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Concept Ladder and Concept Definition Map  #4
9-12 Comprehension Instruction

Essential Element:  Comprehension

Framework:  Reading
                     Standard 9:  Students shall apply a variety of strategies to read and comprehend printed material.

Preparation for the secondary English teacher has traditionally not included instruction in reading comprehension strategies; moreover, the typical reading focus for English classes has been the extensive and intensive analysis of literature.  While teachers have not been fully equipped to teach reading, at the same time they are being asked to deliver instruction to an increasing number of students who find the complexities of grade-level literature inaccessible.  Expecting teachers to be able to support struggling readers without equipping them with information and strategies is both unrealistic and unfair.  However, when teachers do have this kind of help and information, they can embed comprehension strategies in their delivery of curriculum content.  More importantly, reluctant and striving readers can become more engaged and can acquire proficient-reader strategies, thus becoming more successful in both language arts and other content areas.  (Note:  For additional information on reading comprehension strategies, see Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis).  

Because the ultimate goal of reading instruction is to improve critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, content teachers must include explicit reading strategies as an integral element of their instructional plans.  They should integrate effective comprehension strategies before, during, and after reading.  “Pre-reading prepares students for learning by activating their prior knowledge.  Pre-reading activities can benefit those whose background knowledge, command of key concepts and vocabulary may be insufficient.  In addition, pre-reading activities help students focus attention on what is most important…  Pre-reading strategies often used by proficient-level readers involve making connections, generating questions and determining important concepts…  During-reading activities prompt students to visualize, make inferences and monitor their comprehension. . . Using during-reading activities, the teacher can help students prioritize what is most essential and connect this information in a meaningful and organized way.  After-reading activities deepen understanding, helping students summarize and understand what they read. . . [these activities] go beyond merely identifying what was read and assist students with integrating new learning with previous knowledge”  (Literacy Across the Curriculum, Gene Bottoms).


  • Interesting and engaging authentic literature in a variety of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, and content specific areas, i.e., science, history, etc.  (These pieces may be chosen for whole-class instruction or they may be chosen on an individual basis to stimulate interest in reading.)

These comprehension activities are research based strategies taken directly from the Smart Step/Next Step Strategies for the Content Areas.  (Many of these activities are designed as mini-lessons requiring five to ten minutes.)


Concept Ladder and Concept Definition Map  #4

The concept ladder and the concept definition map are two graphic organizers that can be useful tools in building reading comprehension.  They offer several benefits:

  • The concept ladder
    • leads readers to generate questions prior to reading and to establish a purpose for reading.
    • asks readers to think about the topic prior to reading and to access background knowledge.
    • allows students to engage more fully by generating their own questions prior to reading.
  • The concept definition map
    • enriches the students’ understanding of vocabulary terms.
    • allows students to make personal connections with new concepts.
    • provides a highly visual means of enumerating the properties of a new concept.
    • leads students to explore how new concepts are different from previously learned concepts.


  • Piece of informational text that contains a term/concept which needs to be defined.  (See “The Binge Drinking Epidemic” located at the end of this lesson.)
  • Related graphic organizers for samples to use in modeling these activities with students.

Guided Practice

  1. Use the following script as an example of how to complete the concept ladder and the concept definition map:


    “Before we read, let’s think about a good-reader strategy that is helpful in getting started.    That strategy is questioning or thinking about what you would like to know before you read.  When a reader can formulate questions before reading a passage, he or she is much more likely to stay focused and to remember what has been read.  To help us with our questioning, we are going to use this graphic organizer.”  [Hand out the graphic organizer labeled “Concept Ladder.”  The graphic organizer labeled “ Definition Map” should be duplicated on the back of this sheet for later use.] 

    “Nearly every one of you has some kind of background knowledge on this topic—whether from experience or from observation of friends’ behavior or even from hearing gossip in the hallways.  Regardless of the source of your background knowledge, we can use it to generate questions before we read.  What would a typical person your age want to know about binge drinking? As we suggest ideas, write one question in each box of this graphic organizer.” [Lead the class to suggest questions and to write them in the boxes of the “Concept Ladder.”  Examples:  Exactly what is binge drinking?  What age group is more likely to be involved in binge drinking?  Do you need to consume hard liquor to be involved in binge drinking?  Is binge drinking something that mostly boys do?   What can happen to you physically if you binge drink?  Besides the physical effects, what other problems are associated with binge drinking?  Does binge drinking make you an alcoholic?  How do underage kids get alcohol?  Write the questions on the board as they are generated.]

    “As you read these short pieces on the topic of binge drinking and teen alcohol use, try to find the answers to these questions and write a brief response in the box along with the original question.”  [Allow time for students to read and to write responses to those questions that can be answered in these passages.] “You have read and found answers to many or perhaps all of the questions we generated.”

    “Now we are going to use the information we gathered from these passages to complete a definition map.  I’m going to divide you into pairs to work together on this part.  Working along with your partner, each of you should complete your own map. You and your partner are going to complete a definition of binge drinking.  Notice the parts of the map that you will complete.  You will write a clear, concise definition of binge drinking, and you will list several characteristics of binge drinking.  These parts you can find easily in the reading passages.  But you will also have to explain what kind of behavior is different from binge drinking, and you will have to think about the personal connections you have to this topic.  These parts of the graphic organizer will require you to add information that cannot be found in the passages.”   [Allow time for students to complete the definition map and to share both the answers to the questions and their definition maps.  Remind them that both of these strategies can help them to focus more carefully as they read and to remember the new information longer.]

Tier II  Additions

  • Place student in small group with a proficient reader.
  • Provide the passage in advance to student so they can read outside of class with assistance.
  • List fewer characteristics of binge drinking on graphic organizer.


Tier III  Accommodations/Modifications

  • Provide the passage in advance to student so they can read outside of class with assistance from student peer or paraprofessional.
  • Allow student to list fewer characteristics of binge drinking on graphic organizer.
  • List 1 to 2 characteristics of binge drinking using single words or illustrations on graphic organizer.


Tier IV Modifications

  • Provide student with a taped passage beforehand to allow student to practice outside of class with assistance from student peer or paraprofessional.
  • Provide a copy of a partially completed concept definition map student can complete with the help of a student peer or paraprofessional.

Tier V Modifications

  • Allow student to respond to 1 teacher-selected section of the graphic organizer via any electronic means (i.e., computer, AlphaSmart, etc.).

Download "The Binge Drinking Epidemic" worksheet.


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