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Parent Involvement in Reading

Laurie Elish-Piper

About This Column

Parents play a key role in their children's literacy development and school success. To support educators in
building positive working relationships with their students' parents, this column offers practical suggestions
to promote parent communication, involvement, and partnerships.

Understanding Reading
information and ideas
for Parents about
Reading Compreiiension
Comprehension, or understanding, is the goal
of all reading. Parents may wonder what they
can do to help their children understand stories,
textbooks, and other texts they read in and out of
school. This column describes key aspects of comprehension for both fiction texts such as stories
and informational texts such as school textbooks
and newspapers. The column concludes with
practical suggestions for parents to use at home to
foster their children's reading comprehension.

What Is Comprehension?
Comprehension is the process of understanding
or making meaning when reading. This process
involves three key components: (1) the reader,
(2) the text, and (3) the context. The reader
brings his or her prior knowledge, reading skills,
and interests to the reading situation. The text

refers to the genre or type of literature (e.g.,

informational, fiction, poetry, etc.), and the
context addresses the purpose for reading stich
as for pleasure, information, homework completion, or test preparation. When the reader is able
to connect these three key components, comprehension is more likely to occur. For example,
when a student has good prior knowledge, is able
to read a text with relative ease, is interested in
the text, understands the type or genre of literature, and has a clear goal for reading, the student
is more likely to comprehend what is read.
Teachers often refer to two levels of comprehension: (1) lower-level comprehension, also
called literal comprehension; and (2) higherlevel comprehension. Literal comprehension
focuses on information that is "right there" in
the text such as the name of a character, the
number of legs an insect has, or the capital of
the State of Illinois. To answer a literal comprehension question, students can go back to
the text and find the answer "right there" in the
text. Literal comprehension is important, but
students must also be able to develop higherlevel comprehension. Higher-level comprehension goes beyond just the words in the text. The
reader rnust be able to "think and search" to piece
together answers to some questions by using bits
of infoi^mation that are scattered throughout
the text. In addition, the reader must be able
to connect what he or she knows with what the
author has written to answer "author and me"
questions. Finally, comprehension includes the


ability to answer "on my own" questions that ask

the reader to respond based on personal experience (Raphael, 1986). While these components
and levels of comprehension relate to all texts,
there are additional considerations when reading fiction or informational texts.


Fiction Texts

When reading fiction texts, readers use the key

elements of stories to make sense of what they
read. These elements are characters, setting,
problem, events, and solution. While reading
fiction, students look for these key elements and
anticipate that the story will follow the common
patterns of all stories. Students also use their
background knowledge to fill in gaps in what
they read. In addition, they make connections
by relating what they read to their own experiences and ideas as well as to other texts they have
read. For example, if students are reading a fairy
tale, they are more likely to comprehend the text
if they have a good understanding of the structure and elements of a fairy tale. In addition, if
they have read fairy tales before, students are able
to use their prior knowledge about fairy tales to
make sense of the new text they are reading.



What Can Parents Do to Foster Reading

Comprehension of Fiction Texts?

Here are 10 easy yet effective activities parents

can do to help their children build their reading
comprehension of fiction texts:
1. Read to and with your child on a daily basis.
Encourage children to read a wide variety
of texts. Set aside 15 minutes daily for reading. You can read aloud to your child; you
can partner read where each of you reads
a sentence, paragraph, or page; or your
child can read independently. Daily reading time promotes reading development in
all areasincluding comprehension.
2. When reading a story with your child, talk
about it afterwards. Discuss what happened
at the beginning, middle, and end of the



VOL. 38, No. 3



story. If your child is uncertain, go back

and reread to determine what happened in
that part of the story.
Help your child learn to identify the main
character in a story. While reading a story
with your child, ask, "Who is the story
about?" "How do you know?" If your child
is uncertain, go back and reread to identify
the main character in the story.
Help your child learn to identify the setting
in stories. While reading with your child,
ask, "Where and when does this story take
place?" "How do you know?" If your child
is not able to identify the setting, go back
and reread the story to point out and discuss the setting.
Help your child understand the plot of stories by using the "Somebody, wanted, but,
so ..." strategy. This strategy focuses on the
main character, his or her goal, the problem
in the story, and the solution to the problem. After reading a story, ask your child to
respond to these prompts orally:
Who is the important SOMEBODY in
the story?
He or she WANTED . . . what?
BUT, what problem did he or she
SO, what happened in the end?
Children can improve their comprehension
by responding to the stories they read. Ask
your child response questions such as the
What would you do if you were the
character in the story? Why?
How would you feel if that happened
to you?
Does the story remind you of anything
that has happened to you? What?
Does the story remind you of another
story or movie? Tell me about it.
Cood readers make predictions about what
will happen in the text as they are reading.
You can help your child make predictions
when reading together by stopping near the



