I received a request from a parent asking about the steps to supporting and growing children’s reading comprehension at home. That is a valid and important question that I’d like to answer today. Many parents feel ill-equipped to support their children’s academic development for any number of reasons, and while they don’t usually have formal training in education, they can—with coaching and guidance—be instrumental in advancing their children’s progress.
There are innumerable websites with strategies and tricks to help improve children’s reading comprehension, but I find that they are more focused on naming the tip rather than explaining how to use it. What I’d like to do here is walk parents through how to incorporate the well-known strategies into their everyday lives. This article will focus on questioning techniques. I’ll make a series for this that includes other strategies, so stay connected and subscribe to get those updates.
One of the most common ways to assess and develop children’s reading comprehension is through questions. We know the five W’s—Who, What, When, Where, and Why, as well as ‘How,’ but it goes beyond that. What comes after each ‘W’ and ‘H’ makes the difference.
Now, you have three ways of asking these questions. Before, During, or After. All three ways are important, and I find that I have more success with students when I focus the basic recall questions during the reading while saving most of the interpretive ones for after the reading.
This is a fairly lengthy article because I am going to go through each step in the process—including providing answers to the questions. Having a solid example for future reference is important to me, so just a head’s up…
Modeling Parent-Driven Reading Checks
Let’s say I assign my son this Newsela-adapted article about food allergy treatment for children in poverty. In our house, he has to read something non-fiction, usually the biography of an important Black American, or work on a math skill if he wants to earn YouTube time for watching video game walkthroughs (Side note: What is this fascination with YT for elementary-age children?! My son came home yesterday saying he wants to be a YouTuber. LOL)
I picked Newsela because you can change the reading level of each article to suit your child’s reading ability. For demonstrative purposes, I used the 890L Lexile level, which is grade 5. I would ask him to read the title out loud. Then, probe a little to find out what he knows about the topic.
- Do you know what allergies are?
- What do you think the word treatment means in this title?
- What does “cost is high for families of poor children” mean to you?
Have your child read the bolded headings in the article out loud. Let your child know that those three headings are the main ideas of the article. Meaning, when you finish reading the text together, both of you should be able to talk about those three topics with some knowledge.
It doesn’t matter if your child’s answers are correct or incorrect at this point. You are just previewing the text. Your goal is to see where they are and what background knowledge they have.
As he reads the first paragraph out loud, I would stop my son at the end and ask:
- How many children in the US are allergic to a type of food?
- 8 out of every 100
- How many children out of 10 have almost died after eating one of those foods?
- 4 out of 10
- Where do families take their children when this happens? Who’s there that can help?
- The emergency room; Doctors and specialists
I would stop briefly and explain the math behind “8 out of every 100” and “4 in 10,” so that he can conceptualize that. What does 8% look like? What about 40%? This is a good place to draw a picture for your child. Help them understand what that means. Ask your child to list 10 classmates. Then, have them circle 4 names. Be sure to stress that 40% of the children with allergies have had a near-fatal reaction. That is NOT 40% of all American children. We’re only talking about children with allergies, so almost ½ of the 8 kids from the 100 figure. Show your child what these numbers mean in the article to help solidify their understanding.
My son would continue to read the next 3 paragraphs. Once he was finished with those, I would begin my next round of questions:
- Can you list 2-3 responses children’s bodies have when they eat something to which they’re allergic? Do any others come to mind? (Tell your child to locate it in the passage if they cannot remember. Don’t give them the answer. Remind them of where to go to find it themselves. This is paramount to the process.)
- Bumps, itchiness, swelling, trouble breathing, fainting, and dizziness
- Does a child have to eat the whole food to have an allergic reaction? How do you know? “Show me which paragraph gives you that answer.”
- No, “just a little bit of the food” can cause an allergic reaction.
- What are 3 common foods that cause allergies? Have you ever eaten any of those? Are you allergic? How do you know?
- Eggs, milk, cheese, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, shellfish, wheat, and soy;
- If they are not allergic, they will say something like, “I’ve never had the reactions mentioned, so I know I’m not allergic.” If they are allergic, they might say, “Well, I get itchy (or some other reaction), or the allergist told me I was allergic (if they’ve seen a specialist).”
