Sharing for Learning

Comprehension Strategies in All Subject Areas

This workshop will have us examine how we might explicitly teach comprehension strategies in all subject areas. It was held in July as part of the STF Summer Programming.Some workshop artifacts that may help you see the general flow of this day together, you can see the Facilitation Guide, Powerpoint, and Core Handout. You are welcome to use and modify any of the materials on this page.

This web page’s purpose is to share the learning that occurred on that day, as well as make all of the documents and resources available to you, regardless of whether you were able to attend. SensemakingThroughout the workshop and as you read through the information associated with it, learners were encouraged to examine thought processes in order to classify what strategies we are using as we make sense of new information. We emphasized that a teacher will choose a specific tactic for students to work with, but it is the thinking that goes on inside a learner’s head that determines which comprehension strategy they are actually using.

There are many different researchers who write about comprehension strategies. This workshop is loosely founded on the work of Ellin Keene’s seven strategies. A brief  Comprehension Strategy Overview is a good way to begin our thinking. Here is an Anticipation Guide: Comprehension Strategies for you to complete before you go any further in your learning of comprehension strategies.

 Activating Prior Knowledge

There are many strategies that allow learners to activate and connect to prior knowledge. Activating Prior KnowledgeThis comprehension strategy involves you connecting your learning to your experiences, events in the world, and to other knowledge you may have in and out of school. We simply can’t understand what we hear, read, or view without thinking about what we already know.

  • A Snowball is a safe way for learners to share what they know and clarify misconceptions about a concept. It is often combined with a whole group synthesis of answers to questions posed on a page.
  • When teaching vocabulary, it is important that we use Vocabulary Building Strategies that allow students to make connections to words that they already know. One way of doing this is through the use of a Visual Dictionary. A visual dictionary combines a visual, connections, and definition of a word in student language.

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  • Think Aloud is often thought of as an explicit teacher-centred instructional strategy. It can also be used as a student:student tactic where they expose their connections, ask questions, or make predictions in pairs or small groups.

Determining Importance

Learners are bombarded with high volumes of information every day. Determining Importance

This comprehension strategy involves evaluating information, making judgments about information, and identifying key ideas and concepts. When we read nonfiction we are reading to learn, understand, and remember information.

  • One useful way to have students learn to be concise and categorize information into main ideas is using The Frame, which is part of the Content Enhancement Series out of the University of Kansas.
  • A more open-ended note-taking organizer is a tactic called Cornell Notes. Here is a editable template that can be used for any topic.
  • Using a Text Mapping Scroll can reveal text features to students. By asking them to mark up their scrolls, they can see that authors put text features into their books to help students. A useful activity is to have students use markers to note:
    • Things that are important.
    • Things that help you know if you understand.
    • Things that help you understand.


Visualizing is not limited to students making a picture in their heads.

VisualizingThis might also be a body feel, scent, emotion, or sound. This comprehension strategy involves you making mental pictures and/or mind maps of ideas and how they interconnect.

    • Having students visualize mathematics problems can help them to make sense of what is being asked for. In Grayson Wheatley’s Lantern Problem, students can be given a lantern to enable them to solve the task.
    • When learning about historical events, having students role play moments can enable them to make connections that they otherwise would not. For example, when learning about the creation of Canada’s healthcare system, giving students a role as either FOR or AGAINST publicly funded health care prior to learning Canadian History and watching video from that era can help them form a perspective.
  • Consistently asking students what they are thinking, what they are feeling, what they might be saying if they lived at this time, and what their hopes and fears are . This prompting might help them to visualize the state of society in that time period. Moving into an informal debate set in the 1960’s can help them understand our current health care system.

Summarizing and Synthesizing

Sometimes these two ideas are used interchangeably, but they are not the same action.Summarizing and Synthesizing

Summarizing is the breaking down of information into smaller bits, while synthesizing is the ability to bring an idea back to a whole. Thoughtful readers merge their thinking with information to come to a more complete understanding.

  • A Comparison Routine is another Content Enhancement routine that allows students to break down two ideas into those characteristics that are the same and different. The important feature is that the routine also has learners synthesize those similarities and differences into larger statements. An editable version is available to you.
  • Metaphors and analogies allow learners to connect specific characteristics of known ideas to new ideas. This can be done in many ways, including visually and through video.
    • Example: students may be asked “How is one of these images like comprehension strategies?”Slide42
    • Example: students may be asked “How is this video like news media?”


This comprehension strategy involves you predicting, estimating, hypothesizing, interpreting, and making conclusions.

Making InferencesInferential thinking allows learners to grasp the deeper essence of text and information. Readers infer by taking their background knowledge and merge it with clues in the text or visual to draw a conclusion or arrive at a big idea that is not explicitly stated in text.

  • Sometimes it is important that students are able to make ‘risk free’ predictions. It is useful to have mini white boards or scrap paper available for students to put their guesses on, and then check to see their accuracy after the ‘answer’ is revealed.
  • Using visuals may be a good entry point for students to make inferences. Prompts such as “what is happening here?” will allow students to look at details and create a story about what they believe its context is.


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Asking Questions

This strategy involves learners actively wondering about topics, and questioning facts and information.

Asking QuestionsQuestioning is the strategy that propels learners on and is at the heart of inquiry- based learning. Humans are driven to make sense of the world, and questions open the doors to understanding.

  • It is important to both provide students with skills for Questioning, it is also important to set up Opportunities for Wonder. By setting up situations in the learning environment such as a demonstration, reading, video, or other experience, you can prompt wonder in an area of learning that meets curricular outcomes.

Monitoring Comprehension

This is often considered to be the most powerful comprehension strategy, and often uses other strategies in tandem.

Monitoring ComprehensionThis comprehension strategy involves you recognizing and acting on your own confusion, and self-questioning to determine understanding. We monitor our comprehension and keep track of our thinking in a number of ways. We notice when text makes sense and when it doesn’t. We ask questions, infer, activate background knowledge, and make connections, all in the effort to promote understanding.

  • Card sorts are a useful tactic when having students make sense of either new or existing concepts. This can often be done in combination with a gallery walk, where students from different groups come together and discuss the ideas that they had generated separately.
  • An Anticipation Guide can be used at the beginning of a learning experience, and again at the end of that concept. It is a check to see what learners know before and after, and can guide instruction, review, and reteaching.

Take a moment and recheck your anticipation guide. What has been your greatest area of growth? What more do you need to learn about? What are your strategies to find out more? Other useful resources for you to consider accessing are:

So… My wonder is, would posts similar to this one be useful to you as a professional learner? Would it be useful to have access to something in this form before, during and after a workshop? Or available to you if you cannot attend in person? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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