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Several Strategies To Use with Fiction  #2

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.)  


Reading Comprehension:
Several Strategies To Use with Fiction  #2

This activity, which incorporates several reading comprehension strategies, has several benefits:

  • It models how proficient readers use an array of comprehension strategies as they read a piece of text.
  • It asks students to visualize the specific images described in text.
  • It calls upon readers to adjust their understanding as new information is added.
  • It requires readers to access their background knowledge as they build meaning.
  • It asks readers to predict and to make inferences based on evidence in the text.
  • It provides practice in determining a word’s meaning from context clues.
  • It models how readers question the text before, during and after reading.
  • It promotes engagement and affords the opportunity for collaboration.



  • Brief passage of fictional text.  (See “Checkouts”, at end of lesson, as a sample to use for modeling these strategies with students.

Guided Practice

Follow the script that accompanies “Checkouts” for a model of how to guide students to be aware of the interplay of comprehension strategies that proficient readers use with text.


“The name of the story we are going to read is “Checkouts.”  [Write the title on the board.]  Let’s think about some possibilities for what this title might mean.  Tell me some things you think about when you hear the words “check out.”  [Possible answers:  signing out to leave school, leaving a hotel after your stay is complete, paying for purchases at a grocery store, a euphemism for death similar to “bought the farm,” the process of looking at the physical attributes of a member of the opposite text]  If you know that the two characters in the story are a teenage girl and a teenage boy, which one of the definitions of “checkouts” do you think will be most likely to apply?  As we read the story, confirm or re-evaluate your idea of what “checkouts” means.”

“Now let’s look at the first paragraph together.  I will read it aloud as you follow along.  [Read paragraph 1.]  Has anyone ever had to move from a place that you really liked?  What was it like?  How did it make you feel?  Which of the girl’s feelings can you relate to most?  [Give students time to respond.  Share your own experiences with moving.]  Proficient readers try to make some connection with the text that they are reading; they often are able to identify with a character and what that character is feeling or going through.  Making connections is an important reading skill.”

“Before we continue, let’s go back and look at the first sentence and notice some details.  Pay attention to these details:  “…a large house with beveled glass windows and several porches and the history her mother liked to emphasize.”  Try to visualize what you think the house looks like.  [Lead students to offer ideas about the home’s appearance—color, number of stories, age, size, etc.  Ask them to infer why “beveled glass windows” is an important detail—obvious luxury and expensive features.  “Several porches”—a feature common to Victorian homes.  Ask students to explain why “history” is italicized—a prestigious old home with a famous and noteworthy background, possibly the former home of famous people, costly and able to give prestige to its new owners.]

Having made some inferences about the house, now I would like for you to try to visualize the girl.  What do you think she looks like?”  [Lead students to share their ideas.]

“Follow along as I read paragraphs 2 and 3. [Read paragraphs 2 and 3.]  Does the fact that the girl falls in love with a supermarket bag boy have any significance?  Why do you think so?  [Lead students to share their responses.  Possible inference:  She is from a wealthy, privileged background, but she wants to punish her parents by choosing a working-class boyfriend.]  Notice what the author says about her parents not being “safe for sharing such strong, important facts about herself.”  What percent of teenagers do you think refuse to tell their parents important things about themselves?  Besides violations of rules, what kinds of things do you think teens would most likely withhold from their parents?  Why?  [Lead students to share their responses.  Possible responses:  goals that may seem unrealistic or different from parents’ desires, opinions that contradict what parents think, friends that don’t meet with parents’ approval, etc.]  This is another kind of connection that many of you may have to the girl in the story—not wanting your parents to know everything about you.  Remember that good readers make connections as they read.”

“Let’s continue, beginning in paragraph 4. [Read paragraphs 4 through 8].  Have you had to make any adjustment in the way you visualized the girl?  What are the changes?  [Let students share; most of them may not have pictured her as a redhead initially.]  Good readers are constantly monitoring for details and correcting their understanding just as many of you had to do with the girl’s hair color.  Although we don’t have any details, how do you visualize the bag boy?  What do you think he looks like?”  [Let students share their mental images.]  

“What about falling in love over a broken jar of mayonnaise?  Why do you think this accident caused her to fall in love?  [Lead students to share their ideas:  he may be cute, he awakens her feelings of sympathy by creating the mess, she recognizes that he is obviously bowled over by her, she hasn’t had any other attention from the opposite sex since moving to Cincinnati.]  Now we know that she is in love and that he is feeling clumsy and foolish.  What do you think will happen next?  [Lead students to predict what will happen next.]  Proficient readers are constantly doing what we just did—asking themselves questions as they read and predicting what will happen next.”

