More Words of Comprehension Wisdom

Sheena Cameron

I am so impressed with Sheena Cameron’s book, Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies a practical classroom guide, that I will continue to share some of her wisdom.

Introducing and teaching comprehension strategies

Cameron has adapted a model from Duke and Pearson (2002) for introducing and teaching comprehension strategies in the classroom. She includes five components:

  1. An explicit description of the strategy, which includes when and how it should be used – in the gradual release of responsibility this is part of the I do it stage.
  2. Teacher modelling of  the strategy in action – again this is part of the I do it stage.
  3. Collaborative use of the strategy in action – we do it stage.
  4. Guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility  –  this could fit both in the we do it and the you do it together stage depending on where the students are at.
  5.  Independent use of the strategy – you do it alone.

This is a newspaper text I have kept and laminated as it is perfect for teaching vocabulary and figurative language.


Cameron mentions how important is to be modelling strategies to students of all ages. She stresses the importance of preparation prior to modelling and that sticky notes can be helpful prompts. Once the preparation is done the first time, it is easy to use multiple times. Her advice is to begin collecting texts that are suitable to model particular strategies.


She also mentions the use of think-alouds (Davey,1983) as being a simple but extremely effective technique. This helps those who struggle with reading. They can hear and see what a good reader does when making meaning from text. It is also important that students practise think-alouds – as teachers we can quickly find out what students are thinking and how they are using the various strategies.think alouds

Handy hints

To conclude this post, here are some of the handy hints that Cameron suggests  to assist implementation of the comprehension strategies:

  1. Use a wide variety of materials to model: stories, textbooks, articles and visual texts such as photographs, graphs, maps and tables. I really agree with this – there are so many good, short and interesting texts out there. Find texts that fit within the learning areas of the curriculum – they provide context and teaching comprehension strategies doesn’t become an add-on.
  2. Plan think-alouds.
  3. Read the text aloud, pausing to make comments about what you are thinking (don’t this so much that the flow of the text is interrupted).
  4. Focus on the strategy you are teaching. If appropriate, refer to already taught strategies where applicable.
  5. Keep the modelling session short and sharp – hook in the students.
  6. Take a few opportunities to show word attack and fix-up strategies.
  7. Remind students that all readers get stuck sometimes, but good readers stop, clarify the problem and do something about it.

Cameron, S. (2009) Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies a practical classroom guide

Comprehension – a practical approach

Since beginning my blogs, I have had several colleagues recommend the work of Sheena Cameron. As I have focused on comprehension in the last few blogs, it was timely to look at Cameron’s text Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies a practical classroom guide. Luckily, one of my work colleagues had a copy of Cameron’s book and I have spent the afternoon skimming and scanning her text. Her book is easy to read and very practical with lots of resources.

Cameron is an experienced classroom teacher and her book reflects this experience and current research. Her introduction acknowledges the importance of comprehension and the strategies that active readers use when engaging with text. Like many articles and texts on the teaching of reading, these active strategies used by good readers are divided into three stages of reading – before, during and after.

Cameron identifies a number of reading comprehension strategies and has organised them into groups: nine key strategies that often appear in research; two strategies that are important but receive less recognition; and two additional strategy sets that are indispensable to readers at any level.

Group 1 – Key strategies

  1. activating prior knowledge


    From Cameron, S. Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies (2009) p 11

  2. self-monitoring
  3. predicting
  4. questioning
  5. making connections
  6. visualising
  7. inferring
  8. summarising
  9. synthesising

Group 2 – Other useful strategies

  1. skimming
  2. scanning

Group 3 – Additional strategy sets

  1. word attack strategies
  2. fix-up strategies

(Cameron, 2009, p9)

I really like how these strategies align quite nicely with those recommended in the elaborations of year 4 Australian Curriculum English (ACELY1692).

Cameron states that reading comprehension can be developed by: teaching the strategies explicitly; using a cooperative learning model; using the strategies flexibly and combining them; using the strategies across all learning areas; and building vocabulary knowledge.

