Reading Comprehension Activities-Emergent/Early/Transitional - Simply Skilled Teaching

Reading Comprehension Activities-Emergent/Early/Transitional


The goal of reading is comprehension. Although we need to teach letters, sounds, sight words and phonics, we also need a periodic reminder: Reading comprehension activities are important! The foundational skills we are teaching all lead to the ultimate goal of reading: comprehending the text.

Fluency Doesn’t Mean Much Without Good Reading Comprehension…

Ever catch yourself reading a book, article or blog post and realize you have no idea what you’ve just read? Ever slogged through a difficult instruction manual and struggled with the unfamiliar language and terminology?

Even fluent, capable, adult readers can experience moments of struggle with reading comprehension. That’s why the reading comprehension activities you provide in literacy stations and the strategies you teach during Guided Reading are so important.

“If You Can Comprehend This, Thank a Teacher!”

The comprehension strategies you share will eventually become ingrained in readers and will help them in their education and beyond. We see the results every spring as we watch all those college grads toss their caps in the air. They got to that point by using comprehension strategies that were instilled in them early-on by dedicated teachers like you!

Fun With Comprehension…

There are effective ways to teach reading comprehension strategies, and there are fun and engaging activities you can use. The key is to spark meaningful learning that helps children understand and connect with the text they read.

In this post, we’ll look at reading comprehension activities and strategies for Emergent, Early and Transitional Readers. In a separate post, we’ll tackle how to help your Fluent readers master those higher-level comprehension strategies. (Click here for that post on Reading Comprehension Strategies List for Fluent Readers.)

First, let’s talk about our sweet little Emergent Readers. It’s both challenging and fun to see them awakening to the world of print. But how much do those kiddos comprehend in a Guided Reading lesson?

Reading Comprehension Strategies for EMERGENT Readers (Levels A-C)

Don’t discount a simple introduction of a few basic comprehension strategies for readers at the Emergent level. Although they may still lack a complete grasp of concepts of print and may have a low level of phonemic awareness, even an early Emergent reader can tell you a little something about what they’ve “read.”

Emergent readers are excited to learn about letters, sounds and, eventually, the basics of decoding. To help them, teach and model the strategy of using pictures to monitor for meaning. As they look at the pages of a book, these readers do have the ability to use pictures as sources of information. A picture can help an Emergent reader construct meaning from a page of text, regardless of how simple that meaning may be.

Reading Comprehension Activities for Emergent Readers

It goes without saying: deep discussion of literature will not occur with students who are reading at the Emergent level. (This is not War & Peace here, people!) These readers rely almost exclusively on the meaning (or semantic) cueing system to help them decode the print on a page. It’s your job (and privilege) to help them unravel the mysteries of letters and words. Yet as you do that, you can also introduce the most basic comprehension strategies.

Emergent readers can learn basics such as retelling, asking & answering questions, making connections, or identification of the main character and setting. A picture book with only minimal words on each page can still be used to introduce these concepts.

“Where is the little boy in this story?” you may ask the student.

“At the zoo!” your aspiring reader answers proudly.

“That’s right,” you agree. “Have you ever been to the zoo?”

Of course, Letters & Sounds, Phonemic Awareness, and basic Sight Words and Decoding Strategies are the necessary tools for these little ones to master; yet they can still learn some Comprehension basics.

Help Emergent Readers Learn the Basics…

Emergent readers should understand that the words on a page have meaning, and they should be encouraged to talk about that meaning. Invite Emergent readers to think about the text and talk about it, even in the earliest stages when they can’t read it all by themselves. And again, as they progress toward early decoding skills, emphasize the importance of looking at the pictures for clues.

During a Book Introduction, a preview and picture walk lets you teach Emergent readers the basic strategies of talking about a text and asking questions. As you read and discuss the book, teach and model the strategies that are appropriate for the text and the student’s reading level.

During the Book Discussion segment of your Guided Reading lesson, use a short, open-ended question to teach a reading comprehension strategy such as asking and answering questions or making connections.

Reading Comprehension Activities & Strategies for EARLY Readers (Levels D-I)

Ahhh, our Early readers… This is where the fun really begins when it comes to teaching comprehension skills! Early readers know their letters and sounds. They’re busy at the all-important task of adding to their sight word vocabulary as well as building their understanding of decoding strategies and phonics.

Since Guided Reading texts for this reading level offer more detail and some basic storylines. This is where you can begin to help your kiddos pursue the ultimate goal of reading with comprehension. Emphasize comprehension strategies such as Retelling, Asking and Answering Questions based on key details, and Re-reading when confused by the text. Early readers are usually able to identify the beginning, middle and end of a leveled text, as well as identifying the main idea. This is also the time to explicitly teach, model and prompt for use of MSV (Meaning, Structure and Visual) cues.

