Read Aloud Tips: Ideas to help your children deepen their understanding of stories

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Summer Read Aloud

“The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction. Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it…” Prov. 16:21-22a

By: Dana Baran

In my last post, I talked about the power stories have and the vital role reading aloud with your children plays in their character development and spiritual formation.  Mosaic of Moms has partnered with Read Aloud 15 Minutes to help you stay accountable for reading with your child. But what power can reading aloud have if your child has trouble understanding the book? As a reading teacher, I spent a lot of time modeling and practicing comprehension strategies with my students. These are simple reading techniques that good readers do automatically, but that emerging readers need to see modeled. Who better to show them how to be a good reader than you?

Here are a few easy strategies to help your child deepen his or her understanding of the story:

1. Make connections – Discuss what the story reminds you of…maybe a character from another book, an incident that happened in your life, or some information the child already knows about the subject. Ask them questions to help them make stronger connections. Discuss similarities and differences.

Example: (pre-schooler) “In this story Chrysanthemum is embarrassed about her name. I remember when I was in kindergarten a boy teased me about my red hair. I was so embarrassed I never wanted to go back to school again!”

Example: (elementary age) “The main characters in Gregor the Overlander and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe all end up exploring new worlds and meeting talking animals. It’s interesting that both the cockroaches and the beavers thought the children were special, and meant to fulfill a prophecy. In Gregor the rats tried to stop him using force, but in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the Witch tried at first to use trickery to stop the children.”

2. Make predictions– Talk specifically about what events might happen in the story. Don’t just ask “What do you think will happen next?” but think deeper about what has already happened in the story and how the story might continue to develop. Try to base your predictions on foreshadowing (hints and clues) the author has given.

Example: (pre-schooler) “In this picture you can see how Chrysanthemum’s name doesn’t fit on her name tag. How do you think that makes her feel? What have the other kids said to Chrysanthemum? What do you think she is going to do about it?”

Example: (elementary) “Edmund is lying about never having been to Narnia before. How do you think this lie will affect him later in the story? How will it affect his brothers and sisters, specifically Lucy?” “Do you think they’ll find out he’s lying? How?”

3. Ask questions– Good readers are constantly asking themselves questions as they read…in fact wanting to know the answers to your internal questions is what motivates you to keep reading the book!  Often when a child is a poor reader or has trouble “getting into” a book it’s because they are not asking questions as they read. Model asking questions aloud with your child, showing them they won’t know the answers unless they keep reading. Try to begin your questions with why and how rather than who, what, or when.

Example: (pre-schooler) “Why is Chrysanthemum embarrassed about her name?” “How will she get over her embarrassment and start liking her name again? Do you think someone will help her? Who? Why do you think that?”

Example: (elementary) “Why does everyone think Gregor is the Warrior from the prophecy?” “How will he prove that he’s not the warrior? Do you think he really is the warrior? Why do you (or don’t you) think so?”

4. Make inferences– Inferring is one of the most important comprehension skills, and is also the hardest to master. It requires you to pick up on the clues and hints the author is giving you in order to draw conclusions about what is happening or will happen in the story.

Example: (pre-school) “Mrs. _________ is going to have a baby. She has always told Chrysanthemum how much she loves her name. Do you think she might name her baby Chrysanthemum?”

Example: (elementary) “The White Witch is trying to get Edmund to bring all of his brothers and sisters to her castle. She’s promised not to hurt them, but she knows they are a threat to her power, and might take her throne away from her. She’s shown herself to be cruel and unkind, even though she is pretending to be nice to Edmund. What do you think her real plans are for the children?

5. Summarize– Summarizing is an extremely important writing skill, and it goes hand in hand with reading. Before you start a new chapter (for older kids) or about halfway through a picture book stop and talk about the main events that have happened so far. Try to focus on the important plot points instead of rehashing every detail. Modeling is very important for this skill!

Example (pre-school)  “Chrysanthemum used to love her name.  Now she has started school, and some of the other students have made fun of how long her name is. She feels embarrassed about her name, and wishes it were short like everyone else’s.”

Example (elementary) “Lucy found a door to another world, called Narnia, that is full of talking animals and magical creatures. It is ruled by a witch whose magic makes it always winter. Lucy and her brothers and sisters are trying to help the animals get rid of the witch, but her brother Edmond is secretly working with the witch.”

I hope you will be able to use some of these comprehension building skills to help your child understand the story better. The discussions these questions will foster will also create a special bond between you. When you refer back to a favorite character, heart-warming moment, or happy ending from a favorite shared story your relationship will be strengthened! Talking about lessons learned from a story and discussing character qualities can also help you teach character traits and discipline to your child. Feisty Jo March from Little Women is still one of my favorite role models! She taught me how to be bold, unashamed of who you are, and how to make the right decision even when it is extremely hard and painful. May you and your little ones make many friends and have a multitude of adventures between the covers of books!

***If you haven’t yet, take our Summer Read Aloud Challenge.

Series Navigation<< Summer Read Aloud ChallengeReading: A Spiritual Experience >>

5 thoughts on “Read Aloud Tips: Ideas to help your children deepen their understanding of stories

  1. Heather Forseth Grant

    Love, love, love this! I use all of these ideas with my preschoolers as well as my own children. I shared this on FB and Twitter in hopes more mamas will do this. It is NEVER too early or too late to begin:-) Thanks for a terrific post!

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