She summarises her introduction by stating that a reader is not truly reading without comprehension; that the strategies are a method of helping students understand what they are reading; and that good comprehension enables purposeful and active reading.

I am very impressed with this text and intend to purchase a personal copy – a recommended read!


Question Answer Relationships

Question Answer Relationships

Another questioning framework that assists comprehension is Question Answer Relationships (QAR). It also provides a lovely segue from using Blank’s level of questions in the early years (subject of previous blog).

QAR was developed by Taffy Raphael whom I had the pleasure of listening to a few years ago. QAR demystifies the questioning process, provides a common language within and across year levels and across learning areas and logically organises comprehension strategies  It inspires students to think about the text they are reading and beyond it. They can work cooperatively and are challenged to use literal and higher-order thinking skills.

It is important to model the use of QAR. Once again, I would recommend using the gradual release of responsibility – I do it, we do it, you do it together and you do it alone. It is also an opportunity to promote discussion and debate around responses to questions and how they worked them out.

There are four levels of questioning:Itsy bitsy spider

  1. Right there (literal) – readers focus on and retrieve explicitly stated information. Often the answer will be a single sentence or place in the text, and the words used to create the question are often also in the same place.  Who climbed up the water spout?
  2. Think and search (simple inference) – readers make inferences. The answer is in the text, but the reader may have to look in several different sentences to find it. It is broken up or scattered or requires a grasp of multiple ideas across paragraphs or pages. How many times did the spider climb the spout?
  3. Author and me (higher order inference) – readers interpret and integrate ideas and information. The answer is not in the text, but the reader still needs that information combined with what they know to respond to this type of question. Why do you think the spider decided to climb back up the spout?
  4. On my own (analysis/evaluation) – readers examine and evaluate and respond to the content, language and textual elements. The answer is not in the text. Have you ever tried and failed at something the first time, and yet had the courage to come back and try again?

Using QAR to Develop Self Questioning

from Kay Rankin The teaching of reading 2009

QAR is perfect for developing self questioning.

Red Dog FTI cvr.inddTeacher think aloud: “As I read the text, I picture what is happening here. I think about the text more deeply, generate (make up) questions, and formulate (work out) answers to my questions.”

At the junction with the main road, Red Dog tugged at the sleeve of the driver, and kicked up a fuss until he stopped. He alighted there and went to wait for a car that he recognised.

Shortly he detected the noise from Patsy’s engine. It had loose tappets and a small hole in the exhaust. As soon as it appeared, he ran out in front of it, and Patsy skidded to a halt.

‘You nearly gave me a heart attack,’ she said as she reached over to the passenger door to let him in. Red Dog leaped in and make strange motions with his head, which Patsy

interpreted as a request to open the window on his side. They drove off together, he with his head out of the window to catch the breeze, and she recovering her equanimity after such a sudden halt. ‘One day,’ she said to Red Dog, ‘You’re going to get munched by a car.’

from Red Dog written by Loui de Bernieres

  • What did Red Dog do to make the bus driver stop? Right there
  • How did Red Dog recognise Patsy’s car? Think and search
  • How could Patsy accuse Red Dog of causing her to have a heart attack? Author and me
  • Should drivers be stopping for Red Dog when he runs out in front of cars or is this just encouraging his dangerous behaviour? On my own
Q Chart

Kay developed a Q Chart that models some of the questions that good readers ask

Before, During and After Reading

QAR can be used at three stages of reading.

Before reading:

On my own: From the title and front cover, what do you already know that can connect you to the story/text? Tough Boris

Author and me: From the book cover, what do you think the story might be about?

During reading:

Author and me: What do you think will happen next?

Think and search: What is the problem and how is it resolved?

Right there: Who is the main character?

After reading:

Author and me: What is the author’s message?

Think and search: Find evidence in the text to support the argument that Boris is a caring pirate.


QAR and Comprehension Strategies

QAR can also be linked to specific comprehension strategies. Taffy Raphael makes a number of connections in her powerpoint Question Answer Relationships (QAR): A Framework for Improving Literacy Teaching and Learning.