Reading Comprehension for Early Readers – Day 1 Lesson Plan

Here’s an example of how reading comprehension strategies can be taught during Day 1 of a Guided Reading lesson for Early readers:

Book Introduction:

Using Mom’s Birthday Treat, a Guided Reading text from my Reach, Teach & Learn curriculum series, I begin my lesson. Sight words are of utmost importance at this stage, so they come first! After the review of sight words from the previous day, I give a very brief Book Introduction.

“This story is about a boy and his dad,” I explain. “They want to bake a special treat for his mom’s birthday. Let’s read the story to find out what happens.”

Preview & Predict:

Next comes the Preview & Predict segment of the lesson plan. In this part of the lesson, I’ll lead the kiddos through a quick picture-walk through our text. I’ll ask them to look at the illustrations and make predictions about the story. This quick activity encourages students to think about the topic and helps them learn to make predictions using what they already know.

Read & Prompt:

Read & Prompt – As students whisper-read the text independently, I’ll listen-in, prompting them with strategies. (Note: The Guided Reading Instructional Prompt trifold that’s included with this curriculum bundle includes a number of appropriate instructional prompts you can use to teach and scaffold students as they read.)

The Comprehension focus points of this Guided Reading lesson plan are as follows:

  • Asking & Answering Questions
  • Describing Characters
  • Summarizing

Here’s an example of a couple of text-dependent questions I might ask to help my students think about the story and build their reading comprehension skills:

  • “What happened in the beginning, middle and end of the story?”
  • “What did the main character learn?”
  • “How would you describe the young boy in the story?”
  • “Describe his character traits.” “Why do you think that?”

Early readers can engage with you in a basic discussion of a Guided Reading text. During the Discussion Prompt portion of the lesson, use open-ended questions to focus on some basic comprehension strategies.

For example:

  • Retell: “What happened in the beginning, middle and end of the story?”
  • Describing Characters: “How would you describe the young boy in this story? Describe his character traits.”

Day 2’s Guided Reading Discussion Prompt for “Mom’s Birthday Treat” would include Comprehension Focus questions such as:

  • Key Details: What steps did they take to make the treat for Mom?
  • Identifying Words/Phrases: What words on page 5 tell you how the main character is feeling?
  • Setting: Describe the setting of the story. Did it change at all throughout the text?

Guided Writing:

You can also teach Reading Comprehension during the Guided Writing portion of your Early Readers’ lesson. For example, the writing activity on Day 3 might be to ask students to summarize the story using the S-W-B-S-T framework.

Reading Comprehension Activities for Early Readers

As Early readers begin to understand and comprehend the stories they read, they’ll begin to develop an appreciation for reading. These kiddos can learn to use basic comprehension strategies–and you can help by making the learning process engaging and fun!

My Guided Reading Tab-Its® include some great activities to teach students comprehension strategies such as Cause & Effect, Character Traits, Plot, Setting and Compare & Contrast

In addition, my Guided Reading Flip-Flap Books are fun, interactive activities that allow learners to practice and record the concepts they’re learning in Guided Reading lessons. Whatever the comprehension focus, I’ve got you covered! Students love the fun shapes and creative design of these booklets. One of their favorites is the I-Pod (or I-Phone) Accordion Book that teaches Sequencing. (Even when they’re little, those kiddos love their phones!)

I’ve also created a Guided Reading Detective Flip-Flap Book® series that includes reading comprehension “Tab-Its”® activities like these:

  • “What’s the Scene?” (Setting)
  • Investigation Report (Beginning, Middle & End)
  • Witness Report (Character Traits and Evidence)
  • Events in the Investigation (Sequencing)
  • Who’s Who? (Compare & Contrast Two Characters)

Students love “playing detective” and using their newly acquired comprehension strategies to dig into the stories they read!

Reading Comprehension Strategies for TRANSITIONAL Readers (Levels J-N)

Transitional readers possess a good number of sight words and high-frequency words, and they’re learning to use an array of decoding strategies to solve unknown words. Since they’ve passed the early stages of reading and are ready to begin reading books with longer paragraphs, Transitional readers generally need plenty of work in the area of comprehension.

Transitional Readers Are Not All The Same!

Although some Transitional readers may read with a good degree of fluency and speed, they might also lack a real understanding of the text or may have difficulty recalling details of what they’ve read. It’s especially important for these Transitional readers to be taught the skill of reading for meaning.

On the other hand, there are Transitional readers who read much more slowly and may still have difficulty in decoding; yet these same students may have a strong understanding of the story and can retell it easily.

