Laying the Foundations for 11+ Success – Reading comprehension
Fundamental to success in the English element of the new 11+ tests are a broad vocabulary and strong reading and comprehension skills. Many children develop the skills for decoding text (ie reading the words correctly) ahead of their ability to understand what they are reading and this may lead to difficulties when faced with a reading comprehension exercise. The most effective way to address this is through the reading and sharing of books together and here are a few ideas to get you started:
• Encourage your child to make predictions – before starting a new book, encourage your child to look at the cover, read the blurb (the information on the back) and say what they think the book will be about. At various points in the book, ask them what they think is going to happen next. Make predictions yourself and compare your ideas. It doesn’t matter whether or not the predictions are correct – it is the act of making the predictions that will help keep your child engaged and interested in the story.
• Help your child to visualise – ask your child to picture a setting or a character in their head and describe it verbally, in writing or by drawing a picture. You could both draw a picture of the same character and spot the similarities and differences. Ask them to imagine a scene from the story and re-play it in their heads like a movie. You could even act out scenes from the story or pretend to be characters and role play what would happen next or how the characters might feel in different scenarios. For information texts, ask your child to imagine a process (eg. The life cycle of a butterfly) happening visually. They could draw diagrams and pictures of explanations they have read or bring to life diagrams by imagining them as moving things (eg. A diagram of the water cycle could have rain falling from the clouds and the water evaporating up from the ground etc).
• Use questioning – question your child about the text to check for understanding and to help them develop empathy with the characters (eg. What were the key events in the chapter? How do you think the main character feels? Why do you think they behaved in that way?)
• Ask your child to retell all or part of the story or summarise an explanation in an information book – in doing this you can check for understanding and help to clarify any areas of confusion. They can refer back to the text to jog their memory – they may even want to make brief notes, jotting down key words and events.
• Make associations with your child’s experiences – linking what they read to their own knowledge and experiences will help them to understand and remember information.
• Think aloud – by explaining the ideas, questions, connections and images that go through your mind as you read aloud to your child, you will be modelling these processes and helping your child develop their ability to do the same.
• Play at being teacher – switch roles with your child and ask them to ask you questions about what you have read together. Ask them to explain a topic they have been researching or perhaps re-tell a chapter or story that you have not read so that you are then able to draw a diagram or picture or re-tell the story back to them.
• Explore vocabulary – check for understanding of challenging words by asking your child if they can give you a synonym (word of similar meaning) or make up another sentence containing the same word. Encourage your child to review the vocabulary on a page or in a chapter and to choose an appropriate number of unknown words to look up and learn. (this will vary according to your child’s age, reading ability and tolerance levels!) They could make lists of new words, writing their definitions and synonyms and should also be encouraged to find antonyms (opposites) for some of them. These could be organised into topics, eg. dinosaur words, or alphabetically in a word book.
• Don’t overdo it! It is easy to get carried away with questioning, discussion and word work but too many interruptions could disrupt the flow and spoil the reading for your child. Ensure there is plenty of time just to read for enjoyment and certainly avoid turning reading into a chore. If your child is not happy to do an activity, it is best to leave it for another time.
Sound reading and comprehension skills are important for so many aspects of life. Laying strong foundations in these areas will not only help prepare your child for the 11+ but will stand them in good stead for whatever lies beyond!
For further ideas and links to useful websites, visit the resources page of Flying Start’s website: www.flyingstarttuition.co.uk. For information on Flying Start Tuition’s Primary maths, English and Eleven Plus courses, visit www.flyingstarttuiton.co.uk, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01494 772898.