As mentioned in our “Beating Summer Academic Loss” article, students are at risk of losing academic ground during the summer months, especially with respect to their reading level, spelling, and vocabulary. One of the best ways to prevent this “brain drain” for literacy is to have your son or daughter read each day during the summer break.
Better yet, you can promote these all-important skills and participate in your child’s summer reading by engaging in active dialogue with your son or daughter. Below are several questions and ideas for discussion that will promote comprehension, recall, and critical thinking skills. In addition, these questions reflect several of the Common Core standards – which underpin the curriculum, instruction and standardized testing for most school districts. Of course, the standards vary by grade level, but some of the common themes that emerge in these standards are: citing evidence, summarizing, and making inferences.
Simply put, citing evidence involves going back into the text (book, magazine, newspaper, etc.) and finding “proof” to back up an answer, opinion, or assertion. For instance, you could ask your child, “Did you enjoy this book?” and then follow up that “yes” or “no” response with a “Why?” This requires the reader to provide details and examples from the story to support his or her opinion. For this particular question, then, your child may highlight plot events he or she liked, character attributes, writing style, and even genre (type of book) as evidence. Challenge for older students: Ask your child to go back into the text and find a direct quote to support an opinion or answer.
For nonfiction pieces, this may involve being able to explain the 5W’s – who, what, where, when, why (and how). For literature, ask your child to summarize the story elements, including: the setting, characters, main conflict or problem, events, resolution, and theme/lesson/moral. If your child can do this with specificity and accuracy, there’s a very good chance that he or she comprehended the story. Challenge for older students: Ask your child to identify more complex story elements, such as the climax, rising action, and falling action.
Making an inference is commonly referred to as “reading between the lines.” That is, the reader can’t find the answer to a question directly in the text but instead must synthesize or analyze information to come to a conclusion. To enhance these higher-level thinking skills, ask your child to describe the main character’s personality, describe how a character changed by the end of a novel, or detail how the setting influenced the story’s plot. Challenge for older students: Have the reader compare and contrast two or more characters to highlight similarities and differences in personality, actions, etc.
Of course, if you read the same book that your child reads, you’ll be able to come up with even more detailed questions – and also know if your child truly understood the reading based on his or her answers! But even if you don’t get a chance to read what your child does, simply asking some of these questions not only helps your child’s reading skills but also demonstrates an interest in your child – and his or her reading.