Reading Comprehension for Beginning Readers

After receiving three reading groups in my first year of teaching, I never used three groups again. The only ones with the most confidence were the top readers in the first group. Because in each group there were variations of ability all recognized by others.

I’m retired now but taught for many years. I developed a program where each child, in my combined first and second grades, had their own reading book and soon was able to choose which stories of interest to read. Good comprehension followed after also being exposed to understanding literature read to them and thinking about writing their own stories.

See my entry about this approach:

Reading Comprehension for Young Readers

Reading specialists believe that reading for comprehension is the most important goal of reading and naturally I do too – but not at first. In my combined first and second grade, there was no stress upon comprehension while the beginners were learning how to read, not even in their own reading book. A child’s first book was a basal reader of interest to the child – one that she would want to understand. At first, each beginner was with an adult or child partner. Then later on, when they were capable enough, children read only stories or articles of interest and skipped others. These beginners were learning how to read – with or without phonics – relying upon their strengths.

If children were using basal readers and concentrating on breaking-the-code in their own way, how would they acquire good comprehension? Well, simultaneously while they were learning how to read, during the afternoons when stories were read to the class various types of comprehension were explored – about characterization, the style of the author, the setting, moods and feelings, the plot, the theme, etc. Also, they were writing constantly with a big emphasis upon stories. They each were thinking about introducing their characters and developing the plot with a good conclusion. I believe that’s where much of their comprehension developed, during discussions of stories read to them and through their own  writing, perhaps before they could understand all that they’d read themselves. Some understood what they’d read while they were very busy decoding, but others did not.

One time at a conference, the presenter put up a paragraph and covered up the top half of the words which we were to decode. My friend and I were so absorbed trying to decipher the words and soon thrilled that we were able to. Then the presenter put up another paragraph and covered up the bottom half of the words. This was really difficult. I don’t remember now if we were just able to do some of it or if we accomplished the whole thing with much struggle, but it suddenly occurred to me when it was over that I had no idea what I had just read. What it was about.

That’s exactly what I think happens when these beginners had their own book, and they wanted to read so much that they strived, willingly and enthusiastically, to decode. And as their decoding became easier, they proceeded from pure decoding to the inclusion of good comprehension – indicated by the high comprehension scores in standardized tests. Perhaps when children are accomplished readers and have poor comprehension, it’s because they are forced to read material they weren’t interested in.

Read more about beginning reading and the various reading programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Beginning Readers’ Success

In my classroom, each successful beginning reader after being offered materials and guidance and support, in one way or another, taught herself to read. She may have participated fully in all parts of the program offered, or perhaps only in part of the designed program with special attention unique from anything offered. But she, and every beginning reader, made choices along the way, perhaps unaware of making those choices, but choices never-the-less about how she learned to read. She chose to use phonics or avoided them because innately, she knew a better way. It was always hoped that during and after learning how to read, these choices allowed her self-confidence to grow, leading to continued motivation, responsibility, and independence – that she knew the purposes for learning how to read and enjoyed many different books, stories, and articles.

Read more about programs for beginning reading in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success, beginning on page 38.  Also, see 7 reviews on

Learning to Read

In my combined first and second grade classes for children learning how to read, basal readers were used.Beginning basal readers were carefully selected for those that were most appealing. After the first day of school, every child had a book for Book Time.

The beginners that needed the most help were with my assistant teacher, a parent volunteer, or a second grade volunteer. When second graders were asked to volunteer, many hands would go up. These partners were changed every day so that no one was deprived of Book Time continually. A partner might be listening to one child read and yet could tell another child a word if needed. Partners were tremendous assets for the beginning readers to have one-to-one attention while reading. Sometimes, a second grader with perceptual problems who still had some difficulties would help a beginner, which was a great morale booster and gain a reinforcement of his own skills. Sometimes two beginners at about the same level would be partners together and take turns reading to each other. When one didn’t know a word, often the other would. So, during September second graders might help a beginner for two mornings a week and read his own book the other three. And sometimes in September afternoons, first graders would read to a second grader for a half hour or more. Books were also sent home to be read with a parent and kept until finished.

Much was learned while listening to each beginner. Was she memorizing the words, using phonics learned during Folder Time, or skipping many words – or was she on-task enjoying her book? Was it too hard or too easy? Earl might know most of the words upon finishing his first book and be given the next level book, while Janet might know about half of the words and decide to read it again or be given a different basal reader at the same level, perhaps an easier one. Most children read two to four books of one level before going on. The children who were very ready and strong would start with a more advanced pre-primer and go right through a series, from the three pre-primers to the primer, the 12 book, etc. About the time they were reading at a 22 level, they could read library books as well. Meanwhile, Marty might forget far too many words and would be a candidate for a language experience approach along with Kay who couldn’t manage the words at all. So for the first few days until that program began, Marty and Kay would have a picture book, or another child might read to them.

About the time children were beyond the primer level of a basal reader, they were aware that they should only read selections of interest, skipping others. In fact, to foster independence and responsibility, it was very for a child to make decisions about his own reading. When a child chose his own stories, this lead to mimportant ore enjoyment and it’s this enjoyment of reading that leads to the habit of reading. If a child wants to read, he will read more. Perhaps when children are accomplished readers and have poor comprehension, it’s because they are forced to read material they weren’t interested in.

After participating in Folder Time, a phonics program, some would use phonics to a high or low degree or not at all. Beginning readers fluctuated between periods of fast and slow growth while requiring one-to-one assistance in the beginning stages. A child’s success, however, probably depend as much upon that child’s own motivation, her curiosity, and her great and sometimes overwhelming desire to learn as it does upon the instruction. With materials, guidance, and support provided, each child taught herself to read. Hopefully, through her strengths, every child would progress at her own rate and continue to feel the success and excitement of reading. With materials, guidance, and support provided, each child taught herself  to read.

Read more about my program for early reading in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success.Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Becoming an Independent Reader

Peggy’s Tips for Teaching Young Children

For children in my combined first and second grade  classes, phonics worked well for many but for some others who couldn’t thrive with phonics, they became fluent readers so successfully by reading book after book. Each child had her own book and read for 30 to 45 minutes each day. The children in September that were not independent had an adult or child partner until they, too, could become independent readers. The goal was for each child to be a motivated, responsible, and independent reader with excellent comprehension, including an appreciation for fine literature. And for each child to recognize the need for reading; to read for enjoyment, for learning, and for satisfying a great accomplishment – their success in learning how. Children should have the opportunity to reach their highest level of literacy. This, of course, is very optimistic but I felt that way every September.

See more about this in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success, on page 47. See 7 reviews on

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved