How do you know you're actually reading and understanding? You know because you're constantly thinking about what you're reading, while you're reading. Some students don't realize how important it is to actually pay attention to their thinking while their reading. The ability to monitor comprehension helps students when they are determining themes, big ideas, questions they have, and new concepts they are learning. This is the first step to reading challenging texts, especially nonfiction.
I introduce this lesson to students by asking them to recall the reading strategies they use when they are reading a fictional text. They refer to a list that we have already created that has things like, "make connections, predict, make a movie, etc." Readers think when they read and these are all examples of how we do it when we are reading nonfiction texts. Thinking is also very important when we read nonfiction and this lesson is the first of many that focus on understanding what we read when we read nonfiction.
In this part of the lesson, I model how I pay attention to my thinking while writing down my thoughts in note form, with phrases and words rather than full sentences. For the modeling of the lesson, I chose to use a nonfiction text from a curriculum used by my school. However, I could also use a grade appropriate 4th grade nonfiction informational text or a Time for Kids, National Geographic Kids, or Scholastic Kids article.
As I read, I stop at a a few places and describe my thinking to students. I say things like, "Wow! I never knew that" or "Huh? I'm confused" or "That reminds me of what I read in this other book". Every time I think aloud, I write down a short phrase write next to the words on the article. If you are using a book or an article that students cannot write directly on, you can use sticky notes or have students record their thinking on a separate piece of paper and record the page number.
In this section, I guide students through the practice of noticing their thoughts and recording them. I do this so that those students who are having a hard time hearing their thinking can hear some examples from their peers.
As I continue reading the text, I ask students to listen for their thinking and put a thumbs up on their forehead when they notice a thought. I try to read a section that I think students are going to have a strong response to. When I notice a few students have their thumbs up, I call on them to share. I also challenge them to think of what they would write down to record their thinking. A couple students get to share before I read another section and choose two more students to share.
After watching me and a other students thinking aloud and find words to record, all of the students get a chance to read and record their thinking. I provide them a selection of articles that could be found from National Geographic Kids, Scholastic Kids, and Time for Kids as well as grade appropriate nonfiction information texts. Students either records on the article, in their journal or on a sticky note.
As they read, they record their thoughts and questions that come up while they are reading. If it's a question, they have a choice of writing the answer when they find it.
Inevitably, students have read some new and interesting information that they will be eager to share with their peers. After they practice reading and recording their thinking, I ask them to meet with a team of 3 or 4 students to share what they discovered. Their first task is to share a place that they heard their thinking and recording something. They can then share any new information they learned through reading that article or book. Each student in their group gets to share one thing before moving on to the next person. After one round of sharing, they can share again something else they thought about or learned.