I believe that QAR is powerful because it creates a common language to discuss text. It also unlocks some of the mystery around answering comprehension questions and navigating text. I have used it from years 2 to year 7 and for any text (including song lyrics and non-fiction text). When introducing it to younger students, I have begun with the two simple categories of In the book and In my head. QAR is brilliant for building self questioning and encouraging discussion and respectful debate around responses.

Featured Image from Rankin, K.  The teaching of reading 2009

Blank’s Levels of Questioning

Blank’s Levels of Questioning

hungry caterpillarIn my last blog, I looked at Konza’s sixth component of teaching reading: comprehension.  Konza mentioned the importance of questioning as a comprehension strategy. One of the questioning frameworks that I have used quite successfully is Blank’s levels of questions.

It was devised by Marion Blank, an American developmental psychologist who specialised in language and learning. She studied a number of year one students to find levels of comprehension that equated to success in the classroom.

Blank found four different levels of questions. Levels 1 and 2 ask for simple concrete information and levels 3 and 4 ask for more abstract information. Both receptive and expressive language skills are required.

Level 1 – language is applied to what is seen in the everyday world. Information is directly in front of the reader or recently removed. Responses are short or nonverbal (eg pointing).

Hungry caterpillar 2

Level 1 – Show me the sun.

Scanning for a matching object – Find one like this.

Identifying an object by sound – Show me what you heard.

Identifying an object by touch – Show me what you touched.

Naming an object heard – What did you hear?

Naming an object touched – What did you touch?

Naming an object seen – What is this?

Imitating a simple sentence – Say this…..

Remembering pictured objects – What did you see?

Remembering incidental information – What did you see?

Level 2 – information is supplied but it is not directly apparent. Reader has to select what to attend to – size, colour etc

Hungry caterpillar 4

Find fruit that is red and spotty.

Scanning for an object defined by its function – Find one that can…

Describing a scene – What is happening?

Recalling items named in a statement – What things…?

Recalling information from a statement – Who? What? Where?

Completing a sentence – Finish this….

Concepts: Naming characteristics and functions of objects – Tell me its …..

Concepts: Attending to two characteristics – Find one that is … and ….

Concepts: Identifying differences – How are these different?

Concepts: Citing an example within a category – Name something that is a ….

Level 3 – language does not directly relate to what is seen or heard and reader must think about and reorder the given information. Consideration and evaluation of certain basic facts are considered before a response.

Hungry caterpillar 3

How did the caterpillar feel when he had finished?

Scanning for an object by integrating verbal and visual information – Find one to use with this.

Describing events subsequent to a scene – What will happen next?

Assuming the role of another person – What could he say?

Following a set of directions – Do this, then this.

Arranging pictures in a sequence – Make these into …

Formulating a set of directions – Tell me how to…

Formulating a generalisation about a set of events – What happened to all of these?

Formulating a statement to unify a sequence of pictures – Tell this story.

Concepts: Identifying similarities – Find the ones that are not…

Concepts: Selecting an object by exclusion – Find things that are not …

Concepts: Selecting a set of objects by exclusion – Name something that can… but is not a ….

Concepts: Citing an example by excluding a specific object – Name something that is not a ….

Concepts: Citing an example by excluding a class of objects – What is a ….?

Concepts: Defining words – Say this……

Unusual imitations

Level 4 – reader has to reason beyond what is seen, heard or said. Reader has to draw on past experience, make parallels, look at causes and likely effects and justify decisions.

Hungry caterpillar 5

Why can’t he eat anything else?

Predicting: Changes in position – Where will ….?

Predicting: Changes in structure – What will happen if …?

Justifying a prediction – Why will…?

Justifying a decision: Essential characteristics – Why wouldn’t it?

Justifying a decision: Non-essential characteristics – Why would it?

Identifying the causes of an event – What made it happen?

Formulating a solution – What could you do?

Formulating a solution from another perspective – What could she do?

Selecting the means to a goal – What could we use?

Explaining the means to a goal – Why should we use that?

Explaining the construction of objects – Why is …. made of that?

Explaining an inference drawn from an observation – How can we tell?

Explaining the logic of compound words – Why is this called …?

