Using Children’s Literature to Teach Comprehension Strategies

This post is written by a student enrolled in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature. Each student is required to contribute one post this semester.

By Olga

Helping children with comprehension and awakening them to the wonderful world of books can be challenging but not impossible.  Students come to our classrooms with different experiences as well as circumstances.  Therefore, our attitudes toward reading can impact their reading habits.  As educators we get to see our students at different reading levels.  Although some of us might get students that are reading on level, there are also cases in which we get students that are struggling.  Struggling readers are not only reading below grade level, but they also lack the skills of a fluent reader.  That is, a student that is reading below grade level struggles with phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension.  As their teachers, it is sad to see how some of them get turned off and exhibit inappropriate behaviors such as reading very little to try to hide their lack of fluency and comprehension.  Comprehension can be a challenging skill to acquire.  This is especially true when the text they are reading is not meaningful to them.  Therefore, some teachers can also find it stressful to be able to apply the appropriate teaching method that will allow them to differentiate and meet those students’ needs.  However, it is our responsibility as their teachers to make every effort to address their literacy needs.  Although fluency is an important aspect in reading, it is also important that we teach our students to comprehend, or understand the meaning, of the text.  The question is how can we teach this skill in a way that is meaningful and engaging to our students? 

Children’s books without a doubt, lend themselves to teach comprehension strategies to our students and what better way than to have them apply those strategies through the use of engaging titles.  Therefore, it is important to find and use children’s books that are appropriate and appealing to the students.  Although it may seem difficult, we can also expose our students to reading strategies that promote higher order thinking skills such as inferring, summarizing, and synthesizing among others.  We can definitely do this even with wordless books as well as picture book stories.  These books can be sorted into categories by genre, topic, theme, and guided reading levels.  Creating a rich literacy environment with inspirational children’s books can build the comprehension skills and confidence students need to become independent readers who love to read.

 The link below provides book selections that can be used to teach several of the comprehension strategies that will help students become active, successful readers:  

Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #8: Revaluing Our Students and their Families

By Janine M. Schall and Luz Murillo

This is the eighth and last post in a series that shares results from a year-long research project exploring family literacy in the Rio Grande Valley. This research was funded by the UTPA C. Bascom Slemp Fellowship.


“Desde siempre yo he sabido de la importancia de la lectura. [I’ve always known how important reading is.] Sr. Gomez

In the seven previous posts about our family literacy research project we’ve shared the rich literacy knowledge and strengths within low income, Spanish-speaking homes in the Rio Grande Valley. While many people believe that children raised in this sort of family face challenges in becoming literate, we’ve shown that these families are sophisticated users of many kinds of literacy.

As we conclude this series, there are three major points that we hope readers will reflect upon:

1) It is more productive to focus on what families do and have, not on what they lack.

One of the values of ethnographic research is that it focuses on what is there, not on what is lacking. When we examine home literacy practices and ask “What is this family doing? What does this family know?” we see that families are competent and strong literacy users. When we understand that families don’t need to be fixed, we free ourselves to focus on ways schools can use family knowledge as a resource for teaching more traditional school literacy practices. 

2) We need to examine our assumptions about low income, Spanish-speaking families and value their strengths.

Negative stereotypes and deficit thinking have a deep and abiding hold on many educators.  Although it can be painful to interrogate our own worldviews and confront stereotypes we may hold, it is necessary for educators to examine our beliefs about low income, Spanish-speaking families. When we can revalue our students and their families, we can use what we know about their strengths to revise our schools so that we are more effective educators for this type of student.

3) Teachers and schools need to actively work to integrate student and family strengths with the curriculum and school culture.

 Revaluing is a necessary first step, but true educational change will occur when teachers and schools begin to transform school culture and curriculum by building upon student and family strengths. This means examining what currently happens in school—from how parents are welcomed into the building to how reading is taught—and working to eliminate aspects that are based in deficit thinking. This is hard work, but our students deserve it.

Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #7: Bilingual Parents Stand Up for Spanish-Speaking Children

By Luz Murillo and Janine M. Schall

This is the seventh post in a series that shares results from a year-long research project exploring family literacy in the Rio Grande Valley. This research was funded by the UTPA C. Bascom Slemp Fellowship.

Together with our students we have been documenting the literacies of bilingual children in the Rio Grande Valley. Lately we’ve been spending less time in classrooms and more time exploring what children are reading and writing in their bilingual homes and communities. Why is this? Well, after reading and studying about the importance of family involvement in children’s literacy development, we realized that while many books and articles tell bilingual parents how to support their children’s reading and writing, there aren’t as many books or other resources where teachers can find out more about what bilingual parents know and think about literacy and education.

To find out what is happening with the literacies of bilingual students, we decided to interview bilingual parents. Here’s a story shared by “Nancy”, whose seven-year old daughter started in an English monolingual classroom while she was still developing literacy in Spanish, the family’s home language:

Se le hice saber a su maestra al inicio de clases y me dijo, “Señora, no se preocupe. Usted nada más en la casa póngale televisión en inglés, libros en inglés, caricaturas en inglés, todo en inglés. Va a batallar al principio, pero ella va a aprender. Va a ver que va a aprender.” [I told the teacher at the beginning of the year and she told me, “Señora, don’t worry. At home, just make sure the television is in English, books are in English, comics in English, everything in English. She’ll struggle at first, but she’ll learn. You’ll see that she’ll definitely learn.”]

Despite the teacher’s encouragement, Nancy worried that the abrupt switch to English would mean that her daughter would learn less and fall behind her classmates. She told us “Temía que repitiera el grado y que se frustrara y le perdería interés en la escuela. [I was worried that she would have to repeat the year and that she’d get frustrated and lose interest in school.]”

As it turns out, Nancy was right to be concerned. Her daughter, who had been an A/B Honor Roll student in first grade, began getting D’s and F’s. When Nancy tried to help with her schoolwork, she noticed that her daughter was not only having dificulty learning read and write in English, she was also forgetting the Spanish literacy she had been developing. Nancy consulted with the teacher about her daughter’s failing grades many times but near the end of the school year the teacher told her “Señora, yo le recomiendo que repita el año.” [Señora, I recommend that your daughter repeat the year]. Nancy was devastated by this news. She told us, “Me sentí culpable, me siento culpable. Pero le dije “maestra, ok, mi hija no va a repetir año, yo la voy a sacar adelante.” [I felt guilty, I still feel guilty, but I told the teacher, “okay, my daughter is not going to repeat the year. I am going to work with her until she’s ready”].

By listening to bilingual parents, we’ve learned that stories like Nancy’s are common. All of the parents we’ve talked with care deeply about their children’s education. All want their children to be literate in English but we were surprised to find how many parents recognized that English-only instruction is harming their children’s literacy development and causing them to forget Spanish at the same time. Although not all parents are so brave and vocal about confronting teachers as Nancy, they stick up for their Spanish-speaking children in other ways, including keeping them out of special education and off medication for hyperactivity, as well as keeping Spanish as the primary home language for communicating with grandparents and older relatives.

We think that literacy educators working in the Rio Grande Valley should know about stories like Nancy’s. Maybe it is time for teachers to start listening more carefully to bilingual parents!