The secret is, as always, practise, practise, practise. Read on for some of my ideas that will help your child gain confidence when facing comprehension tests.
This is, of course, a parent’s point of view. But provide your child with the right resources - some I shall recommend here - and set out to tackle some comprehensions together. You might be surprised that your input can really make a difference.
Comprehension means the ability to understand something: making sense of what you read. Where better to start than with some reading? Get your child a dictionary, and, if they will be persuaded, a small notebook to make a note of new words. Read with your child and discuss meanings with them. Talk to your child - use elaborate language sometimes - and don’t talk down to them…. ever!
If you speak Spanish, Italian or French at home, your child should have more insight into the meanings of words. Etymology is the study of the origin of words. And children who learn Latin or Greek, or who can speak another language, should be better equipped at spotting root words, prefixes and stems which will help them work out the meaning of words they don’t know. For example, tele is derived from Greek meaning far off, so a child might be able to work out that tele-photo is a photo of something far away, and tele-vision is the device that helps you see something far away. You get the idea. I love this book: it can definitely help with understanding if your child wants to have a go at some Latin and Greek.
Use Bond/CGP/Galore Park/Letts, 10+ and 11+ past papers... and school comprehensions. The thing here is volume - whether they need to do multiple-choice comprehension or the more traditional question with written answer. If this is challenging, start at a lower level than the one your child has reached … and work up. This is, I promise you, the only way to get better. And as they improve, so will their confidence. (For general all round English, I love this book from Haydyn Richards.)
When they practise comprehension tests, it's worth bearing in mind that you can teach a child to recognise the difficulty and level of answer required by looking at the mark scheme. If there is 1 mark given, the answer should be straightforward. 3 marks might require 3 points, or one fully developed answer, and 6 marks might require 2 or 3 fully developed answers.
4. SENTENCE STARTERS
Learn how to ‘upgrade’ your answers. When very young, children are encouraged to include the question in their answer: “What was the lady doing when it started to rain?”… would require an answer starting,”When it started to rain, the lady was…..” etc. As they get older, these responses can be elevated. So, “Identify the techniques that are used in the opening passage and comment on their effects”, could be answered with:
“The author uses personification and repetition to convey the danger that is present.”
“On line ‘x’, he writes “….” for a quote and a line reference.
“This technique is used to highlight .. and is effective because…”
And so on. Sit down with your child and come up with some great sentence starters that indicate an intelligent response is about to follow....
5. POINT - EVIDENCE - EXPLANATION
Some schools use Point, Evidence, Explanation or PEE to help children answer comprehension questions. This is just one of many methods and if your school is using it, understand it so you can help your child.
Point: What is the main answer to the question?
Evidence: How do you know that your answer is correct? (provide evidence)
Explanation: Why have you chosen this evidence? Explain why it is relevant.
This technique can seem a little laboured and repetitive but many teachers use it up to Key Stage 2. It is actually very useful because it is a stepping stone from the very simple questions asked in the first comprehensions children face in junior school towards the extended responses required in more complicated texts of KS2, KS3 and later on GCSE.
Just remember, comprehension is the ability to make sense of what you read. A child has to be able to answer questions - and PEE or PEA (Point evidence analysis), is a good way to get them thinking about giving a better explanation in answer to a question.
6. LITERARY TECHNIQUES
For this you will have to practice identifying various techniques. See the fun crossword on page 44 of Revision Fun for Clever Kids for a list of key techniques. The sooner your child understands these techniques and can identify them, the better their understanding and interpretation of a text.
This might seem irrelevant but really, if the person marking your child’s comprehension cannot read the text, they will not be able to award marks. And they will sigh as they try to decipher the scrawl. Handwriting is about making a good impression as well as communicating ideas. If it is pleasing to the eye , the teacher will feel better about reading on. For help with handwriting, read my previous blog here.
To sum up, if you are still with me, the long and short of it, my friends, is that there aren't really any shortcuts. Help your child to be calm in the face of comprehension and once you have been on the journey with them, they will be able to tackle junior school comprehension tests and much harder texts in the years to come.
Until next time when I'll be sharing a list of educational resources that have - in my humble opinion - made learning more fun for many 8-12 year olds.