Have you ever read something and not remembered a word of it?
Often when kids complete a reading assignment, they remember very little of what they read. This is especially true when reading nonfiction material such as a social studies article or textbook. If the material is confusing or uninteresting to them, it can be hard to retain it.
Today I’d like to focus on a simple reading comprehension strategy to help kids process and remember what they read.
A smart way to teach reading comprehension strategies is to use real books. Thankfully, you can find a great variety of interesting nonfiction at your library.
I’ve shared a number of interesting nonfiction books in this post about fun and fascinating books about history. You might also want to check out the If You Lived series by Scholastic. And I often refer to This Reading Mama’s list of favorite nonfiction series.
Once you’ve got an engaging piece of literature, you only need to remember four words.
READ. COVER. REMEMBER. RETELL.
This reading comprehension strategy will help your child learn to focus on what she’s reading.
It works well for any fluent reader, from first grade through high school. When I taught this lesson to my Seven, she was easily reading fiction at or above a 5th grade level, but nonfiction was presenting a special challenge. While she enjoyed it, some of the more difficult material didn’t stay in her memory bank.
I knew this strategy would be a great summer activity to keep her brain sharp before she began second grade in the fall.
I chose to print the book “Elizabeth Blackwell: America’s First Woman Doctor” from Reading A to Z.
How to teach Read-Cover-Remember-Retell
As always, model first.
1. Read a short section aloud.
2. Cover what you read with your hand.
3. Think aloud as you remember what you read. “Okay, now let me see. I know I read something about Elizabeth Blackwell. I’m going to think about what I read and talk about it.”
4. Retell what you just read. “The book is telling about a woman named Elizabeth Blackwell who is the first woman to go to medical college. She has to be brave and tough even when she learns about gross things so that people will think women are strong enough to become doctors.”
Now give your child a chance to try it.
Your child might not remember anything from the first reading. Have her read the section again. If she still can’t think of something to say, give her prompts by asking simple questions about what she read.
At some points in this exercise, your child may simply recite the last sentence she read instead of giving main points. When this happens it may be that the material was too difficult for your child to understand. Go back and discuss key vocabulary words as well as the concepts. Then read it aloud yourself and prompt your child to retell it.
You may find that your child is resistant to this activity (it’s a lot of work, after all!). I’m not promising your child or students will love this one, and I don’t expect them to practice it on their own without you there to insist on it. But with repeated opportunity to practice this strategy with a parent, teacher, tutor, or classmate, your child’s reading comprehension will steadily improve.
READ. COVER. REMEMBER. RETELL.
Will you try it? I’d love to hear how it goes!
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My boy has been smart for atleast 5 grades. History has never bern a problem,Natural Science too. Maths was at times tricky but ith enough practise,a good pass was obvious.
Comprehensions…he struggles,any help?
Hi Tumi! When parents want to help their kids with comprehension, I always recommend this book. It’s an easy read, and it’s for parents! 🙂
hi Anna, i am so happy you brought up this topic of reading this week,as my school is having reading week this week. thanks for the tips i will surely use these rules and see how my kids will perform.
You’re very welcome, Tehmeena! I’m glad you like them!
Anna – I am suggesting a blog post for comprehension building for you. Your post above is about working memory and how it plays a part in reading comprehension.
I used this strategy with my children who are all college aged now, but it was something I started with them when my oldest, who has dyslexia, was six. All three of my children have ADHD-Inattentive type which they inherited. None of them had 504 plans until late high school or early college because they were fortunate enough to have a stay at home mom with a degree is special education teaching coping skills at home.
Many of us spend too much time in the car just listening to the radio, I chose to use that time listening to age appropriate books with my children. Before starting the audiobook, we would recall what happened since we last listened. Just before arrived wherever we were driving, we turned off the book and I would again have the kids recall what had happened. I also paused the book to talk about unusual vocabulary that the kids might not have heard before. Working memory is something that all children need to build. Auditory comprehension is a skill that utilizes working memory without putting pressure on students that struggle with reading.
I hope to see posts from you about building working memory in the future.
Thank you for this helpful reminder, Eva! I agree that listening to books and talking about them is excellent for reading comprehension.
Thank you very much for sharing… my daughter has the same problem – will definitely try your strategies…
You’re very welcome, Marylou!
Hi. I am struggling to understand my child who is completing 5th grade this year and her issues with reading. She has always loved to read and, more or less, taught herself to read at age four. She voraciously poured over fiction material reading 10 chapter books or more a week and still does…but the books are generally now below her grade level. She took a reading comprehension test this week and struggled with the more difficult, less interesting non-fiction passages. She struggled to stay focused on the passages, to understand what she read, and then to be able to answer the questions. Will the process you outlined above help? I don’t think she has dyslexia, based on discussions with a parent friend. It seems to be a focus/processing issue. Can you provide any insight?
These are great questions, Tanya! I am going to recommend one of my favorite books about reading comprehension. It’s an easy read and it’s full of practical advice for both teachers AND parents. I think it will answer your questions and give you things you can try at home. https://www.amazon.com/Keys-Comprehension-Help-Your-Kids/dp/0761515496
Is there help for adults with poor reading comprehension that you can recommend?
