Episode 28 – Q&A Synthesizing to Enhance Reading Comprehension

Episode 28

On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I wrap up the the reading comprehension multiple part series.  This week we focus on synthesizing.  When we synthesize we let our thinking grow and evolve as we read the text.  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 Synthesizing Guide

On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I wrap up the multiple part series discussing the best reading comprehension strategies.  This week we focus on synthesizing!

Episode #28 – Transcript

Hi and welcome to another Question & Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast!  Thanks for tuning in as always, it’s a pleasure to chat with you!

If you are enjoying the podcast and want to stay in touch with the latest happenings at Bilingual Avenue, consider joining the monthly newsletter.  I always share additional information there that is not on the podcast or on the blog. You can join by visiting bilingualavenue.com/newsletter

Alright, we have reached the end, this is our last strategy! Thanks for joining me over the past few weeks, I hope you have found the series helpful and you have some good takeaways to apply to your reading routine with your children.

Let’s do a quick recap and listen to the original question that kicked off the series.

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!

Thanks again Rafael for submitting your question!  I have talked before on the podcast how many literacy skills can be easily transferred from one language to the other. Regardless of what language you use to communicate, you can build strong reading comprehension habits from a young age with your children.  They can then likely transfer these skills and concepts to any and all of their languages. That is what is so fantastic about reading comprehension and how a little bit of hard work in the beginning can really pay dividends later on.

To address our listener’s question so far we’ve covered making connections, visualizing, questioning, inferring and determining importance.

Today, we are talking about Synthesizing!


No, no, not that kind of Synthesizing, we are not producing electronic sounds this episode.

I am talking about the ultimate reading strategy. This is the one strategy that rolls up everything we have discussed and then takes it one step further.

Before I tell you what synthesizing is, I am going to tell you what it is not.  Synthesizing is not summarizing, that is actually a pretty common mistake. When you summarize, you are identify some key elements in the text and then condensing the important information to then share it in your own words.

Synthesizing is similar to summarizing but it takes it a step further.  Rather than just taking the key elements from the text, when we are synthesizing we are also 1) adding our previous knowledge and 2) allowing our understanding to grow and evolve as we read the text.

Let me give you an example to help you summarize exactly how synthesizing works.

Are you familiar with nesting dolls? They are typically Russian wooden dolls that come in a set decreasing in size or increasing in size where one is placed inside the other. They date back to the 1800s.

When you are synthesizing, imagine you start out with the smallest nesting doll.  This symbolizes the knowledge you already have prior to reading the text. And then as you read the story, your knowledge and your thinking grows and evolve so you are sort of adding a bigger and a bigger nesting doll to ultimately create the one that holds it altogether.

Let’s say for example that we are reading Goldilocks and the three bears for the first time.  By reading the title of the story and looking at the cover, you can probably guess that the story is about a girl and three bears.  Bu that is really about as much as you know so your knowledge about this story is small, hence the tiny nesting doll to start off with.

As we begin to read the story, we begin to add information and facts about the text.  Every fact or important piece of information symbolizes a new and bigger nesting doll.

Let’s follow along with our example of Goldilocks and the three little bears.  Once you start reading story, your thinking grows! You learn that Goldilocks is going on a walk in the forest when she comes across a house.  Now that you have more information, your knowledge has evolved.  So we essentially add a new doll to our nesting set.

You may pause to reflect again about what you are thinking.  Given what you know and what you have read, you may be able to create a prediction, for example, that Goldilocks has arrived at a house with a family of three people that really enjoys watching movies about bears.

Yet as you keep reading through the story and pick up more information your thinking changes and essentially you are adding one more nesting dolls to set your set.

You realize that the story after all is about a little girl who stumbled upon a house where three bears lived but were not at home when she arrived.  She ate their food, sat in their chairs, slept in their beads.  The three bears then found her sleeping in the smallest of the three beds was startled when she saw the bears, ran down the stairs and never visited that house again.

There are many variations of Goldilocks and Three Bears but let’s assume for the purpose of this exercise that the story ends there.

Even though the story is over, we can still use our previous knowledge to assume how the bears may have felt after seeing Goldilocks. Using information we already have, we can consider that the bears were very upset to have found a stranger in the home.  And therefore, you are sort of adding one more nesting doll to your set. You are leveraging your previous knowledge once again and then again allowing our thinking to grow and evolve as we gather more information and use what we already know.

That’s essentially synthesizing! We combine new information from what we are reading with our existing knowledge to form new ideas and interpretations.

I do want you to consider and keep in mind that synthesizing does require higher order thinking skills.  This strategy will require your children to go beyond just a simple understanding of the text to then interpreting, evaluating and expanding information.

I am sharing this with you not to turn you away from this strategy but to encourage you to reflect on how you want to introduce this strategy.  Some of you may have older children that are ripe for more elaborate thinking.  While some of you may want to hold off on this strategy and focus on some of the previous ones first.  Make sure that you have built a solid foundation and then with time introduce synthesizing.

Either way, regardless of when you do it, you will want to introduce this strategy by modeling. You want to model your own process of synthesizing a text.   Keep in mind that you can use a fiction or non-fiction text to do so. In fact, non-fiction in particular happens to work really well with this strategy because non-fiction texts are full of facts which are essentially the nesting dolls we talked about.

You can model this strategy in a variety of ways.  You can convey all of your thinking orally with your child.  You can also write them down on a piece of paper as you go along and ask your child to join you in the writing process.  If your child is not yet writing, you can also ask them to draw the facts as you go through it.

You can convey to your child how the more you read and the more facts you gathered, your understanding for the information deepens leading your thinking to change.  Make sure that when you stop to record a new nugget of information that you convey what caused you to select that one over other information in the text.

As I’ve done for some of the other strategies that we have covered so far, I have made a simple guide that you can download and use at home whenever you are ready to introduce this strategy.  You can access the guide for free at bilingualavenue.com/synthesizing.

Click Here to get the Synthesizing Guide

You can also find a link for the guide in the show notes at bilingualavenue.com/episode28 I also have a transcript with everything that I have covered on the episode. One more thing, I’ve mentioned before that if you are short on books to use at home to practice these strategies that we are discussing in the podcast, you can visit 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 you can use at home to enhance reading comprehension and help support the language needs of your child. The BilingualAvenueBooks.com link is an affiliate link meaning if you decide to set up a membership, you will be helping to support the podcast as well. Since this is the last episode of the miniseries, I wanted to just do a quick review with you on what we’ve covered over the last six Question & Answer episodes:

  • We make personal connections with the text by using our background knowledge; 


  • When we visualize, we make mental pictures of what we are reading to make the text more memorable; 



  • We ask questions as we read to clarify and deepen our understanding of the text we are reading; 



  • When we infer, we essentially are reading “between the lines”; 



  • Knowing the purpose for reading helps determine what is important and what is not; 



  • We synthesize data when our thinking changes as we gather more information from the text we are reading.


I truly hope that this has been worth your while and that you have gained some new tools to add to your toolkit! 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! Do you have a question you would 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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