Episode 26: Q&A – Determining Importance to Enhance Reading Comprehension

Episode 26

On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I continue the reading comprehension multiple part series discussing reading comprehension strategies.  This week we focus on determining importance to understand the big idea for both fiction and non-fiction texts.  If you want to start practicing this strategy at home, I created a guide to make it easy on your end!

Click here to get the Determining Importance Guide

Episode #26 – Transcript

Hey there and welcome to another Question & Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast!

Thank you for joining me again this week as we continue our reading comprehension mini series.  Today we’ll be talking about strategy #5 so if you are just listening to this series for the first time, you may want to start at the beginning with episode #18 and listen to the first four episodes that have been released for the series.

As I said, this is strategy #5 out of 6 so we have just two more episodes to wrap up what I hope has been and will be a useful and valuable tool for supporting reading in any and all of your children’s languages.

This entire mini series is in response to a listener’s question.  You can hear the full question on episode 18.  This particular listener was struggling with his son’s reading comprehension and so we are diving into strategies that may help him and everyone else tuning in on their language journey!

But remember that you can ask a question too.  What are you struggling with?  Chances are other multilingual parents have the same questions, concerns, worries.  I would love the opportunity to tailor a question and answer episode to meet your needs. So don’t hesitate to send in your question!  We are all in this together.  To send a question, just visit bilingualavenue.com/contact

Now before we introduce this week’s strategy, I just wanted to remind you that I did put together a free resource for you to accompany one of the strategies we’ve talked about in this series, the making connections strategy.  If you head over to bilingualavenue.com/makingconnections, you can sign up to get a guide on how to implement this strategy at home.

The guide is totally free and you’ll find a list of questions that you can use to probe connections and a few worksheets to use at home that can help you and your child either draw or write a connection depending on your child’s ability.  Definitely check that out at bilingualavenue.com/makingconnections and start practicing and enhancing reading comprehension!

Click Here to get the “Making Connections” Guide

Alright, so let’s turn it over to this week and talk about strategy #5, Determining Importance. We’ve already talked about visualizing, asking questions and inferring.  All these strategies are really all leading up to helping us determine what is important in a text and what is not. Just like inferring, this is a skill that applies to everyday life and not just reading.  We are bombarded every day with information.  Not just adults, but little kids too! Think about how much information is presented in front of them just by walking around a shopping center.  So it is important to understand what she should pay attention to and what we should disregard.

To increase reading comprehension, we need to understand what the big idea is and we do so by determining importance. When reading, we want to really decipher the purpose of what we are reading to differentiate what is important from the text versus what is interesting but not necessary for understanding the big idea.

So let’s walk through an example of how you may introduce this strategy using real life examples.  Before I introduce the example, know that this is obviously not going to work with every child and every age group.  You are going to want to tailor these and find something that is relatable to your child.

So here’s my example: Tell your child that you are going to pretend you are going to visit Grandma for the weekend.  Together, you are going to identify a 5-6 items that your child would need to take along for the visit. In a basket or a box, place a few items beforehand.  You are going to want to have a mix of necessary items such as pajamas, a tooth brush, a change of clothes but you are also want to add some non-necessary items like maybe crayons, an empty box, a water bottle, get creative!

If you are introducing this strategy to younger children you may want to consider having some really clearly obvious non-necessary items like the empty box I just mentioned. No way you are going to need that when you are visiting grandma!

For older children, you could make it less obvious and encourage your child to share with you their thinking on whether or not that item should be taken.  Let’s say for instance the water bottle.  Surely, your child is going to need to drink water while staying and visiting Grandma but is that one of the items that must be packed? Probably not because Grandma will likely have water at home that your child could drink.  So the water bottle is not a priority.  Instead let’s choose think of things that you will need when staying with Grandma.  What does she not have at home that you would need when staying with her?

Another method to teach importance can be to break down the items into level of importance.  Very important, kind of important and not important.  You can demonstrate this by placing several items into a bag and then take them out one by one.  Talk with your child about whether the item is very important, kind of important or not important at all. Be very specific about which language you are going to use during this exercise.  If you are working on your target language, this is a great exercise to do.  You are getting your child to communicate in the language, you are using visuals to aid the discussion and you are providing structure around this activity so that it is repeatable and likely fun for your child.

