even choose a question they could answer using the text and then reuse the sticky note a few times.

Partner Reading:

When my students are reading with a partner, I want to build independence with questioning so that they are engaging in more authentic reading discussions. Each “Buddy Box” (which is basically a pencil box with some materials for working with partners) has a set of the question cards, and reading bookmark with each of the sticky notes. This gives students a great entry point into discussing the text.

Literacy Centers:

During center rotations, using these same prompts to short texts, books on CD (or online), or to independent reading is a great way to streamline student work and decrease the need for interruptions for students not knowing how to complete the task.

I used the written response pages often at the listening center. I usually left 2-3 different questions and prompts in the area so they could choose which to respond to.

I also sometimes use these during their independent reading rotation. I usually leave one centers as a bin of seasonal or thematic books and completing a written response to one of these prompts is a great way to help students practice building comprehension.


If you have additional reading group routines, I’d love to hear them!

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