Exercises to improve reading comprehension for a 13-14 year old
June 23, 2015 6:49 AM   Subscribe

I volunteer as an English tutor for school age children in the UK. I have recently started work with a pupil who has serious problems with reading comprehension. What can I do?

Based on our sessions, the problem is not lack of vocabulary but not reading the text in consecutive order or seeing its logical structure clearly. I can point him towards a couple of sentences that contain the answer to a factual question and he'll skip from the first sentence to three paragraphs down and miss the answer that way. He seems to be looking for keywords in sentences anywhere in the text, without seeing one sentence following on from another. He rarely gets to the end of a paragraph when reading before skipping elsewhere. (I know this from asking him to underline certain words as he reads.) The school tells me he doesn't have dyslexia or any other learning disability. English is his first language. He is very bright and imaginative and gets bored easily.

Constraints: it's an 8-week long commitment, where I see him for an hour a week. There are 5 weeks left. I can, in theory, set exercises for him to complete at home but there's no way for me to enforce that and my sense is that he's unlikely to complete anything I ask him to take home.

What kind of exercise can we do in a one-hour session that helps him to get a clearer sense of sentences and paragraphs as units of meaning and to read a text with a sense of its structure and logic?
posted by Aravis76 to Education (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How about writing his own paragraphs? That could make him more aware of the form and where he is likely to find the information that he is looking for. Re-writing the paragraphs he already has might work too.
posted by chaiminda at 7:20 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have always found that the best way to solve reading problems is to model it by reading out loud together. You read a paragraph. He reads a paragraph. At pertinent places, you interject questions: What happened there? What does the author mean? What do you think that word means? Or, interject interpretations.

Basically, what you are doing is showing him what a good reader does inside their minds when they read.
posted by RedEmma at 7:37 AM on June 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

Could you have him read out loud? It would be harder for him to skip ahead that way. Or have him cover the material with a blank piece of paper and uncover only one sentence at a time. After he's done that for awhile, he could use his finger to track which sentence he's on instead of the paper.

It sounds like he's developed a strategy for getting through reading passages as fast as possible (because he's bored with the assignment or doesn't like reading) and it's become ingrained.
posted by rakaidan at 7:39 AM on June 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Writing might help, giving him a narrower visual field to read at a time might help (cut a window out of a piece of paper, or have him trace along with his finger.) Giving him two sentences at a time and asking him to describe the information in his own words may help. Talking about the structure of a paragraph may help. Talking about how to make a good argument might help.

You describe what he seems to be doing, but have you asked him his process? 13/14 should be old enough to have the vocabulary to describe some of what's going on internally.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:41 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Google reciprocal teaching.... Basically you can stop him at points and have him choose words to clarify meaning, stop and ask questions about what was just read, summarize what he just read and predict what will happen next. There are lots of activities to help the process, like having him divide a paper into fours and chunk the reading into 4 sections and draw symbols of the most important points in a paragraph and then award "points" you can do the same activity and share.... Those kinds of things. Make quizzes for each other... Make up mini dictionaries for each piece of reading... Storyboards. Reciprocal teaching is awesome!
posted by catspajammies at 7:55 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nthing reading aloud. And it's not a "babyish" thing, if you get any pushback along those lines -- it's how this English major learned in college to achieve real reading comprehension for Shakespeare, Milton, etc. It's pretty natural to do a little skimming and feel like we get "close enough" to knowing what we just read, but our brains need to be forced sometimes to slooowww down and pay attention to All The Words in the moment. It's a lot slower, but it's also more interesting and thought-provoking...which admittedly can be a tough sell when you just wanna get your homework done so that you can play.
posted by desuetude at 7:59 AM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would also recommend reading aloud, but would also suggest that you/he do this while listening to some sort of instrumental music with a steady beat. This would help in two ways. It helps him focus, (keeping the auditory system stimulated with music leaving less room to think of something else) and the steady beat promotes his reading to also be steady, instead of jumping all over the page.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:10 AM on June 23, 2015

I like the suggestions so far, but thought it might also help at some point to do what we do with my daughter (who admittedly isn't quite 10-years-old). She tends to skip ahead, too, so in addition to a piece of paper to focus on a line at a time, she also fills out bubble story maps after the story is read, or to create her own stories. The idea is to put the core idea in the center and supporting ideas and details in a bubbles radiating out from the center idea, and further breaking down sub-ideas is needed. There are other ways to map stories, but they all come down to the same basic principle: identification, and for your purposes, slowing your reader down. And on re-reading castspajammies post, I think they are getting at the same idea. Google story map, or bubble story map to get the visual idea.
posted by dawg-proud at 10:09 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I also had a student like this, and he hated reading basic stories or text in school books out loud. If you find this to be true with your student, you might find him more amiable to reading short plays or poems out loud since they are supposed to be read out loud. It worked with my student.

nthing having him write his own sentences too, which also worked (somewhat) with my student because he then realized how words worked together to form a sentence.
posted by patheral at 10:46 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is one of the best articles I've read on helping kids form pictures in their mind as they read. It outlines exactly the steps you take when you're working together. For an older student, you might just use a more age-appropriate text.
posted by Barnifer at 12:43 PM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

I worked at Lindamood Bell for a summer. As overpriced as they are, their programs were really effective and I saw children across the entire developmental spectrum make amazing strides in just a few short weeks. Their Visualizing and Verbalizing track is what you should research -- it's about going beyond just reading aloud and being really specific and descriptive with the imagery (breaking the story into sequences or "blocks"), and then asking the student to construct his or her own word summary (using the "blocks" to anchor pivotal concepts and events).

There are some sessions recordings on Youtube (example). Model your sessions after them! First, break up a paragraph into logical groupings (1-2 sentences, or as you see fit). Then, after this process starts to stick and the student builds up his/her visualization and comprehension muscle, advance into breaking text into longer chunks. The text doesn't necessarily need to be a narrative fiction -- this process can work with all kinds of dynamic content. Hope this helps!
posted by doctordrey at 12:46 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Many thanks for all these strategies and the great resources. I'll try them and see how it goes.
posted by Aravis76 at 12:58 PM on June 23, 2015

You could make cloze exercises. You take a reading passage and change some words into blanks. The student then needs to determine an appropriate word to fill in the blank.
posted by maurreen at 7:53 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know you say that you 'sense' he might not complete the tasks at home but I would try this. When I have to perform in front of people I get sh~t scared and don't know where I am in what I am reading and my comprehension (i'm an adult) is virtually zero. I experienced this a lot at school and reading aloud was terrible for me when the teacher would then ask 'so can you explain what you just read'? I can't take in information when I read it aloud because when I am reading I am focused on the pressure of having to read for someone else. He might not have a learning disability but he may well have anxiety which is something that will really inhibit what 'goes in' and his ability to concentrate. I have never been officially diagnosed with anxiety either and you would not be able to tell that I feel this way from the outside. It doesn't matter how kind you are in how you ask the questions either. Pressure is pressure. I agree with the poster who said to get him to use his imagination. It's a good distraction.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 3:39 AM on June 24, 2015

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