Episode 18: Q&A – Making Connections to Enhance Reading Comprehension

Episode 18

Episode #18 – Transcript

Click Here to get the “Making Connections” Guide

Hey there!  Welcome to another Question & Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.  I am excited to be with you today and thank you very much for taking the time to tune in!

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Alright, so today’s question comes from Rafael, let’s take a listen to his question.

Question: Hi Marianna, this is Rafael. I have to start by saying, thank you for the podcast! Now onto my issue… I speak Spanish to my children and my wife speaks to them in English. We are learning a lot from your show and have found some information that we can use with our two boys.  I do have a question I was hoping you could help me with though since you have a background in education. My oldest son is seven and he is doing very well speaking and reading in both languages but sometimes when I ask him questions in Spanish about the story he is reading, I can tell that he knows the words but doesn’t always understand the story.  Do you have any ideas of how I can help him understand the books he is reading better? Thank you! 

Thank you Rafael for taking the time to send in your question! I am thrilled to hear that you are spending time at home reading with your sons.  Not only is it a great family activity but you are boosting their literacy and language skills in the target language.

You mentioned your son is seven and so the timing for you to work on reading comprehension with him is perfect!   We spend a lot of time, focus and energy on teaching our children how to read so it’s not uncommon for them to struggle a little bit at first with comprehension.

We have to give them the tools to recognize what they are reading. This brings me back right to my days in the classroom teaching second grade and it was reading comprehension that I enjoyed teaching the most because it is the gateway to many more skills.

There are many reading comprehension strategies that you can use right away to enhance his understanding of the literature he is reading. They are applicable for both monolingual and multilingual children.  You may want to consider using these strategies when your son is reading in Spanish to you to boost his skills and then your wife can also do the same in English.

Now there are six relatively standard comprehension strategies that are used widely and that I find most helpful.  However, six strategies is a lot to cover in one podcast episode so I am going to change things up a bit. I am going to do a series over the next few weeks on each of these strategies.  This will allow me to dive in much deeper on each one and give you some solid examples of how you can implement these strategies at home.

These strategies are not just for emerging readers, they can really be adapted for any age group so you can tweak them as needed to make them work for you.  You can scale them up for older children and you can actually use many of them for children who are not yet reading but can start to comprehend the text. By the end, you will be equipped with six new strategies for your toolkit.

What you may find is that you are already doing a lot of these at home when reading with your children but adding a bit more structure and being more intentional about their implementation will really enhance your children’s comprehension skills.

Now just a quick word before I introduce the first strategy.  I want to clarify that these are going to be comprehension strategies, in other words, we are not working on teaching the child how to read the letters, words or sound on a page with these strategies.  We are focusing on understanding. If you do want to get more strategies on teaching how to actually learn how to read let me know and perhaps we will discuss those strategies on a separate series.  But again these are focused on comprehension.

Ok, so let’s get started with my favorite strategy: Making Connections

This strategy is based on the idea that an individual’s previous experiences and background knowledge can affect the way he or she learns and understands literature. We want as parents and educators to encourage kids to internalize what they are reading rather than only focusing on just reading the words.

Making connections encourages students to “connect” with the text in ways that are very relatable to them. Tapping into their prior knowledge and experience is a great place to start because every child has experiences, emotions even opinions that they can leverage to better understand books.  This goes back to my earlier point that we have to teach them that there is value in understanding what is in front of them and not just going through the motions of reading.  So we are going to go out of our way to teach them to make connections.

There are three types of ways in which you can make connections:

  1. Text-to-self
  2. Text-to-text
  3. Text-to-world

I am going to go ahead and describe each of these strategies.

The first one is text-to-self connections. These are probably the easiest for children to make.  It allows a reader to make a connection between the text they are reading or that you are reading to them and their very own experience and everyday life.  Children can make a lot of text-to-self connections from things they remember doing in the past that a character in the story may be doing as well.  For example, your child may say this story reminds me of the time I also had to share a toy with a friend or this reminds me of the time grandma made cookies for us when we were at her house.  Those are the sort of things you are looking for in these connections.

The second type of connection is text-to-text. These are really powerful as well.  As you can imagine, these are connections that they making between books.  Reading a book may remind them of another story causing a text-to-text connection. You may hear your child say things like “This reminds me of a story we read in the class that was also about going to the zoo, for example.” That would be a text-to-text connection.