Explaining the obstacles to an action – Why can’t we …?

Reference: Blank, M., Rose, S., & Berlin, L. (1978). The language of learning: The preschool years.

These levels of questions help develop comprehension but also develop oral language using rich text. Although the example of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is for younger students, the levels of questions can be applied to any text and any year level.

NB If you are a teacher in the Queensland State School system, the Metropolitan EAL/D Prep Program edStudio can be accessed through the Learning Place (S712114786). This edStudio houses a number of rich texts that can be used with Blank’s levels of questions.



The Pinnacle – Comprehension

Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

The final component of Konza’s Big Six and the goal of reading is comprehension. Each of the first five components of the Big Six contributes to comprehension. This is a summary of Konza’s original paper and the supporting paper on comprehension.


10motivaposters-seussComprehension is not just finding answers in a piece of text – it is an active process whereby the reader creates a version of the text in his or her mind (Konza, 2011).

To comprehend text, students not only need to be able to decode but to also understand: vocabulary; background knowledge; the semantic and syntactic structures to help predict relationships between words; and verbal reasoning. Comprehension requires engagement with the text at a deep level.

Researchers have identified a number of behaviours and strategies that good readers use to gain meaning from text.  The following are four important behaviours that characterise good readers and these are expanded upon in Konza’s supporting paper on comprehension.

Briefly, good readers:

  1. Understand the purpose of their reading– they know why they are reading and how to accomplish the task eg when to skim, when to scan or when to read closely.
  2. Understand the purpose of the text – they are aware of how the author’s purpose is reflected in the a text and the particular characteristics of different text types.
  3. Monitor their comprehension – they can integrate what they are reading with what they already know; focus on relevant parts of the text; distinguish between major content and supporting detail; monitor predictions; and evaluate content.
  4. Adjust their reading strategies – they know when to go back and reread; when to slow reading rate; and when to use chunking and decoding strategies with their vocabulary knowledge.

Levels of text comprehension

Independent level: reader can read most of text fluently (no more than 1 in 20 words difficult – success rate of at least 95%).  To gain meaning from the text, students need to be able to read it fluently.

Instructional level: reader finds text challenging but manageable – can read with support (1 word in10 is difficult or unknown – success rate of 90%). Must have support.

Frustration level: reader has difficulty with more than 1 word in 10 – success rate less than 90%.  Constant interruption results in frustration. Reading the text aloud exposes them to more sophisticated language structures and vocabulary – teacher can also do think alouds.

Guidelines and strategies

  1. Comprehension needs to be taught, not just tested – strategies need to be taught and explained along with guided practice.
  2. A variety of reading materials should be used, including short text – text types of all lengths can be used with short ones being particularly useful for struggling readers.
  3. Active listening should be taught – oral comprehension precedes reading comprehension but requires active listening. Give students tasks such as listening for specific information and teaching them strategies to remember the information. Barrier games require active listening and can be adapted for any age group.
  4. Readers need multiple strategies – students need a range of active comprehension strategies (see below – elaborations from Year 4 Australian Curriculum English).

Specific strategies for developing comprehension

I will list Konza’s specific strategies and a couple of the ideas. For more detail, go to her supporting paper.

  1. Prepare students before reading – what do students already know, make predictions using title and illustrations, discuss other texts on similar topic, introduce new vocabulary.
  2. Facilitate engagement during reading aloud – read story/section with few interruptions – questions before and after reading more effective than during reading, emphasise new words that were introduced before reading, stop a few times for comments.
  3. Facilitate student comprehension during independent reading – teach students to use ‘fix-up’ strategies when meaning is lost, help them make connections.
  4. Promote comprehension after reading – identify key words, look for sequence and cause and effect, link to own experiences, retell story in different way – puppets, change the ending, change to another form, use graphic organisers, use glossaries, dictionary and thesaurus.
  5. Use questioning as a comprehension strategy – examples are Blank’s levels of questioning, Bloom’s taxonomy, 3H (Here, Hidden, In my Head).

