This article discusses how to use chunking, monitoring, and listening strategies to improve reading comprehension.
What is Chunking?
Chunking means to break up text that may be too long or difficult for a child, into manageable sections or “chunks.” Chunking helps students organize information, making it easier for them to pull information together for a better understanding of the main idea of the text.
According to research studies conducted on the reading strategy “chunking,” students who struggle with reading comprehension improve significantly when reading material is chunked into smaller units.
Let’s look at examples of how to use chunking to improve comprehension. First I will show you a regular text passage, show you examples of chunked text, and then explain how to use chunking and monitoring.
Regular Text Passage
Michael’s birthday party was on Saturday. He got so many presents he didn’t know what to do. His toy chest, closet, and drawers were already all filled up and he didn’t know where to put his new toys and clothes. His new stuff was all over his room and his mother kept coming in and telling him to find a place to put it. Michael was so frustrated that he decided to take a break and look through his old baseball cards in the garage. While he was out there, he saw some of his toys from when he was in preschool. That was when he got his big idea. Michael asked his mom if he could donate his old toys to other children who did not have a lot of toys. She said “Yes.” Now he would have room for all of his new toys and clothes.
Example of Chunking
Michael’s birthday party was on Saturday. He got so many presents he didn’t know what to do.
His toy chest, closet, and drawers were already all filled up and he didn’t know where to put his new toys and clothes. His new stuff was all over his room and his mother kept coming in and telling him to find a place to put it.
Michael was so frustrated that he decided to take a break and look through his old baseball cards in the garage. While he was out there, he saw some of his toys from when he was in preschool. That was when he got his big idea.
Michael asked his mom if he could donate his old toys to other children who did not have a lot of toys. She said “Yes.” Now he would have room for all of his new toys and clothes.
You might be asking yourself, “How do I make these chunks?” There are several methods you can use. If you can write in the book itself, you can draw lines in between sections, highlight sections different colors, underline sections, or circle sections. If you cannot write in the book you can photocopy the pages and use these same methods. If you are a parent and do not have access to a copy machine, you can ask your child’s school if they are able to make copies for you. If none of the options are doable, or if you just want another chunking method, you can cover up the chunks with a blank piece of paper or index card, only exposing the ones you are reading or have already read.
Side Note* Children who have significant difficulty sounding out new words or automatically recalling familiar words, often lose meaning when reading. If you are working with a child who has significant difficulty reading words, you may want to try very small chunks to help with comprehension. Below is an example of very small chunks, using an excerpt from the passage above:
Michael’s birthday party – was on Saturday. He got so many presents, – he didn’t know what to do. His toy chest, closet, and drawers were already all filled up and he didn’t know where to put his new toys and clothes.
Here are some questions you can have the child answer after reading each chunk:
Michael’s birthday party – Who had a party?
was on Saturday – When was the party?
He got so many presents – What happened?
he didn’t know what to do – How do you think he feels?
His toy chest, closet, and drawers were already all filled up – What is Michael’s room like?
he didn’t know where to put his new toys and clothes – What problem is Michael having?
How to Use Chunking
Break the passage into separate sections as shown above. After the student reads each section, have them monitor their own comprehension by asking questions about what they don’t understand, explaining or writing the passage in their own words, and making predictions about what will happen next. If it is too much for them to rewrite everything in their own words, try having them jot down important points or draw pictures to illustrate what they read as they go along. They can refer back to their notes if they have trouble remembering what they read.
An analyses of the 203 studies on instruction of text comprehension found that teaching students to monitor their own comprehension is one of the most successful strategies for improving reading comprehension. For more on this see Chapter 4, pages 5 and 6, of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read.
After practicing several times with you, encourage them to try these strategies on their own. When they first start using this technique independently, chunk the text for them. While they read each chunk of the passage, have them jot down questions they have so they can ask you later, look up words they don’t know, rewrite or say the passage in their own words, and make predictions about what will happen next. Once they get the hang of using these strategies, encourage them to to start making chunks on their own with future passages. As you notice considerable improvement in reading comprehension, have the child take on more difficult, longer passages.
Once your child or student gets the hang of answering these types of questions, teach them to ask themselves and answer similar questions when reading small chunks in future passages. Have them practice coming up with questions and answering them in front of you until you are confident that they have the hang of it.
Another excellent strategy to help students develop their comprehension skills is listening to someone read while they read along. Listening while reading helps with comprehension because students who struggle to understand text, are often able to understand the same information when it is spoken. Additionally, studies show that children’s reading comprehension improves when the information is taught through different modes at the same time. This is called multi-modal learning. In this example the two modes are auditory – hearing the words, and visual- seeing the words. This strategy can also improve a child’s vocabulary and ability to recognize words automatically (sight-word recognition), which can in-turn improve reading comprehension even when they are not listening/reading along to a person or a audio recording.
Here are two free websites that allow children to read along and listen at the same time:
Scholastic Listen and Read: Read Along Books
Learn English Kids
Another site that allows you to read along and listen to books online is K5 Learning. Although K5 Learning is not a free site it has many benefits over free sites such as:
- Online reading lessons personalized for each child
- Lessons that are interactive and prompt the student to respond; which increases engagement
- Comprehensive reports on child’s progress, which can be accessed by parents at any time.
- Highlights each sentence as it is read
ABCmouse.com is also a great “paid-for” program for reading and listening to books electronically. The words are highlighted as you read along, just like in the picture below:
ABCmouse.com is designed for children 7 and under and K5 Learning is designed for children in grades K-5; however, older children with a younger reading level could benefit from the texts in both programs.
Keep Your Cool
Remember to always stay calm when working with a child or student, even if you think they should be getting something that they are not getting. If you get frustrated with them, they may start to feel anxious, angry, inferior, stupid, etc. which will lead to a less productive learning session. Keep practice sessions short (5 to 10 minutes for younger children or children who get easily frustrated and 10 to 15 minutes for older children or children who can work for longer periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going. For suggestions on ways to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion and How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior.
Related Article: Reading Comprehension Strategies: Visualizing and Verbalizing
If your child is significantly struggling with reading comprehension or acquiring other academic skills, despite consistent practice and guidance, talk to your child’s school and/or doctor. They should be able to refer you to the appropriate professionals to determine what might be interfering with your child’s progress and what additional strategies might help.
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them. For Rachel’s top behavioral strategies all in one place, check out her book, Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children, a Guide for Parents and Teachers.