middle of a story and asking, "What do you

think will happen next and why?" Read to
the end of the story together to see if the
prediction was correct. The goal with predictions is not to always be correct but to
think while reading.
8. Cood readers get ready for reading before
beginning to read a story. Before reading
with your child, have him or her look at the
title and cover illustration. Ask your child,
"What do you think the story will be about
and why?"
9. Use open-ended questions to encourage
your child to think about the story you
have read together:
What was your favorite part of the
story? Why?
Which character did you like the most?
The least? Why?
Did you like the ending of the story?
Why or why not? If you didn't like
the ending, what would be a better
Would you read another book by this
author? Why or why not?
10. Ask your child to rate the book on a scale
of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). Have him or
her provide reasons for the rating. Discuss
the types of books your child enjoys reading
so you can select good books for at-home
reading in the future.
Informational Texts
The purpose of informational texts is to convey
content or information to the reader. When
reading informational texts, readers use the text
features such as the table of contents, headings,
words in bold type, graphics, index, and glossary
to help them understand what they read. In addition, readers use their background knowledge to
relate what they are reading to what they already
know about the topic of the text. If students
understand how informational texts are organized
and use their background knowledge while reading, they will be more likely to comprehend what

they are reading. For example, if students preview

an informational text, look at the headings, and
use the words in bold type and the glossary to
understand key words in the text, they are more
likely to comprehend what they are reading. In
addition, if students prepare to read by thinking
about what they already know related to the topic
of the text and connect this information to what
they are reading, they can improve their comprehension of informational texts.
What Can Parents Do to Foster Reading
Comprehension of Informational Texts?
Here are 10 practical ideas parents can use to
build their children's reading comprehension of
informational texts:
1. Encourage your child to preview the headings in an informational text before reading. Pick one or two of the headings and ask
your child to discuss what he or she expects
to read about under that heading. Then,
read those sections of the text together.
2. Preview the words in bold type in a section
of an informational text. Check to see if the
word is defined or explained in a gloss (a
brief discussion of a word provided in the
margin of the book) or in a glossary (located
at the back of the book). Discuss the words
in bold type before your child reads the
informational text.
3. Discuss charts and graphs in informational
texts with your child. Use prompts such as
those provided below to help your child use
charts and graphs to improve comprehension:
What is the title of the chart or graph?
What can you learn from reading the
chart or graph?
Why do you think the author included
the chart or graph?
4. Encourage your child to use pictures and captions in informational books to build comprehension. You can try the following prompts
to help your child improve comprehension
through the use of pictures and captions:


What do you see in the picture?

What does the caption tell you?
Why do you think the picture and caption are included in this informational
5. Good readers can identify the main idea in
informational texts. Help your child practice this important reading skill by discussing in no more than one sentence what the
text is about. Ask your child to use this
prompt to focus on the main idea: "This
text is mainly about . . . ." You can direct
your child to the title, headings, and summary to determine if the main idea has been
identified correctly.
6. Most informational texts contain a great
deal of information. While it is important for children to understand what they
read, it is usually not necessary for them to
remember every fact or detail. After reading an informational text, ask your child to
discuss three big ideas. These three big ideas
should focus on the most important information in the text.
7. If your child has to read a textbook and
answer questions, encourage him or her to
read the questions first to set a purpose for
reading the textbook (to be able to understand the text in order to answer the specific questions). Next, have your child read
the text. Finally, have your child answer the
8. Play "Stump Me!" with your child. After
reading an informational text, have your
child ask you questions from the text. If
your child stumps you and you can't answer
a question, have your child show you the
answer in the text or explain it to you in
his or her own words. You can take turns
asking and answering questions.
9. Help your child get ready to read an informational text. Look at the title, graphics, and
headings. Discuss what your child already
knows about the topic of the informational



VOL. 38, No. 3

text. Now, your child will be ready to read

the text.
10. Invite your child to be the teacher by teaching you or other family members about key
ideas from an informational text he or she
has read. Invite your child to be the teacher
by using one or more of these prompts:
Teach me about the most important
information in the text.
Ask me questions (or give me a quiz)
about the most important information
in the text.
If you were the teacher and I was your
student, what would you want to teach
me about this informational text?

Raphael, T. (1986). Teaching question-answer relationships, revisited. The Reading Teacher, 39, 516-522.

About the Author

Laurie Elish-Piper is a professor and Reading Clinic
director in the Department of Literacy Education at
Northern Illinois University. Prior to her current position, Laurie worked as an elementary and middle school
teacher and an educational therapist in a clinical setting.
Laurie's research, publications, and presentations focus
on family literacy, parent involvement, reading strategies,
struggling readers, and literacy assessment.



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