Test Prep 180: Comprehension Strategies

Reading comprehension is something that most of my students struggle with.  It is such a difficult thing to read between the lines, discover themes, make inferences, decipher metaphors, etc...All year, I teach these standards to the students with the hope that they internalize them and will be able to use them on "The TEST".

But hoping isn't enough.  On top of the creative and engaging instruction (that the students are of course learning above and beyond making them so excited to be in my room ;) ), I also make sure that I am teaching them how to translate those concepts and skills into the TEST TAKING GENRE.  That's right, genre.  It is a complete genre, similar to Fairy Tales or mysteries, that we need to teach our students.  So while I am teaching all of the concepts and standards, I am also teaching this genre.

Daily, from DAY ONE of school, my students are taught how to apply the comprehension skills we learn into a test taking format.  For homework each night, they get a comprehension passage with 4 or 5 questions.  These passages (which I gather from all over the place -- online, trade books, etc...) cover the entire gambit of skills the students are taught in class.  While doing this homework, the students' goal is not to just circle the right answer, but to circle key words in the question and to provide evidence of their final choices.

teachinginroom6.blogspot.com    Teachinginroom6

The reason for this goal is simple.  It teaches them the vital skills they need so that they can effectively take "The TEST", while still thinking about and understanding their reading.  The students need explicit instruction in these skills, so they can be successful in applying them when the time comes.

So what do I teach them how to do?  Let me show you in pictures.

Teaching in Room 6   5th grade
In this picture, you can see that the students circled the key words that would help them understand the question.   That is the first step we always do when tackling something like this.  It helps to focus the students on the task at hand.  They then rewrote the question into different language, making it easier for the students to see what exactly was being asked.   Sometimes, they add Thinking Maps to make it even clearer what the intention of the question is.  All of these strategies are designed to keep the students thinking about their reading and focus them in on the passage they eventually will read.

Upper grade blog
The next step is to actually read the passage.  During the read, the students are looking for the key words they circled.  When they find the words, the students underline the section of the passage that helps them to best answer the question.  This evidence is the proof they need to let anyone (especially themselves) know exactly why they chose their answer.  If the evidence, answer, and question don't match, the students know that they didn't find the correct key words, or have the correct answer.

test prep funSometimes, the questions don't have direct evidence that can be underlined.  In a case like this, the students INFER from the passage, and then write their ideas in the margins of the question.  There has to be SOME reason why the student chose the answer, and there must be SOME evidence somewhere.  If that evidence isn't in the form of an underline in the passage, it must be written near the question.

Again, all of this is designed to get the students thinking about their work, not just willy nilly choosing answers.

The biggest question students ask is "WHY do we have to do this Mrs. Moorman?  It takes SOOOOOO long" (usually with a big, long, dramatic sigh at the end),  And they are right...it does take a long time.  As the year progresses, though, they begin to see why we do it.  Since we go over this homework daily, the benefits quickly become obvious.  When they are looking for the evidence in the passage, and can verify exactly why they chose the answer they did and, all of the sudden, answering comprehension questions becomes easy (well, easier).   The confidence evidence for an answer gives them makes the entire task a breeze.  Taking the few minutes of time out of their day to show why they chose the answer they did pays off in the long run, and they see that.  Teaching them strategies like these, in conjunction with the content, will pay off for them, and you, ten fold.

In case you are looking for some great test prep reading comprehension books, I LOVE LOVE LOVE these by Evan Moor.  They are simple, to the point, and are leveled inside.  They are great for teaching the strategies above.  They are easy to read for the kids so they don't get stuck on the reading and forget the strategies.  Did I mention I LOVE these books?

For some free passages, which always feels good on my pocketbook, I turn to this site first.  Great (though lengthy) passages.  I use these after we have already got into the strategies and the kids are fairly good at them.  There are passages for grade 3, 4, and 5.  I usually start with the 3rd grade level and work my way up.
Free Comprehension Passages

Here is a post I did about organizing your Standards in Language Arts.    Test Prep 180:  State Standards

Kathie, at The Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher is having a Test Prep Linky party!  Check it out!


  1. I read a great book a few years ago called "Putting Thinking to the Test" (even gave a PD workshop on it). It's all about applying the comprehension strategies to the genre of test taking. It's worth a look.

    Runde's Room

  2. Love that... Teach the same concepts, but doing it with smaller passages each night is a great idea!
    I guess I'm buying 3 more test prep books lol!thank you :)

  3. Getting ready for the "Test" is so important! I love that you insist the students provide evidence for their thinking. Sounds like your students will be ready!

  4. Thanks for all of the photos (I love visuals!) and the book recommendations, they are very helpful! I would love to do more of this. We do a lot together on the projector, using passages on Study Island, but this would be a great activity at home as you have done.

  5. Everyone has taught the "testing bug"!! This is a great strategy!

    Ms. Wainwright
    The Diary of a Not so Wimpy Teacher

  6. I really like your idea of having them write out their thinking when answering questions. I just finished giving a pre-test for our state assessments. So I will definitely be keeping this idea in my head! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks everyone! I really love how they internalize this so (well, probably because they do it every single day of the school year!)

  8. Steph, I LOVE Evan Moore too! I hate that they don't make workbooks for middle grades :(
    We do the same thing in our work book, breaking up the questions and underlining key words.

    ❤ Mor Zrihen from...
    A Teacher's Treasure
    Teaching Treasures Shop

  9. Steph, I love this idea, and I am sure the parents would too! Do you use the Evan Moore books for the homework assignment you described? I have the book and do not use it much. It is leveled so do you differentiate the homework and then review each groups seperately in class the next day?
    The format is different than the one pictured above. What book did the example come from? :) I looked at the website you suggested and that is a gold mine! Kathy

  10. This is a terrific way to do this. I am so frustrated by how my son has learned to use multi choice as a crutch for test taking. His homework life just got more interesting.


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