Relevant Research

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


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Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines

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Building Comprehension through Read Alouds

Research indicates that as children increase their reading skills, they are exposed to increasingly more complex texts, requiring children to decipher the text in order to comprehend it. During this process, the early oral language skills emerge to play a large role in the child's ultimate reading success. In other words, reading comprehension is built upon early oral language skills (both production and comprehension), also known as outside-in skills. The effects of inside-out skills (such as phonological awareness) on reading success are observed in early years when children mainly read a text to decode it; the effects of outside-in skills are observed in later years when children strive to comprehend the text.

Therefore children need to learn how to comprehend, construct, and express more complicated ideas orally, in addition to the systematic phonics they need to decode basic primary texts. Otherwise, they will not be prepared later on when they confront more complicated written text. Building comprehension strategies (the ways readers interact with books to make sense of the text) is a major goal of interactive read alouds. These interactive read aloud sessions involve the following:

  • using prior knowledge
  • asking questions
  • making predictions
  • making connections
  • comparing and contrasting
  • making inferences 

Each strategy is introduced separately, but strategies have a more powerful effect when they are combined in book reading sessions. These strategies help children make sense of text while also helping promote their oral language skills.

Using Prior Knowledge

Prior knowledge is what is already known about a topic. The focus of this strategy is on children’s knowledge and understanding about a topic. For example, thinking about what children know about a doctor’s office gives them a context to think about a story in which the main character goes to the doctor.

Asking Questions

Questioning the text is at the core of comprehension. Questioning or wondering causes children to predict, to infer, or to analyze information more closely. That is why asking questions is the first step in building comprehension. The kinds of questions you model should be real wonders that stimulate thinking, not teacher-contrived wonders.  Asking real or honest questions helps children deepen their understanding about the text. As children hear text, they should be thinking about what they are hearing and have questions that come into their minds. “I wonder …” or “How did that happen?” may be questions they think about as they are listening.

Teacher-Contrived Wonders

Real Wonders

Where is Little Red Riding Hood going?

I see she is going to grandma’s house by herself. I wonder, why didn’t her mother go with her?

What color is her cape?

I notice that she is wearing a cape.  I wonder, is it cold in the forest?

Making Connections

Making connections involves relating a new concept or experience to something already known. This is similar to prior knowledge, since making connections to something already known is connecting to prior knowledge. The key is to focus on how the two concepts or experiences are the same. As children begin to make links between new words or ideas and what they know, they create a deeper meaning of a familiar concept or new understanding. 

Children tend to talk more when you refer to what they already know. Teachers can provide a link between an object or action and what the children have experienced before. For example, “This fire engine (point to picture in book) is like the one we saw at school last week. Remember how you touched the ladder on the fire truck?” Connections can be made with actual experiences or between other texts that have been read. 

Making Predictions

Predicting is thinking about what might happen and includes is knowledge of the story line, picture clues, an understanding of how stories work, and prior knowledge. Children may be asked what they think a story will be about or what they think will happen next in a story. Predictions primarily occur during the first reading of a book. As children predict, it creates a sense of anticipation and provide a reason to keep listening, "Is what I thought would happen really going to happen?" This leads to more active engagement of children in listening and thinking about the story. 

Asking children what will happen is a very common occurrence, which is a good thing! Helping children understand how to use what they know to make a prediction will guide those children who are unsure of how to do this (although there is no right or wrong prediction).

Comparing & Contrasting

The focus of this strategy is helping children notice similarities and differences. Comparing is stating how multiple items or concepts are the same. Show the children two crayons and compare how they are the same (e.g., they are both crayons and we can color with both). Contrasting is stating how the items or concepts are different (e.g., the crayons are different colors, different lengths, different brands, etc). When discussing books, children can compare and contrast characters and what happens in the story. You can also compare and contrast different books written by the same person. 

Making Inferences

Making inferences involves reading or hearing something and then drawing a conclusion of your own. Information is not stated directly in the text, but comes from information that you gather from clues or hints found “in between the lines” of the text. When something is inferred, it is the reader’s interpretation of what they have heard or read. When children infer, they use observations, prior knowledge and experiences, and details from the text to make connections and come up with ideas.

The CIRCLE Progress Monitoring assessment tool offers a story comprehension and retell measure that teachers can use to gain understanding and plan instruction based on the child’s responses. In this assessment, the teacher uses illustrations to provide a stimulus for an oral narrative and then asks the child to retell the story, in their own words, to match the pictures. The teacher scores three story retell items to measure the child’s ability to create a narrative using important elements of narrative macrostructure, including characters, setting, emotions or problems, conjunctions, and a conclusion. Afterward, the teacher asks three comprehension questions that are scored as correct or incorrect.


  • Children's Learning Institute (2010). Book Reading: Building Comprehension. CIRCLE Activity Collection. Retrieved from
  • NORC at the University of Chicago (2013). Research and Practice in the Field of Early Literacy Learning. Retrieved from
Teaching Tips

Read Aloud Tips

Reading aloud to young children is important because it helps them acquire the information and skills they need to succeed in school and in life. As teachers, we need to: 

  • Make reading books an enjoyable experience
  • Read to children frequently
  • Help children learn as they read
  • Encourage children to talk about the book
  • Ask children questions as you read

Comprehension Questioning Activities

Many read aloud programs train teachers and parents to ask purposeful questions about books to increase children’s language skills and give students a purpose for listening (Wasik, Bond, & Hindman, 2006; Whitehurst, et al., 1988). One effective way to do this is to ask a guiding question before reading and then discuss that one, important question in detail after reading (Denton, Solari, Ciancio, Hecht, & Swank, 2010; Solari and Gerber, 2008).

Guiding Questions:

  • Set a purpose for listening and generate interest
  • Require responses that are open-ended and can be extended
  • Improve comprehension and encourage higher-level thinking
  • Consider the whole book
  • Gradually become more challenging across repeated readings

In the Developing Talkers PreK Curricular supplement, it gives examples of how a teacher could introduce a guiding question. For example, a teacher could say, "As we read this book today, there is one question I especially want you to think about…" (Teacher states the guiding question). For example, "Which home is best for the fish and why?"

To discuss the Guiding Question after reading, teachers could say, "While we were reading today, we were thinking about our question. Linda, which home was best for the fish and why?" Guiding questions are usually a rich, open-ended questions that can have several answers, allowing children to respond in different ways. 


  • Denton, C. A., Solari, E. J., Ciancio, D. J., Hecht, S. A., & Swank, P. R. (2010). A pilot study of a kindergarten summer school reading program in high-poverty urban schools. The Elementary School Journal110, 423-439.
  • Early Childhood Head Start Task Force at the US Department of Education (2007). Teaching our youngest: A guide for preschool teachers and child care and family providers. Retrieved from
  • Solari, E. J., & Gerber, M. M. (2008). Early comprehension instruction for Spanish‐speaking English language learners: Teaching text‐level reading skills while maintaining effects on word‐level skills. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice23, 155-168.
  • Wasik, B. A., Bond, M. A., & Hindman, A. (2006). The effects of a language and literacy intervention on Head Start children and teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology98, 63.
  • Whitehurst, G. J., Falco, F. L., Lonigan, C. J., Fischel, J. E., DeBaryshe, B. D., Valdez-Menchaca, M. C., & Caulfield, M. (1988). Accelerating language development through picture book reading. Developmental Psychology24, 552. 

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