When we teach the various comprehension strategies (making connections, asking questions, visualizing, inferring, predicting, summarizing, etc.), it is best to model these strategies ourselves. This is as important for the primary grades as it is for our older students. As students get older we sometimes shy away from picture books but there are so many fantastic picture books out there that are geared for older students. When teaching about Making Connections (Activating Prior Knowledge) or any other comprehension strategy, I prefer to select texts that are shorter as opposed to novels.
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I find it easier to dissect shorter texts and since they are shorter they get right down to the nitty gritty a lot quicker. Novels often take a long time to build up to their message, to develop the characters, for the theme to become apparent and to discover the plot. This is not so in short texts like picture books or news articles. You can read a picture book and get to know those characters and make connections right away. This is the reason that during my reading comprehension mini-lessons, I select shorter texts.
That’s not to say that during our novel studies or chapter book read alouds that I don’t tie in comprehension questions. I certainly do, but when I’m reading a novel to my class that time is separate from our Reader’s Workshop when I’m teaching mini-lessons about comprehension strategies.
My favorite texts to use for Making Connections are current events news stories. Students in grades 4 to 6 generally have a good idea about current events. They overhear parents talking about them, they read about them online, watch them on TV or hear about them on the radio. I have found that the enthusiasm level is high when we start reading and talking about current events. Children want to participate in the conversation. They hear all the grownups talking about these issues and they want to have a say too.
Here are a few sites that I like to get news stories from (This is not an exhaustive list):
There are also thousands of beautifully written picture books with themes that are geared more for grades 4 and up. These are a few of my favorites for teaching the Making Connections reading comprehension strategy (otherwise known as activating prior knowledge).
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson – In this book students can make connections to feeling like an outsider but also being brave and moving forward despite being afraid. It’s a beautifully written story that doesn’t take long to read in class but can insite many great connections.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales – This is another beautifully written text that students can easily make connections to. The book is about a woman who leaves her home in Mexico to come to the United States. She leaves everything she owned behind but soon realizes she actually brought many things…her strength, her work, her passion and her hopes and dreams. Through this text, students make connections to all of their positive qualities that they bring with them wherever they go.
Love by Matt de la Peña – In this picture book students can make connections to all of the places that love can be found.
Essentially any of Patricia Polacco’s picture books will work but this one is my favourite:
Pink And Say – This story takes place during the civil war. It’s about a young black soldier who saves a young white soldier. Students start to see the injustices of slavery and the senselessness of war. From this book, I have had students make connections to other wars, to racism in the past and racism in current times. They have also made connections to friendships as well as how our differences can bring us together.
The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson – This is a book about two children who want to end the cycle of violence between their villages. They put aside their hatred for each other and build a forgiveness garden. So many connections can be made with this one. Text to self connections are often shared about times when they were fighting with a friend of sibling and they were able to forgive each other. They have shared stories of their own family feuds that were either resolved or not. Students also make text to world connections to stories they have heard about war. This one is always a good choice!
Eve Bunting’s Fly Away Home – This book is about a homeless boy and his father and they live in an airport, moving from terminal to terminal trying not to be noticed. They are given hope when a trapped bird finally finds its freedom. When reading this text students often connect to the idea of finding hope from something simple.
Eve Bunting’s The Wall – This is a touching story and about a young boy and his father who visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. I have found that many students can make connections to this story, often relating it to the September 11th memorial, relatives who have been to war, or other war memorials they have visited.
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