Programs & Resources

Learn at Home Activities for Comprehension

Beginning Comprehension

We often think of the WH questions (who, what,, when, where, why) as the beginning stage of developing reading and listening comprehension, however, there may be some work to do before your child is ready to answer these questions. Before WH questions, we must ensure that the child comprehends at the word level. Examples of this include:

  • matching words (written or spoken) to pictures or objects
  • carrying out an action (written with or without picture cues or spoken), for example… “jump, stand, clap”. This could be in the for of a Simon Says or Follow the Leader type game.

Next, we want to make sure the child comprehends at the sentence level. Some examples of this include:

  • Matching short sentences (written or spoken) to pictures or objects
  • Following a short direction (written with or without picture cues or spoken), for example… “Pick up the ball. Throw the ball. Bounce the ball.”
  • Use hands on activities such as felt boards or Velcro books and add written instructions (Melissa and Doug toys are great for this). Consider the sets shown here: what other repetitive patterned phrases could you use? Is there one phrase that could be used with all these activities?

Your child does not have to read these words and sentences independently. Listening and watching you point to the words helps them understand that print carries meaning, an underlying concept essential to reading comprehension.

Reading Together

A valuable method for sharing books with children is called dialogic reading. With this approach, the emphasis is on the adult’s role as facilitator of oral language development and comprehension through a series and variety of prompts. Child engagement in shared reading is proving to be a key indicator of future success in language and literacy. This sequence and the prompts described in this article https://bit.ly/3dJ2Own are meant to be used during repeat reading of the same book. The first time you read a book, just enjoy the book together. Chances are, your child will ask to read the book again, but you can also plan for the repeat reading. This is the time to bring in dialogic reading.

Some modifications to consider when reading with your child are described below.

Provide wait time:
Children with DS often need more time for processing auditory information. Pause and provide extra time for your child’s response before prompting again. Try counting to ten (silently) before re-prompting or cueing.

Provide varied repetition:
Children with DS often need new concepts and information repeated up to 200 times more than a typically developing child. In a fun and playful way, encourage your child to repeat sounds, words and concepts as much as possible. Try staying with one page as long as child is interested. Talk about the story and pictures in various ways.

Establish a routine for shared reading time:
Children with DS often have difficulty with transitions and thrive in structured routine. Use a special cue to signal beginning of reading session. Have your child get out a special pillow or stuffy at reading time or use a designated time and place for older readers (after breakfast, before bed, etc.).

Choose high meaning books:
It is more likely that your child will be engaged and able to comprehend if you choose simple books about familiar concepts and objects related to your child’s personal experiences. Books with vivid, familiar pictures are often appealing. Consider text length, but also realize that it is ok to read a book without reading all the words on the page.

Use an errorless learning approach:
Success provides motivation and a positive attitude toward the learning experience. Start and end each session with your child being successful. Avoid saying ‘no’ when correcting. Try beginning with a question you are sure your child knows the answer to. End sessions before your child loses interest. Give cues and choices.

Make it concrete:
Children with DS are concrete thinkers and visual learners. Abstract thinking is challenging. Use physical cues and visual supports to discuss or demonstrate new concepts from the book. Act out scenes. Use real objects. Draw pictures. Show Google images or videos.  Look at family photos connected to themes.

This is another great source of information about reading at home.

WH Questions

We can begin teaching the question words during shared reading experiences (as described in the article about dialogic reading) as well as in everyday interactions.  I’ve linked a visual here https://bit.ly/2QVMSNE , but there are lots to choose from if you Google ‘WH visual’. At first, focus on one type of question at a time until your child is confidently answering them with minimal prompting. For example, choose books with multiple characters when you focus on ‘who’ questions. Display the ‘who’ visual. Remind your child that who questions ask about people and animals. Model answering questions. Be sure to think aloud so your child understands the process you go through to find the answer. For example: “This question says, Who ate the porridge? I’m going to look at my Who visual to help me. Now I know that Who means that the answer is a person or an animal. There was only one person in the story, Goldilocks. There were bears in the story, too. I’m going to look at the book to see if it was Goldilocks or the bears that ate the porridge.”

This may be a lot of language for some children; adjust as necessary to suit your child’s language level.

For children that can read the questions, provide a visual representation of the question (write it down). Auditory information is temporary; it can only be re-visited if remembered. Similarly, provide a frame for answering in complete sentences. On Day 5 of ‘Build your home learning kit’, I provided answer choice grids. While you are reading with your child, work together to fill the grids (just use one if you are focussing on a specific WH word) with details from the story. Add some ‘non-answers’ to fill the board if necessary (it is also okay to leave some squares blank). Use the answer grids as ‘multiple choices’ for answering the questions.