Guidelines for classroom questioning

Konza also lists a number of guidelines for classroom questioning such as: phrasing questions clearly, using lower order questions and a brisk pace when checking understanding of basic factual material;  using extended wait time for higher order questioning; asking questions before and after reading for older and higher ability students; and mainly asking questions after reading for younger students and those who are struggling.

Konza (2011) concludes by writing that comprehension enhances both the quality of our learning and the quality of our lives. Some children will acquire comprehension skills easily whereas others will require teachers to have a deep understanding of all the processes involved and how best to teach them. the simplest way

My Addition

Australian Curriculum English

For readers in Australia – these are the comprehension strategies mentioned in English/Year 4/Literacy/Interpreting, analysing, evaluating

Use comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning to expand content knowledge, integrating and linking ideas and analysing and evaluating texts (ACELY1692)

  • making connections between the text and students’ own experience and other texts
  • making connections between information in print and images
  • building and using prior knowledge and vocabulary
  • finding specific literal information
  • asking and answering questions
  • creating mental images
  • finding the main idea of a text
  • inferring meaning from the ways communication occurs in digital environments including the interplay between words, images, and sounds
  • bringing subject and technical vocabulary and concept knowledge to new reading tasks, selecting and using
  • texts for their pertinence to the task and the accuracy of their information

Australian Curriculum


Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

The next component that Konza identified as necessary for the teaching of reading is fluency. This blog will summarise her original paper and the supporting paper on fluency.


Fluency Fluency is the ability to read text accurately, quickly and with expression. Background knowledge of the text being read, rapid retrieval of relevant vocabulary and knowledge of syntax and grammatical forms assist students to predict upcoming vocabulary with accuracy and speed.

A student reaches a pivotal point in their reading development when they become fluent. It is the point where ‘learning to read’ changes to ‘reading to learn’. Fluency includes reading rate, appropriate phrasing and intonation. It is interesting my last blog looked at vocabulary and the symbiotic relationship of mutualism. An example of a symbiotic or co-dependent relationship is fluency and comprehension.  If a reader is not fluent, the student will have difficulty comprehending and a reader can only read fluently if comprehension is occurring.

If a student is reading slowly and with many pauses, attention will be focused on decoding and word recognition. To comprehend, a reader needs to be reading 90-100 words a minute which usually develops by the end of year 2 for simple text.

Fluency emerges from extensive practice of independent level text (Konza, 2011). Children who need to practise more often don’t because it is difficult and labour-intensive. They need extended practice reading easily decodable texts – ones that have a controlled vocabulary, allowing students to read a whole book and to develop confidence, fluency and automaticity.

Struggling readers will not develop fluency without practice at their independent level. For older struggling readers, there are now many titles that match their interests but have simple vocabulary and repetition of target words.  Reading aloud to these students and engaging in oral language and word consciousness will help to develop the necessary advanced language structures and vocabulary.

An interesting caveat from Konza’s paper is the research found around the use of Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading (USSR). The National Reading Panel found little evidence of this practice supporting the improvement of fluency and comprehension for poorer readers. It is suggested that this time would be better spent assisting these  students to develop the component reading skills.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I personally do see value in USSSR as it allows time for independent reading. As the teacher however, I take the opportunity to sit beside individual students. I am able to listen to individual reading, collect a quick running record and to ask questions about their reading and the text.

Konza’s supporting paper on the reading component of fluency has a number of interesting sections. It includes elaborations on the three core components of fluency: accuracy;  rapid rate of reading; and prosody (reading with expression).  It has a table reflecting the average rates of reading in the primary years and a description of how to calculate fluency, along with a fluency scale.


Konza mentions a number of strategies that assist in the development of fluency. Fluency EmmaThese include:

  1. Modelling fluency in read alouds.
  2. Letter fluency exercises.
  3. Sight word building through word wall activities.
  4. Explicit teaching of punctuation.
  5. Choral reading.
  6. Repeated readings.
  7. Echo reading.
  8. Paired reading.
  9. Poetry reading.
  10. Song rereading.
  11. Readers’ Theatre.
  12. Dialogues an monologues from plays.
  13. Partner reading.
  14. Partner reading with graphing.
  15. Read along books with CD.
  16. Wide independent reading.

