Enhancing Reading Comprehension II: Structured Experience Techniques

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The key feature of structured experience techniques is their combination of hands-on learner involvement, with a reassuring framework to reduce anxiety and promote active engagement. The trick is to provide supportive, structural guidance without lapsing into full-on, direct instruction. For comparison purposes, it might be helpful to begin by reviewing my earlier suggestions in ‘Enhancing Reading Comprehension I: Explicit Teaching Techniques.’ Structured experience strategies require teachers to gauge their own participation very carefully. The goal is not only to enhance learner skills but also to bolster their self-esteem through encountering success with experiential activity.

Here are three strong structured-experience techniques:  

1) Predicting activities can be a promising type of structured technique. When students make predictions before, during and after their reading of a text, it sets up dynamic expectations based on evolving knowledge. Such predictions serve as a student-created purpose for reading. Moreover, allowing students a choice of which materials they will read establishes pre-reading predictions as a realistic and empowering way for learners to exercise critical thinking. A simple technique for eliciting predictions is to provide prompts in the form of ‘From the title, I predict that ______’ or ‘I think the characters will ______ because ______.’ Get more ideas at 5 Different Ways to Teach Making Predictions in Reading.

2) Answering reader-generated questions is another rich vein of structured experience. Teachers can begin the process by modeling how to formulate productive questions and justify reasonable answers. They can then pose questions for students to answer, and follow up by asking ‘How do you know that? or ‘What do you mean by that? Teachers can also ask hypothetical questions such as, ‘What might have happened if ______?Its even better if questions are devised by students themselves. To encourage this teachers can provide question stems that apply to any text, such as ‘What is the main idea of ______?’ or ‘Explain why ______.’  Learners can then work on their own to develop text-specific questions based on the stems. Next, small groups can discuss those questions and seek answers. The approach is designed to help students move from self-questioning to peer questioning and finally to independent reliance on ongoing questioning as a learning and comprehension strategy. Profitable reader-generated questions should encourage meaningful reflection. Above all, the objective is to get beyond questions that focus merely on factual recall. This is why students are invited to ask for more than a specific detail or event. More information on this technique is available at Deeper Learning Through Questioning.

3) Summarizing a text can also be taught through structured experience. It is extremely helpful to bear in mind that the comprehension process does not end when the last sentence has been read. Even then, a well-chosen text still has much more to offer. That is where summarizing comes in. However, writing a prose summary can be discouraging and difficult for ESL students. A good strategy is to provide structural support in the form of diagram models for summary creation, with frameworks for main ideas and supporting details. Keep in mind that such aids may disappoint if learners do not approach summarization based on strong initial comprehension. This is why graphic organizers and pedagogically-effective comprehension questions are necessary foundations for successful summarization. From there it is possible to structure summarizing not only in tabular form but also, far more creatively, in the form of panels for a comic strip or graphic novel. Excellent possibilities are presented at Five Ways to Teach Summarizing Skills.

These are three structured reading techniques that I have found valuable. What structured approaches (including practical routines not mentioned above) do you employ in your own classroom? Please feel free to share your experience with us in the comments below. I would love to know what strategies you use.

Gonul - I graduated from Brock University, with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Women Studies, earned a TESL Certificate and Master of Applied Linguistics (TESL). Previously, I taught ESL in China and Turkey. I have taught a variety of EAP courses at Niagara College in the School of English Language Studies since 2013. Currently working three part-time jobs: as a Peer Tutor Program Coordinator in Niagara College’s Library, a communication professor for the School of Academic and Liberal Studies, and an interpreter for Canadian Border Services. Currently, I am a volunteer with TESL Ontario (TESL Exchange Videos, Dialogues, Webinars and Blogposts). My research interests are Extensive Reading and Second Language Reading.


3 thoughts on “Enhancing Reading Comprehension II: Structured Experience Techniques”

  1. Please feel free to share your opinion with me. I would love to know what approaches (including practical routines not mentioned above) do you employ in your own classroom.

    Thanks in advance!

    Have a love day:)

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