Improve Comprehension with Connections

May 4, 2017 by Michelle Reynard

Making connections is an important step in reading comprehension. When students combine their own knowledge and information from the text to make predictions, draw conclusions, and relate to the overall experiences and feelings of characters, they are more likely to understand and recall what was read. This can also help maintain interest and lead readers to seek out a particular book series or genre. This is true for confident readers as well as struggling readers.

Three Possible Connections

Three such connections are text to self, text to text, and text to world. Movies, books, or even news stories that involve familiar situations, past and present, that we’ve gone through, read about, or know occurred in the outside tend to resonate. We follow along attentively, and the details stay with us.

Whether fantasy, fiction, or reality, all genres contain themes, characters, and events from which these connections can be made. In other words, you don’t have to live in a dystopia or have super powers to understand loss, conflict, awkwardness, joy, heroism, or triumph.

Do you know anyone who talks at the TV or movie screen during an interesting program? “Don’t go in there! You know he’s trouble. This is just what you did last time. Run!” They’re immersed in the story, automatically sharing connections aloud. In the classroom, teachers often model or ask students to “think aloud”, talking through reflections and questions as they arise or recording connections on Post-it notes when reading. The same can be done at home.

When predicting, focus on illustrations and the title of a chapter or book. Ask questions using the four w’s. What do you think this story will be about? Why? When and where do you think it took place? Then prompt the student to make connections. Does this remind you of anything that’s happened to you or someone you know? Have you ever been to a place like the one on the cover? What usually happens there? What problems might the characters in the story face? Younger children can draw their responses while older ones may have a set of questions they can easily reference when taking notes. Review the three types of connections mentioned earlier, and ask students to think of examples of each while reading.

Text to Self

While it’s absolutely true that students should base answers to story questions on information found within the text, recognizing how the content relates to personal experience can improve understanding. For example, a child who enjoys going to sporting events might make a number of realistic predictions after viewing a crowd cheering on the cover of a book titled Football Dreams. Even if the child only plays racquetball and has never been to a football game, thoughts of competition, winning, and setting goals will likely come to mind. Similarly, a chapter in which the main character or team practices really hard, but still gets defeated by an opponent, may remind that child of a recent match.

Text to Text

Just as most TV shows and movies have common themes and plot twists, so do books. The Hobbit and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh may seem very different on the surface, but each tells of characters with a common purpose forming friendships and tackling a difficult task. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Harry Potter both involve kind hearted main characters whose circumstances change when they discover a magical world. Recognizing these similarities can make even the most complicated stories more understandable.

Text to World

Stories also resemble events in the world around us. A tale about students picking on someone can spark connections and thoughtful discussions about the impact of negative tweets and Facebook posts, or anti-bullying campaigns. A book about a marine biologist can be better understood after viewing a news report on the importance of ocean life. These associations can lead to a broader grasp of texts like The Chocolate War, Tuck Everlasting or Monster, where events have a larger message about human nature and society as a whole.

Challenge Your Child

Challenge your child to make a certain number of connections when reading or think of stories that relate to events in a particular day. Create Venn diagrams and contrast stories with each other or real world events. Before long, less prompting should be necessary.  And, as connections are made, overall reading comprehension is improved.
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Michelle Reynard

About Michelle Reynard

Michelle is a former classroom teacher with a specialization in reading. She joined Gemm Learning in 2008 and has enjoyed the opportunity to apply her education and experience in new ways.