Language and literacy skills · Skills for school

More questions…

I asked recently what sorts of blogposts people would like to see, and one of the responses related to question words. This is a great topic, and I’ve decided to deal with it in three separate articles. The first relates to spelling. This is the second, subtitled

How using questions can help develop comprehension skills

I touched on this an earlier post about comprehension skills development, but here are some more detailed suggestions:

  • At the earliest stages when sharing stories with children, think about the five key question words…
  1. Who – talk about the characters
  2. Where – talk about the places
  3. When – talk about what happened first, then what happened, predict what might happen next. This includes the language of time: minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons and years as well as sequences.
  4. What – what happened, what did they find, what were they looking for, what was it for?
  5. Why – talk about characters’ motivations, the reason why thing happen the way they do, etc.

This can be for anything from the day’s events to a picture book, comic, graphic novel or densely printed book, a spoken story, audiobook, radio or stage play or a film that has been watched.

  • When children start to read for meaning, read a book, story or passage the first time free of specific focus, then again on another occasion concentrating your focus as the adult on just one of those key questions. At the earliest stages, children don’t need to be aware of what you are doing, but this will still boost their comprehension skills.
  • Later, when children are consciously practicing their comprehension skills, the same exercise becomes discrete and specific, for example highlighting all of the references to people (or other characters, be they animals, aliens, magical beings…)
  • Another time, the focus could be on places, timings, events and objects or motivations.
  • Eventually, these might be combined with colour coding.
  • The same approach can be taken with comprehension questions – does the question relate to
    • people
    • places
    • sequence or time
    • important objects or events
    • reasons, motivations, consequences
      • Skills built during earlier reading exercises should help boost comprehension during initial reading as well as develop scanning techniques to finds answers in text.

Once established, these second-nature skills will support both reading and listening comprehension. The great thing about this method is that it can be used by parents and carers at the earliest stages, by teachers in nursery classes and throughout primary school or in 1:1 booster sessions at any age. The earlier the better, but the basic technique can be adapted for all ages and stages and lends itself to developing and promoting comprehension skills for reading more complex texts at GCSE, A level and university.

A collection of resources related to literacy can be found here

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