Achievement of fluency is the mastery of the components skills whereby a reader can focus on gaining meaning – a cause for celebration.

Woman reading at the beach


Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

my powerful words

My powerful words poster for a week

In my role, I deliver a lot of professional development and I love presenting a session on vocabulary. I was lucky enough to ‘inherit’ an original professional development session on vocabulary from my mentor and friend, Kay and her colleague, Chris. Over the years, I have delivered several vocabulary sessions and I don’t think any one session has been the same.

I am always reading new research and incorporating new ideas and strategies and there are a couple of ideas in Konza’s papers that I will use in a session I am running in a few weeks.  In today’s blog, I will be summarising Konza’s synthesis of research on vocabulary, both from her original paper and the supporting vocabulary paper.


Bromley (2007, p 528) wrote vocabulary is a principal contributor to comprehension, fluency and achievement. Vocabulary development is both an outcome of comprehension and a precursor to it, with word meanings making up as much s 70-80% of comprehension.

Vocabulary is a key component of reading and if students know the meaning of a word, there is far more chance that they will be able to read the word and make meaning of the sentence. Vocabulary is generally learnt indirectly through repeated exposure – conversations, listening to stories, reading and through the media.

Some children will arrive at school as highly competent vocabulary users and will absorb words easily. They will be more likely to acquire the skills of reading easily and thereby continue to build their vocabulary knowledge. Other children come to school with small vocabularies and are often not skilled in learning new words, have a more restricted range of words and less access to the vocabulary of books. Consequently, they are more likely to have difficulty acquiring the skills of reading and will be unable to use the skills of reading to develop vocabulary further.

A number of researchers have found that direct instruction is effective for vocabulary growth in all students. In primary school, a rich bank of words that permeate across many contexts needs to be developed. ‘Rich and robust’ (Beck & McKeown, 2002) vocabulary development entails careful choice of words for instruction, strategies that develop deep understanding, regular use and an increasing ‘word consciousness’ in all students. Biemiller (2010) recommends teaching as many new words as possible and Pressley et al (2007) advocates ‘flooding’ classrooms with a range of long-term vocabulary interventions. Konza’s paper on vocabulary includes guidelines and strategies from all three ‘schools of thought’.

Guidelines and Strategies for Vocabulary Development

1. Build vocabulary instruction into everyday routine

  • model high quality language.
  • incorporate vocabulary building into directions and teaching.
  • organise frequent small group interactions to build oral language.
  • preteach critical vocabulary.

2. Select the best words to teach

  • Konza lists 5 questions that will help with word selection (see her paper).

    vocabulary in maths

    Some tier 2 and tier 3 words for a year 2 maths unit

  • There are three tiers of words: Tier 1 – basic and high frequency words; Tier 2 – words that appear more frequently in text than in oral language and   are less likely to be learnt without assistance; and Tier 3 – subject specific words.
  • Tier 2 words should be the focus of direct vocabulary instruction – maximum of 7-10 Tier 2 words from any one book or piece of text.

3. Explicitly teach word meanings

  • Read aloud the sentence and show the word.
  • Have students repeat it several times – brainstorm meanings – look for helpful parts – reread the sentence.
  • Explain the meaning with a student-friendly definition and synonyms.
  • Provide examples.
  • Ask questions to determine understanding.
  • Provide sentences that students can judge as being true or false.
  • Students write own sentences to be judged true or false.
  • Consciously use the word throughout the following days.

4. Teach students to use contextual strategies

  • An example are words that may be in bold or italics – indicates important or new terms and are often explained in a glossary.

5. Teach students to use graphic organisers to explain word meanings

  • using concept maps, word trees, word maps and Y charts are different ways of explaining word meanings in detail.
  • help students develop a clear and accurate concept of a word.


    Using the online instagrok to form a word map



The goal is to develop ‘word consciousness’ – enjoying learning new words and using them in different ways. Teachers who appreciate and enjoy words and understand the power and value of a rich vocabulary pass that enthusiasm and knowledge on to their students.

The word snoop

Enjoying the English language