Students in the 2nd grade read more confidently than a year ago.  Typically, they have mostly mastered the process of decoding itself and are working on fluency and comprehension.  As such, the complexity of their stories goes up and they encounter unfamiliar vocabulary more often.  There are several different things teachers can do to help 2nd grade reading comprehension.

There are of course 2nd grade reading comprehension workbooks, where students read a passage, then answer questions about it, typically multiple choice or “fill in the blank” style.  Unfortunately, these books do not have much of a track record of actually helping students to comprehend general reading any better.  Success with the workbooks doesn’t seem to be translatable.  Or in some cases, students who struggle before the workbooks continue to struggle while using the workbooks and are no better afterwards.

A much more effective activity for improving 2nd grade reading comprehension is the oral narration.  This means that after a student completes a reading, he retells the events of the story (or the parts of the essay, in the case of nonfiction) in order.  This taps into little children’s great aptitude for literal recall (they are not yet skilled at analysis) and need to practice correct sequencing.  Focus on that.  Ask, “What happened first?  What happened next?”

Another way to have children pause and recall what they have read is the picture narration.  Have students fold a piece of paper to make six small squares and illustrate a series of scenes from the story – in order.  If desired, prepare blank booklets for by cutting and stapling paper squares of about that same size for the students to illustrate instead.

The narration exercises are excellent because they give the teacher a direct measure of 2nd grade reading comprehension and they also give the student a chance to talk out his thoughts rather than write them on a paper.  Children in 2nd grade are still just beginners when it comes to handwriting – it’s difficult and tedious and there is no way their hand could keep up with their active little mind the way their tongue can.

If a student does seem to be struggling in his oral narration, the teacher will be able to diagnose just what the trouble is.  Nearly all 2nd grade reading comprehension problems amount to one of three things.  The student is still having difficulty with the act of reading itself; he has encountered something he truly does not understand; or he has simply been inattentive.

The solutions to each are simple, but rather different, so correct diagnosis is important.  A student who is still having difficulty with the act of reading probably needs to be slowed down a bit.  The teacher can step him back down to easier readers and time practicing decoding exercises.  It won’t be long before his skill level grows and he can try 2nd grade reading books again.

To help a student who often does not understand, try to prep him ahead of time for each story by talking about the meaning of vocabulary words you know he will encounter and perhaps talking a little about contextual details that might not be as familiar to him.  For instance, a city child about to read a story that takes place on a farm might benefit from some preliminary discussion about what life is like in the country.

As for the inattentive student, just knowing that he will be expected to repeat the facts of the story after having read it will prod most students to pay more attention (especially if they know fuzziness means missing something fun while they re-read).  Another way to help a habitually inattentive student to focus is to assign the reading at a particularly alert time of day when he is not restless with pent up energy – perhaps just after vigorous recess play.  Another detail that can help the inattentive student is to play classical music softly in the background as the student reads.

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