And then the third type of connection is called text-to-world connection.  These are perhaps the more difficult ones for our younger readers because they tend to be much larger connections. Here you are looking for connections to the real world.  Your child may have seen something in a magazine, a newspaper or even TV that makes them trigger a connection from the story.  Your child may say things like “This story reminds me of something I saw on TV because (fill in the blank).”

So again text-to-world are going to be much larger and you are looking for ways to making connections to the real world. So now that I’ve shared with you the main definitions of each of the definitions of each one of the connections, let’s talk about how you may be able to teach this to your child.

The first thing you want to keep in mind is that you are going to want to spend a lot of time modeling how you make connections.  Start off with a story that your child knows very well and share some of the connections you are making as you read a long.  You may want to do some prep work before and think of some in advance before you sit down with your child. Do this several times so that you can really demonstrate what you are expecting your child to do.

Keep in mind that as I mentioned earlier, text-to-self connections will probably come first while text-to-world connections will probably come last.  Based on the age of your child, you may choose to encourage one of the types of connections over the other.  The great thing about making connections is that you can use them even if your child doesn’t read yet. You can read the story along and encourage them to make connections as you are reading them so keep that in your back pocket.

You also want to make sure that the connections are adding value to the story.  When you are getting started you want to encourage connections in general but once your child has the concept down, you want to make sure that the connections are as meaningful and relevant to the story as possible.  If your child says: “This reminds me of a time I went to the park.” You may consider following up and saying “Great, why does it remind of you the park? Did you have a similar experience in the park?” Try to encourage your child to truly internalize what he or she is reading and add depth to the connections.  Again the more you implement the strategy the more depth you can ask, the more follow up questions and the better the connections will be that your child is actually making.

Another thing you may consider especially if you have elementary school aged children is using hand motions to symbolize each type of connection.  This is something I used in my classroom and my second graders loved it! If you have middle school children, they probably won’t think of this is as much of fun so I’m going let you judge the situation.

But what’s cool about the hand motions is that children will get really excited about doing the hand motion that they will actually push themselves to find a connection just so they can do the fun hand gesture.  So use that to your advantage.

I’m going to try to describe the hand motions I used and then you can adapt and change them up if you’d like.  So what we did in my classroom is once a child made a connection, I would have them raise their hand and announce what connection they had made. As they vocally answered me, they would also do the hand motion.  You can do the same with your child except you may want to skip the part where they raise their hand.

For the word text, place the palms of your hands together and then open them to make it seem like you are opening a book. So for text-to-text connections, you’ll do each hand motion every time you say the word. Text (open your hands) to (close them back up) text (open your hands again).

For the word self, you’ll point at yourself if you are the one making the connection. So for the text-to-self, you’ll say bring your palms together and say text (open your hands) to (close them back up) self (and point at yourself).

For world, I generally draw a circle with my hands.  I bring both hands to eye level, place my thumbs next to each other and bring the hands down and away from each other to make a circle.  So you’ll want to do the same thing, palms together to say text (open your hands) to (close them back up) world (and do the circle motion).

Again if you think that’s going to work with your kids go for it. Some kids find that really entertaining.  If not, you can skip that all together and move on with your connections. I always say you have to keep the language journey as fun as possible!  Find what works best and get started on making connections.

Now to make this easier for you and make sure you implement this strategy, I’ve put together a free PDF to help you on your journey to making connections.  One way to really ensure that your child is internalizing the connections they are making is by jotting them down.  They can either write the connections or if they are not able to write just yet, they can draw the connection.

So I’ve made some worksheets that you can use for your connections.  There’s a few question that you can use as well on the sheet to trigger your child to make connections. You can print these worksheets from the website and then have your child populate them with the connection they are making. Then you can display them on the wall in your child’s room if you’d like, you can make a notebook collecting them all, you can place them in your library. It’s just one more way to encourage them to use the strategy.

Click Here to get the “Making Connections” Guide

You can find the worksheet for free at bilingualavenue.com/episode18  You can also find a transcript of what I shared today in case you want to look through it and read the content. You can actually find the transcript for all of the Question and Answer episodes on the website in case you wanted to revisit any of them again.

Well Rafael, thank you so much for submitting your question.  I wish you the best of luck on your reading comprehension journey. Stay tuned for many more strategies in the coming weeks.

For anyone else, if there are any other lingering questions about any of the information I covered today, feel free to send me a note at bilingualavenue.com/contact

May you have fun travels on your language journey.  Hope to see you again on the avenue.