“Please follow as I read paragraphs 9 and 10.  [Read paragraphs 9 and 10.]  In paragraph 10, you find the word dishevelment, which may be unfamiliar to many of you.  While you could obviously look up the definition in the dictionary, there is another way to help yourself figure out what “dishevelment” means.  The help is in the context—the words and other information in the passage that we read.  Paragraph 10 contains the phrase “his awkwardness and dishevelment.”  Awkwardness would obviously relate to how the bag boy moves.  Look in paragraph 9 and find phrases related to his movement.  [Possible responses:  “clumsiness,”  “the way his long nervous fingers moved from the conveyor belt to the bags,”  “picked up her items and placed them in her bags,” “leaned over to grab a box or a tin”]   But paragraph 9 also contains several other details about the bag boy in addition to the way that he moves.  What other details do we find?  [Possible responses:  “the hair kept falling into his eyes,” “tattered brown shoes,” “no socks,” “the left side of his collar turned in rather than out”]  These context details will help you to figure out what “dishevelment” means.  What would be a good definition?  [Possible responses:  messiness, unkempt appearance, lack of tidiness]  Do you need to revise your visualization of the bag boy based on these new details?”

“Now let’s look at paragraphs 11 and 12. [Read paragraphs 11 and 12.]  What do you think will happen?”  [Allow students to share their predictions.]

“We will continue with paragraphs 13 and 14.  [Read paragraphs 13 and 14.]  Were you surprised by their behavior?  Why?  Predictions?  Will they find a way to connect to each other?  How might that happen?”  [Lead students to share how they think the love story will be resolved.]

“Let’s finish the story.  [Read paragraphs 15 and 16.]   Why do you think the author wrote “and they most sincerely hated each other”?   What do you think the girl and the former bag boy are thinking when they see each other again outside the movie theater?  [Ask students to share their responses.] On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best, rate the ending of this story.  What rating did you give and why?  If you could rewrite the ending, what would you change?  [Let students share their changes.]  Today we’ve looked at several strategies that good readers use.  We’ve made connections between ourselves and the text; we’ve visualized parts of the setting and the characters; we’ve asked ourselves questions and made predictions, and we’ve used context clues to help us with difficult vocabulary.   Hopefully you will find some of these strategies helpful with your next reading assignment.” 