So even though we are focusing on reading here, the exercises you are introducing beforehand are also strengthening oral production in the target language. You can do these exercises a few times with different scenarios.  You can model it the first time and then encourage your child to join you when they feel more comfortable. Now let’s think about how we can apply this same line of thinking to reading. Good readers look for information and clues that help them identify the big idea in the text and ultimately helps them understand why these big ideas are so important.

To start off, you can start just simply start looking at the book you are reading. You may pick up some easy clues just by browsing. For example, take a look at any titles and headings in your text.  Is anything written in bold letters?  That usually means readers are going to want to pay attention. For text geared towards older children, are there are any pictures and captions? What about graphs and charts? These are usually presenting important information. So that’s how you would scratch the surface with determining importance.

Now let’s dive deeper.  There are two main classifications of text, fiction and non-fiction.

For fiction, I like to use a strategy called “Somebody-Wants-But-So.”  Funny name for a strategy, but you are basically using these words as prompts.

Let me demonstrate with a well-known story, the Three Little Pigs. To find the big idea, I am going to use my prompts: Someone – In this case, the someone is the Big Bad Wolf;

Wants – The Big Bad Wolf wants to eat the three little pigs for dinner;

But – They all hid inside the brick house;

So – He was not able to eat them and went hungry.

So again the prompts are Someone, Wants, But, So. In this case, the Big Bad Wolf wants to eat the three little pigs for dinner but they all hid inside the brick house so he was not able to eat them and went hungry. This strategy may not be a perfect fit for every fiction story but it does give you a start and sort of builds a shell and is a good rule of thumb when determining the main idea for fiction.

Now what about for non-fiction? When working with non-fiction text, you want to determine importance in order to gain information and acquire new knowledge.  Non-fiction stories are based on real life facts and information so the Someone, Wants, But, So strategy may not always work.

Let’s talk about how to approach these types of books. Reading nonfiction takes time.  Some children find that they have to reread the information to make sure that they understand it.  Taking notes as you read nonfiction is a great strategy when determining importance. Either you or your child can take notes as you read the story and I’ll walk you through how we are going to leverage our notes to identify what information is important.

Let’s visualize what your note taking paper will look like.  It is going to be divided into three columns.  On the first column, you are going to write down the main pieces of information you are coming across as you read with your child.  We’ll label that column “Information that I read.”

On the second column, you are going to decide if that information was important or not.  You or your child is going to simply write down yes or no.  We’ll label that column with a question “Was this Important?” That is going to be our name for the second column.

On your third column the note taker will explain why the information was important or why it was not important.  The heading for that column will be “Explain Your Thinking.”  So essentially as you read the story, the reader will jot down what they read, then decide whether it was important or not and last explain why! Describing a note taking sheet over a podcast can be a little confusing so I went ahead and created a note taking sheet for you to use at home.  One that has the questions in English, in case that is the language you are supporting at home and the second set has the columns created for you but also has room for you to write those same questions in your target language.

You can get a free copy of the note taking sheet at bilingualavenue.com/importance Click here to get the Determining Importance Guide

I will also have a link on the show notes page for this episode.  You can access the note taking sheet and a transcript of everything I am saying today at bilingualavenue.com/episode26

You do want to work on this skill on both types of books, fiction and non-fiction.  Depending on the age of your child, you can go after more robust texts.  Even though some children find non-fiction a little bit more difficult, don’t shy away from it at all.  They will be working with non-fiction more and more in school and as they get older, they will want to build a strong foundation in this area.

If you don’t have non-fiction books at home, you can go to BilingualAvenueBooks.com and check out the selection from Audible.  They are the leading provider of digital books and have children’s books in English, Spanish, German, French, Italian and Russian.  If you are working on any of these languages at home, you may consider looking into their collection.   There are likely going to be some appealing books for you to use when practicing these strategies.

By using the BilingualAvenueBooks.com link, you will have access to a free audiobook of your choice at no cost to you.  You’ll also get a free 30-day trial membership to see if this is a resource that can enhance reading comprehension and help support the language needs of your child.

The BilingualAvenueBooks.com link is an affiliate link meaning I will get a small commission if you choose to use Audible but it is at no cost to you.

Well I think that covers today’s strategy, determining importance.  Like I said at the top the episode, the four strategies we had previously covered are all leading up to help us determine what is important.  That is after all one of the main goals of reading!

As always make it fun and I can’t wait to hear of the gains your children will be making when reading in any and all of your home languages.

Remember that I want to hear from you! Have a question you’d like featured on the podcast? Then, head over to bilingualavenue.com/contact and leave an audio message.  We’ll feature your question on a future podcast!

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

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