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The Power of Rereading Read Alouds with Language Learners, Part 3: Inferential Comprehension

After two days of read alouds focused on lexical comprehension and then literal comprehension, we’re now ready to dig into inferential comprehension.  Inferring is the highest level of comprehension a student can demonstrate.  A student shows that they have inferential comprehension when they can explain what is not explicitly stated.  

Inferential Comprehension

¿Qué estás haciendo? is a great kindergarten read aloud.  So far, I’ve worked on Reading Literature standards, but today, I’m going to be working on Speaking and Listening standards.  I’m going to focus on one skill from SL.K.2 Confirm understanding of a text read aloud by asking and answering questions about key details. The key detail I want the students to focus on is an internal characteristic or a personality trait that Chepito has.  You may be thinking: “Honestly, this is a higher level thinking, more typical of first or second graders.”  I couldn't agree more, but that’s the genius behind reading three times.  Now, I can work on this higher level thinking without hesitation.  

Many inferential questions start with why or how.  I’m going to focus on how by asking the questionsHow can you describe Chepito?and “How do you know?

I also want to take this opportunity to teach students more advanced vocabulary.  When we work on personality traits, there’s often the temptation of giving our students a list of words.  I agree that it’s important to give students choice, but teach students to make careful choices by using shades of meaning.  There again, I may hear my second grade teachers say: “Hold on a minute!  That’s second grade Language standards!”  Exactly!  And why this standard is only in second grade boggles my mind!  

Let me show you the power of shades of meaning.  Shades of meaning are used to show the degrees of change in synonyms.  I’ve read ¿Qué estás haciendo?, and I know that Chepito can be described as curious, kind and someone who really enjoys learning.  Since, I know that those are his personality traits, I don’t have to show students others.  Instead, I can take this opportunity to teach them these three basic words if they don’t already know them.  Even better, I can teach them synonyms that show the degree by which Chepito is curious, kind and enjoys learning. 

For curious, I can introduce students to the words interested and nosy

For kind, I can present friendly and thoughtful.  

For wants to learn, I can talk about being eager to learn or being excited to learn.  

I love using color strips for this.  You can usually get them for free at stores, and they give excellent visual cues.  The least intense word can be placed at the top of the color strip, and the more intense words below it.  In kindergarten, I’m going to stick to three words that have similar meaning, and no more than three color strips.  As you go up in the grades, you can increase the number of words with similar meaning, and/or the number of color strips.  

Developing Vocabulary

Some teachers tell me that I often choose more advanced words.  My answer to that is: kids learn words, not necessarily in order of difficulty, but in order of usefulness.  If they think a word is useful, they’ll use it.  Early on, I taught my daughter the importance of persevering.  I’ll always remember when she was two, trying to zip up her hoodie, and she said: “Mommy, I’m persevering.  I’m persevering.”  She knew the meaning of the word, and it was super useful to her in that moment.  So, she used it!  

I want to call attention to what I did in the third column.  Many teachers focus on just words: adjectives, nouns, verbs.  However, as an English learner, I found that the hardest aspect of language development was learning phrases.  In the upper grades, it’s crucial to present these phrases across different “tired words.”  In the example below, “smart” can be a tired word, and we want to encourage students to use compound words such as “bookworm” or phrases such as “smart cookie.”  

Fostering Language Growth

Depending on who is in my audience, they may or may not be able to answer the “Yo sé porque…”  (I know because…).  Native speakers of Spanish will be able to give me examples from the book such as: Chepito es interesado.  Yo sé porque siempre preguntó a toda la gente qué está haciendo.  Spanish language learners will not be able to complete that last sentence.  However, I can encourage their participation by having them point to the page where they see that, and then I can comment on the illustration they have chosen.  The child may be able to say: Chepito es amable. Then, they can point to the page where Chepito offers to read a book to his sister, and I can say: Ah sí!  Chepito le preguntó a su hermana si le gustaría que él le leyera. 

If I were to read this book one more day, I would do so when a handful of my Spanish language learners enter the early production stage, which is when students begin speaking in short complete sentences.  When a small number of students start entering that stage, I know more students could produce complete sentences if given an additional scaffold.  On this fourth day, I would bring back all three of the folders I made, and add a fourth folder with predicates to help students answer the question ¿Cómo lo sabes? on day 3 .  All of the predicates would have verbs conjugated in third person singular such as : pregunta a mucha gente, va a visitar a muchas personas, levanta el dedo, mira el libro, lee un libro. Predicates are often better than verbs on their own because they include the object, clauses or phrases that are necessary to completing the action. 


Should I read the same book three days in a row?

I’ve found that students remember new words best if I do the lexical comprehension reading the first day, and the literal comprehension reading the day immediately following that.  If you do several literal comprehension days, you can definitely space those out by a few days, even a few weeks.  Inferential comprehension days can also be delayed a little bit by a few days or a few weeks, depending on the students’ linguistic development (see Fostering Language Growth above). 

Why do you build these on manila folders instead of a slide presentation?

I have quite an aversion to the “next” button on slide presentations.  Visual scaffolds are meant to be semi-permanent.  Look at the three folders one on top of the other for the same book.  Seeing these three folders in a section of the classroom tells students that this book is important in our class.  It holds students accountable to reusing the vocabulary and sentence stems in everyday life.  

I’m not partial to manila folders as much as I’m partial to more permanency: having the visual scaffolds for days, not just seconds or at best minutes. If teachers like to build slides, I would advise to print that slide on larger paper such as A4, so students can see it from anywhere on the rug, and hopefully most of the classroom. 

Can you do more than just three days?

In the upper grades, it goes without saying that even a short chapter book is going to need to be read over several days.  You will have several days just on lexical comprehension, several days just on literal comprehension, and it probably won’t be until 3-5 days of reading that you’ll finally get to some inferential comprehension.  

As a kindergarten teacher, I read Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems seven times.  I read it 3-4 times at the beginning of the year, but then I really spaced out my readings, and I used the rereads later in the year to focus on the production of complete sentences (see see Fostering Language Growth above).  What I mean by this is that you can read the same book, or the same passage, many times as long as there’s a specific purpose.  To me, your purpose may be driven by level of comprehension, focusing on a specific skill, or encouraging more advanced language production from your students.  

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