  1. (Example reading passage for “Reading Strategies for Fiction”)Her parents had moved her to Cincinnati, to a large house with beveled glass windows and several porches and the history her mother liked to emphasize.  You’ll love the house, they said.  You’ll be lonely at first, they admitted, but you’re so nice you’ll make friends fast.  And as an impulse tore at her to lie on the floor, to hold to their ankles and tell them she felt she was dying, to offer anything, anything at all, so they might allow her to finish growing up in the town of her childhood, they firmed their mouths and spoke from their chests and they said, It’s decided.
  2. They moved her to Cincinnati, where for a month she spent the greater part of every day in a room full of beveled glass windows, sifting through photographs of the life she’d lived and left behind.  But it is difficult work, suffering, and in its own way a kind of art, and finally she didn’t have the energy for it anymore, so she emerged from the beautiful house and fell in love with the bag boy at the supermarket.  Of course, this didn’t happen all at once, just like that, but in the sequence of things that’s exactly the way it happened.
  3. She liked to grocery shop.  She loved it in the way some people love to drive long country roads, because doing it she could think and relax and wander.  Her parents wrote up the list and handed it to her and off she went without complaint to perform what they regarded as a great sacrifice of her time and a sign that she was indeed a very nice girl.  She had never told them how much she loved grocery shopping, only that she was “willing” to do it.  She had an intuition which told her that her parents were not safe for sharing such strong, important facts about herself.  Let them think they knew her.
  4. Once inside the supermarket, her hands firmly around the handle of the cart, she would lapse into a kind of reverie and wheel toward the produce.  Like a Tibetan monk in solitary meditation, she calmed to a point of deep, deep happiness; this feeling came to her, reliably, if strangely, only in the supermarket.
  5. Then one day the bag boy dropped her jar of mayonnaise and that is how she fell in love.
  6. He was nervous—first day on the job—and along had come this fascinating girl, standing in the checkout line with the unfocused stare one often sees in young children, her face turned enough away that he might take several full looks at her as he packed sturdy bags full of food and the goods of modern life.  She interested him because her hair was red and thick, and in it she had placed a huge orange bow, nearly the size of a small hat.  That was enough to distract him, and when finally it was her groceries he was packing, she looked at him and smiled and he could respond only by busting her jar of mayonnaise on the floor, shards of glass and oozing cream decorating the area around his feet.
  7. She loved him at exactly that moment, and if he’d known this perhaps he wouldn’t have fallen into the brown depression he fell into, which lasted the rest of his shift.  He believed he must have looked the fool in her eyes, and he envied the sureness of everyone around him:  the cocky cashier at the register, the grim and harried store manager, the bland butcher, and the brazen bag boys who smoked in the warehouse on their breaks.  He wanted a second chance.  Another chance to be confident and say witty things to her as he threw tin cans into her bags, persuading her to allow him to help her to her car so he might learn just a little about her, check out the floor of the car for signs of hobbies or fetishes and the bumpers for clues as to beliefs and loyalties.
  8. But he busted her jar of mayonnaise and nothing else worked out for the rest of the day.
  9. Strange, how attractive clumsiness can be.  She left the supermarket with stars in her eyes, for she had loved the way his long nervous fingers moved from the conveyor belt to the bags, how deftly (until the mayonnaise) they had picked up her items and placed them in her bags.  She had loved the way the hair kept falling into his eyes as he leaned over to grab a box or a tin.  And the tattered brown shoes he wore with no socks.  And the left side of his collar turned in rather than out.
  10. The bag boy seemed a wonderful contrast to the perfectly beautiful house she had been forced to accept as her home, to the history she hated, to the loneliness she had become used to, and she couldn’t wait to come back for more of his awkwardness and dishevelment.   
  11. Incredibly, it was another four weeks before they saw each other again.  As fate would have it, her visits to the supermarket never coincided with his schedule to bag.  Each time she went to the store, her eyes scanned the checkouts at once, her heart in her mouth.  And each hour he worked, the bag boy kept one eye on the door, watching for the red-haired girl with the big orange bow.
  12. Yet in their disappointment these weeks there was a kind of ecstasy.  It is reason enough to be alive, the hope you may see again some face which has meant something to you.  The anticipation of meeting the bag boy eased the girl’s painful transition into her new and jarring life in Cincinnati.  It provided for her an anchor amid all that was impersonal and unfamiliar, and she spent less time on thoughts of what she had left behind as she concentrated on what might lie ahead.  And for the boy, the long and often tedious hours at the supermarket which provided no challenge other than that of showing up the following workday. . . these hours became possibilities of mystery and romance for him as he watched the electric doors for the girl in the orange bow.
  13. And when finally they did meet up again, neither offered a clue to the other that he, or she, had been the object of obsessive thought for weeks.  She spotted him as soon as she came into the store, but she kept her eyes strictly in front of her as she pulled out a cart and wheeled it toward the produce.  And he, too, knew the instant she came through the door—though the orange bow was gone, replaced by a small but bright yellow flower instead—and he never once turned his head in her direction but watched her from the corner of his vision as he tried to swallow back the fear in this throat.
  14. It is odd how we sometimes deny ourselves the very pleasure we have longed for and which is finally within our reach.  For some perverse reason she would not have been able to articulate, the girl did not bring her cart up to the bag boy’s checkout when her shopping was done.  And the bag boy let her leave the story, pretending no notice of her.
  15. This is often the way of children, when they truly want a thing, to pretend that they don’t.  And then they grow angry when no one tried harder to give them this thing they so casually rejected, and they soon find themselves in a rage simply because they cannot say yes when they mean yes.  Humans are very complicated.  The girl hated herself for not checking out at the boy’s line, and the boy hated himself for not catching her eye and saying hello, and they most sincerely hated each other without having ever exchanged even two minutes of conversation.
  16. Eventually—in fact, within the week—a kind and intelligent boy who lived very near her beautiful house asked the girl to a movie and she gave up her fancy for the bag boy at the supermarket.  And the bag boy himself grew so bored with his job that he made a desperate search for something better and ended up in a bookstore where scores of fascinating girls lingered like honeybees about a hive.  Some months later the bag boy and the girl with the orange bow again crossed paths, standing in line with their dates at a movie theater, and, glancing toward the other, each smiled slightly, then looked away, as strangers on public buses often do, when one is moving off the bus and the other is moving on.

Tier II Additions/Accommodations

  • Place next to student peer with strong listening skills as teacher is reading text out loud.
  • Allow student ample wait time before responding when teacher asks a question.

Tier III Modifications

  • Place close to teacher as s/he reads the text out loud.
  • Provide a copy of text of text and questions to student in advance to allow more time to study outside of class with assistance.

Tier IV Modifications

  • Provide student with a specific question beforehand to answer during class to allow more time for student to form an answer with the aid of a student peer, teacher, or paraprofessional.

Tier V Modifications

  • Place close to teacher as s/he reads the text out loud and allow student to use eye gaze or head nod to respond when appropriate.

Copyright © 2006 Arkansas Department of Education.  All rights reserved.  School districts may reproduce these materials for in-school student use only.  No resale.  Materials may not be reproduced, distributed or sold for commercial use or profit.  ADE employees are not authorized to waive these restrictions.

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