One of the goals of teaching children to read is teaching them to understand what they read. But how can we help students achieve this outcome?
Research tells us that comprehension is “improved by an understanding of how larger units of text are structured.”1 A paragraph has a structure different from an individual word or a sentence, for example; and a story has a structure that is different from a word, a sentence or a paragraph.
Teaching children that all stories share common elements is key to helping them understand and recognise the structure of stories. And as we guide students to see that all these elements are related, children will begin to understand the logical relationship between those elements: students will learn to understand that “motives cause goal-directed actions and these actions cause consequences.”2 And they will begin to better understand the stories they read in shaa’ Allaah.
An easy way for teachers, tutors and parents to help improve children’s reading comprehension is to ask them ten simple questions about stories they read. These ten questions help show children the predictable, common elements all stories have.
But before we share the ten questions, an important caveat needs to be shared: when asking students comprehension questions, it is critical that children be given time to answer the questions. Unlike most adults, children need time to gather and organise their thoughts; they need time to gather the content in their minds and prepare it to be spoken aloud. Expecting children to deliver an answer to our question almost as soon as it is asked is unhelpful and can create a tense learning environment and a tense learner. Give children several seconds to provide an answer to these questions before allowing your expectation for an answer to be activated. On to the ten questions.3
1. Who are the main characters in the story?
2. Where did the story take place?
3. When did the story happen?
4. What did the main character want? (motive)
5. What did the main character do about it? (goal-directed actions)
6. How did the main character feel about what he or she wanted?
7. What did the other character(s) do about the action?
8. How did the other character(s) feel about the main character?
9. What happened (consequences)?
10. How did the story end?
Children can be taught these common story elements from kindergarten/reception year on. Soon, they will begin asking themselves these questions independently when they read in shaa’ Allaah, and their reading comprehension skills will improve biithnillaah.
These ten questions can be used in Islamic Studies class, Quran class, and English Language Arts (ELA) class. Here's how:
- The stories in the Quran, the seerah of the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), and the stories of the Sahaba (رضي الله عنهم) all have the elements common to stories.
- Two of DFB's middle-grade best sellers have storylines (plots) that grade 4 & 5 (year 5 & 6) teachers can use to help students improve their reading comprehension skills, using the ten questions above in shaa' Allaah.
- Both of DFB's YA novels have strong, exciting plots that upper grade teachers can use as they help their students improve reading comprehension skills, using the ten questions above in shaa' Allaah.
We hope these questions benefit your students/children.
By DFB Staff Writer