Hi Barbara – I think that some tips for children will work just as well for adults, but I don’t have a specific post. I think it’s really useful to set a purpose while reading, to ask yourself questions as you read, and to answer those questions before moving on. I really like the resources from Doug Buehl, which are intended for upper elementary and high school. Here’s a document with a lot of great strategies that you could use with adults: http://vd-p.d91.k12.id.us/Curriculum_Resources/Sheltered%20Instruction%20(SIOP)/Component%204_Strategies/Reading%20Strategies%20to%20Guide%20Learning%204th-12th.pdf
Thanks for the tips! I am having such a difficult time helping my 8y/o daughter comprehend what she’s reading. She can read or say the words fairly well but I’m pretty sure she is not “hearing” anything she’s saying. It’s going from her eyes to her mouth, bypassing her brain. If she comes across a word that she can’t pronounce she just says the first thing that comes to her mind and it’s not even an actual word half the time! For example, she just came across the word accordion and she said “ackershon”. Then she just keeps on reading. Drives me batty!
I feel bad because I get so frustrated. We tried your technique just now and she had to read the first paragraph 4 times before she could retell it or answer simple questions about it. This was a book at her level, nothing difficult and the paragraph was very short. She did improve as we went on but the time it takes us to get through 2 very short chapters seems endless. I feel like the only books I’ll ever be able to read again are My Weird School books. :/
Despite my complaning, I do thank you so much for the ideas and will continue to implement them!!
Thanks for your patience in waiting for me to reply, Heather! Sometimes it takes some time before I can focus on more challenging questions like this one.
It’s definitely frustrating when kids read a fake word and keep reading. I know that my first grader does that sometimes. This is a short article that can help you with that: http://thisreadingmama.com/correcting-reading-mistakes/
That post also also links to word attack strategies that you can use to help her tackle those long words and get them right.
It sounds like she’s not visualizing what she reads – that she’s just word calling. Try modeling visualizing with books that you read aloud to her and then help her do the same in her own reading: https://www.themeasuredmom.com/make-a-movie-in-your-head-a-visualizing-strategy/
Neither of these will fix it overnight, but hopefully with support and encouragement from you she’ll develop strategies to make better sense of what she reads. (I’d save the strategy in this post to use just once in a while or when she’s tackling tough text (such as a textbook), as overuse will get her tired and frustrated.)
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond, I really appreciate it!! I love those links you provided and will definitely put the ideas to use. She’s already shown improvement because of the advice I’ve found on your blog!
Yay – that’s wonderful to hear, Heather!
We are going to give this a try. We’ve just begun using the cover and remember strategy with math facts. It’s a great beginners step to indepent study. Why didn’t I think of that?! Thank you for sharing:)
I hope it works for you, Crystal! It’s not something kids will want to do all the time, but it is effective!
Thanks for sharing! I have noticed my 5-year-old often said “I don’t know!” after she read too. First, I think it’s easier for them to just enjoy reading books and laying on the couch. It is relaxing and I love it too. So if relaxing is the purpose of reading, I think it maybe ok. But also I think that my 5-year-old doesn’t “THINK” enough. Of course, she is a 5-year-old. So thanks for your reminder that I should help her to be interested in testing her own understanding on her own by practicing your method. Also, I found some very creative Chinese books will not have an ending at the end of the book, and instead, there are some questions to ask the readers, so the readers can create and imagine the ending. Do you know any English books have the same kind of things too?
Hello Po! There are some popular American chapter books that are part of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, where kids can choose an ending and turn to a different page to read. But I don’t know of any series where kids create the ending on their own.
I am happy,again, to have found your site! I am heading out to tutor a boy entering 5th grade . His resource room teacher said his attention issues make it so difficult ,if not
impossible, to remember what he has read or learned. I will try this today .
I hope this trick is helpful! Be sure to check out our new tips for struggling readers series. You might find helpful ideas there too! https://www.themeasuredmom.com/quick-tips-struggling-readers/
Great teaching for kindergarteners but also great for adults who remember or retell what they read. Can you help us more.?
Is there something specific you’re looking for?
This is great, Anna! I was wondering what you do with little ones. I have been reading to my son for 5 years (He’s 5) and I’m just starting to try to get him to recall what I just read by asking a few questions, but I might not be asking the right questions. He doesn’t seem to engage with me. However, my daughter who is 3 can look back through a book and retell with no problem.
Greqt question, Shonda, and probably an idea for a future post. I don’t do enough of question asking with my own kids when reading, but I should be. So let me think about that some more. The first thing that came to mind was Bloom’s Taxonomy, which you might remember from your teaching days. I think those types of open ended questions can be modified for young kids. Here’s a blog post I found that might be helpful: http://saylorslog.blogspot.com/2011/07/blooms-cards-for-guided-reading.html
Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. That’s helpful. I’ll look into it.
What’s is blooms taxonomy for retelling what’ we read
If you google it, you’ll find many different explanations of it.
just wondering how to print your articles? I am a California kindergarten classroom teacher, and I would love to be able to share some of your articles with my class families during the school year.
Thanks for asking, Amy! I just installed a “print” button which you can find at the bottom of each post. It will allow you to print a post with the option to take out different portions of the text and/or take out all the images.