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The Reading Coach

Helping Students Make Independent Connections

Do your students use specific strategies during times set side for strategy instruction but fail to use those same strategies in independent reading? That's a problem in many classrooms. Help kids make the connection between instructional strategies and independent reading with "Tools of the Trade."

By now, your students have been introduced to several comprehension strategies. This exercise will help them see strategies as flexible, choose-able tools they can use independently whenever they read.

13 Common Comprehension Strategies

* Asking and answering questions
* Comparison/contrast
* Dealing with graphic information
* Determine main idea
* Establishing a purpose for reading
* Imaging and creating graphic organizers
* Making Inferences
* Monitoring Comprehension
* Predicting
* Rereading
* Summarizing
* Using Context Clues
* Using prior knowledge/synthesizing

If you don't already have a poster labeled "What To Do When I Don't Understand," create one. Let students record in different colored markers at least five strategies you have introduced. Then ask students to create a personal list with those same strategies or others. Walk the room to check for validity. Now students can make their "toolboxes."

Distribute printable picture outlines of tools or have kids draw their own tools. Garden tools, kitchen tools, beauty or personal care tools, school tools, any category will work. Plastic forks, knives and spoons are also an option. Have students print on each tool with permanent marker the name of a comprehension strategy (and a few key words on the back if needed).

Ask a parent volunteer to laminate paper for durability (leave a -1 inch border all around). Use envelopes, decorated folders or glass jars as toolboxes.

Use "think aloud" to model how students should review their toolboxes before reading. Encourage them to keep their toolboxes nearby for easy access. Pair those having trouble with another student. Suggest students look at their tools and discuss how to use them before reading. At first, you might need to coach students, but they'll soon learn the value of -- and get excited about -- using their tools to extract the juicy tidbits of meaning from any text.

Sources for Tools Online

Printable Pictures
*Carpentry tools
* Pencils

Die Cuts
* Gardening tools (Scroll to Gardening set")

Check your clip art sources and your schools die cut masters. Bring in real tools and let students trace around them.

About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller has a library science degree from Florida State University. Her writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections,,Education World, Family Network, and BabyZone. Be sure to visit Cathy's Web site at Click to read a complete bio.