On to the next section, “Expenses Depend on How Much Money the Family Makes.” Here is the proof that literacy is not just about words on a page. My son has to understand some mathematics to fully internalize this article. He needs to “get” ranges and a basic level of percentages.
- According to Dr. Gupta’s research, who spends more on allergy treatment?
- “Poorer families are spending more.”
- How did Dr. Gupta divide the families up to study their medical expenses?
- Three groups: less than $50K, $50K-$100K, and $100K+; poorer, middle, wealthier
- How much more did poorer families spend on emergency rooms and hospital stays than wealthier families?
- “2.5 times as much”
- Which family group spent more on allergy experts?
- Wealthier families
- Based on this section, do you think poorer families would be able to afford allergy experts? Explain.
- No, poorer families would not be able to afford allergy experts because the article says, “they can be expensive.”
This section is the bulk of the article because it breaks down how poorer families end up paying more. One important point to make here (see questions 4 and 5), is that wealthier families spent more on specialists simply because they can afford to take their children to specialists. However, when it came to doctor visits, emergency room treatments, and hospital stays, wealthier families did not pay what poorer families did. We know this has something to do with the type of insurance etc., but that’s not the focus of the article. Be sure that your child understands why wealthier families paid more for specialists. That’s an option that poorer families may not have. They are likely to reach this conclusion on their own, but just be conscious.
Almost finished… “Preventative Treatment Can Cost A Lot of Money” is up next. Here are some questions for my son to answer after this section:
- What are some things Dr. Gupta says poorer families are less likely to have or be able to afford? Show me in the article to prove your answer.
- Preventative treatment, buying special foods, seeing an allergy specialist, and having an epinephrine auto-injector (Epi-pen)
- What does the word preventative mean?
- Preventative means doing something that keeps an event from happening.
- How can children stop an allergic reaction by themselves?
- Children can use “injectors” that “stop an allergic reaction.”
- Is there a cure for food allergies?
- The article says, “scientists do not yet know how to cure food allergies.”
- According to this section, how do families prevent an allergic reaction?
- The article says, “the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to stay away from the problem food.”
You want your child to begin connecting that prevention costs are why poorer families pay more in the long run. They cannot afford to see specialists who will tell them what foods to avoid or provide alternatives, so these families find out the hard way—once their children eat something that nearly kills them.
And now, for the last section: “Poorer Children Should Have the Same Preventative Treatment.” We’re going to round this out with the questions and possible family discussions that take this learning and expand my son’s comprehension of the topic and our own surroundings.
- According to Dr. Gupta’s research, which group of children with food allergies doesn’t go to the hospital as often?
- The article says, “African American children with food allergies visit emergency rooms less often than other groups.”
- Does Dr. Gupta have enough information to explain why African-American children don’t go to the emergency room as frequently? What does she want to do?
- No, her study did not cover the reasons why, so she wants “to look more closely at food allergies in different groups of people.”
- What does Dr. Gupta believe about poorer children’s access to treatment?
- Gupta feels that “poorer kids should be able to get the treatment that might prevent food allergies just like other children.”
So, we finish reading the article together. That probably takes us about 20-30 minutes. I want to wrap this up for my son while also giving him something to ponder later on. I won’t ask him too many other questions, but I think these two are important:
- Why does it matter that poorer families are spending more money on food allergy treatments than wealthier families?
- This matters because without preventative care, poorer children “are at greater risk” for having a “very bad allergic reaction,” which could kill them. It also matters because poorer families have less money already, so it is unfair that they are paying more money for care.
- What is the purpose of this article?
- The purpose of this article is to make people aware of the inequalities in pediatric healthcare in America. It also provides basic information about food allergies in case students do not know much about them. Lastly, it is a soft persuasive article that encourages children to see the need for more equitable healthcare in America.
If you have a subscription to Newsela (they’re free), you can even have your child take the quiz and complete the writing activities. You can sign up as a parent and create a class. Then, make an email address for your child, and send the link to your class to your child’s email address. This is an excellent site for supporting your child’s reading comprehension at home (for free), and I believe that if you provide during reading questioning like the above, your child will be able to answer the quiz questions successfully.
Remember that these things take time, but dedication on parents’ and students’ parts can yield great results. Even if you do not always sit with your child and read, consider Newsela as a resource for you. I encourage parents to expose their children to more non-fiction texts because those tend to be the hardest for students to understand as they get older.