Since Transitional readers can vary so significantly from one another, it’s vitally important for you to evaluate the reading comprehension skills of each individual student. During Read and Prompt, take the opportunity to provide differentiated instruction, focusing on the areas where students need help using specific comprehension strategies.

Use Running Records Assessments and Take Anecdotal Notes!

Anecdotal notes and running records are essential for evaluating a student’s use of comprehension strategies.

During the Read & Prompt, walk around and listen as students whisper-read. As you do, make anecdotal notes about what strategic teaching is needed for this particular lesson or what should be covered in future lessons. Then use this information to guide your instruction.

A reading conference that includes a running record, oral retelling and comprehension conversation can tell you a great deal about where a transitional reader is in terms of comprehension. During the oral retelling section of the conference, remember that a complete retelling includes all the main ideas and important details of the text. In an adequate retelling, the student covers most of the main ideas and some of the important details.

Build That Vocab!

Readers at the Transitional stage are encountering multisyllabic words, so vocabulary instruction is key. It’s important for you to read through the text in advance and identify a few vocabulary words your students may have difficulty with. During the Vocabulary Intro portion of the lesson, introduce 2 to 3 new words. Direct students to the pages where the new vocabulary words appear, and ask the students to look for those words.

Teach Those Strategies!

The Discussion Prompt lesson segment is your opportunity to teach new comprehension strategies to your Transitional readers. In this segment of the lesson, you’ll determine whether a student has really understood the text they’ve read. Focus on a specific comprehension skill or strategy, such as Summarizing, Making Connections, or Synthesizing.

As students respond to discussion questions, ask them to show you the picture or page of the book where they got their answer. The discussion can take place through a turn & talk, or you could have one or two children share with the group.

The purpose of the book discussion and shared retelling is to determine what students have gleaned from their reading. Although Transitional readers may have a good handle on decoding and fluency, most need to gain strategies to help them go deeper in understanding the text.

This is why shared retelling is so important to include in a lesson plan with these readers. Have transitional students follow the S-W-B-S-T framework for a shared retelling. Sequencing and problem & solution strategies are also appropriate for this discussion. Monitor your students and then pick & choose the type of retelling you want the group to do, based on what the students need.

Reading Comprehension Activities for Transitional Readers

While decoding strategies may be the main focus of your strategic teaching with Early and Emergent Guided Reading groups, Comprehension is an essential teaching focus as you instruct your Transitional readers. Transitional readers may still need to increase fluency, but your main goal should be to help these readers learn to think more deeply about the text and use comprehension strategies that will help them understand it.

During Strategy Instruction, teach and model the following strategies; then allow students to practice the skill.

  • Monitor for Meaning – Consider whether the word makes sense within the sentence. (Read a sentence with an incorrect substitution and ask, “Did that make sense?”)
  • Monitor for Visual Cues – Make an error reading and ask a student what the error was.
  • Read & Think – Teach the strategy and model it through a speak-aloud.
  • Use Context Clues to help figure out meaning of a difficult vocabulary word. (Read the entire sentence, leaving the new vocab word “blank.” Discuss how the other words in the sentence might help you solve the meaning.)
  • Fluency & Intonation – Model both proper and improper fluency and intonation. Allow students to practice reading a sentence using the proper techniques.

Reading Comprehension Activities for Transitional Readers

My Reading Comprehension Tab-Its® are an excellent way for your students to hone-in on the important comprehension skills and strategies they need to practice and master. After your Read & Prompt and strategy instruction are completed, let your kiddos practice the skill by completing one of these fun activities. They can be used with any text you are reading with your class; and when completed, they’ll fit perfectly into a Guided Reading interactive notebook. Your students will love them!

More to Come…

Remember to check out my other post, Reading Comprehension Strategies List for Fluent Readers, but in the meantime: one last word of encouragement before I close. You’re an amazing teacher! Don’t get discouraged, and don’t lose focus. Keep teaching your kiddos those all-important reading comprehension strategies, and reinforce them with engaging and enjoyable practice activities. Keep reaching toward that goal of fluent readers who comprehend the text and read to learn!

Happy Teaching!


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Anna DiGilio

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I'm Anna DiGilio

Hi, I'm Anna! I was a primary teacher for over twenty-three years, wife of a firefighter, mother of twin teenage boys, obsessed with being creative and helping teachers and love my Saturday morning quiet cup of coffee!
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Hi, I'm Anna! I was a primary teacher for over twenty-three years, wife of a firefighter, mother of twin teenage boys, obsessed with being creative and helping teachers and love my Saturday morning quiet cup of coffee!
Thanks for stopping by!

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