Question Strip Answer Grids Answer Frame

Developing Readers

On Day 5 of ‘Build your home learning kit’, I provided templates for the following activities to be used with developing readers before, during and after reading:

Before reading, activate prior knowledge so that information “sticks.”

Anticipation Guides

An anticipation guide is a strategy that is used before reading to activate students' prior knowledge and build curiosity about a new topic. Before reading, students explore several statements that challenge or support their ideas about the topic. Here is a link to more information. Anticipation guides are often used with non-fiction texts but can be adapted for use with fiction.

KWL Chart

This is a strategy to use with non-fiction texts before reading. The ‘K’ involves accessing your child’s prior knowledge by asking, “What do you already know about this topic?” Have your child provide a few details, prompting with questions if necessary. Model by adding one or two things that you know about the topic as well. The ‘W’ involves setting a purpose for reading by asking, “What to you want to know about this topic?” Have your child come up with one or two questions. It may help to rephrase the question as, “What do you wonder about _____.” This may be difficult for your child. If it is, help by posing questions such as “Do you wonder how this ___ is made? or Do you wonder what this ___ is used for?” It can be helpful to explore a collection of non-fiction books around a theme, such as animals, so you can provide possible ‘wonder’ questions for your child to choose from. Collect a bunch of books about animals and write some questions on a separate piece of paper. Possible questions for this theme: “What do they eat? Where do they live? How big are they? Who are their enemies? Can they swim? Can they fly etc.” Have your child choose one or two questions for their ‘W’ column. Add one or two questions you have as well, so you can model listening for and identifying the answers to your questions during reading. The ‘L’ involves identifying what they learned from the book and can be a time to recall details in their own words or go back to the book to find specific details they found interesting.

During reading, interact with your child to promote comprehension and monitor for understanding

  • Ask questions (give choices for answers)
  • Highlight new words
  • Connect to personal experiences

Talking Sticks

Use as many or as few of these ‘talking sticks’ as you like. I laminate mine and stick them onto large craft sticks, but you can leave yours as is or attach to cardstock to make them more durable (and fun!) Store them in a fun container and have your child pick questions randomly or choose specific questions for them. You may also choose to work on specific skills such as WH questions, predicting or making connections, so choose the questions that relate to your purpose. Try placing a few at certain points throughout the book so your child knows that it is time to answer a question when they get to that spot. This is helpful for children who tend to race through the book just to get to the end. This can also be done with post it notes placed throughout the book, with questions specific to that book.

After reading, talk about the book:

  • Encourage your child to connect the text to their own experiences
  • What does it remind you of?
  • Retell the story in your own words
  • What did you like? What didn’t you like?
  • Were your predictions correct?

Story Map

A story map is used to help children identify the elements of a book or story and organize these details in a visual way. Given the purpose of identifying story characters, plot, setting, problem and solution, children aim to read carefully to identify these details or use the strategy of going back to the book to find the answers. Start with one or two story elements (for example, before you begin reading, tell your child to listen carefully for the characters- ‘WHO’ and the places- ‘WHERE’ so you can add them to the story map. Fill in the story map as they come across these details, and model how to identify the other details hen you finish reading. As they become more proficient with identifying these elements, work on identifying a new story element(s).

Retelling Road

This visual helps your child see that stories have a starting point, the ‘journey’ and an end point. Begin by helping your child recall the characters in the story. This may help your child recall or can be used as a prompt for providing details. For example, you can direct their attention to the character box and ask, “Do you remember what this character did?” Ask your child to tell you anything they remember about the story. Write their responses on post it notes. If necessary, ask other questions to help them recall more details from the story. Aim for 3-4 events. Then, ask your child to read each sentence, choose the event that happened first and place it on the Retelling Road organizer. Continue until all the events have been added to the road. Offer support when needed. Have your child read all the events in order. You can extend the activity by removing all or some of the post it notes and have them try to retell the story in their own words.

Revisit the Anticipation Guide

If you started an anticipation guide for the book, re-visit your child’s predictions when the story is over. Assure your child that this is not about ‘being right’ but that it helps them to think about the book in a different way. For non-fiction books, go back to the text to find proof of their findings.

Other great strategies for promoting comprehension are explained here.

Down Syndrome Resource Foundation
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