Category Archives: reading tests

Kids need to know the facts

When I go to students’ homes to tutor them in reading and writing, I bring a pocket-sized  atlas.  That is because inevitably a geographical place is named in a reading passage, and when I ask the students if they know where “Scandinavia” or “New Zealand” is, they don’t know.

It’s not just knowledge of geography which students lack.   It’s when the American Revolution happened, or what news event happened in Egypt this past week or why it’s correct to say the sun is a relatively close star.

Kids just don’t know.

But this lack of knowledge has serious effects on their reading comprehension scores.  I was working on a reading passage with a middle schooler recently, and one of the questions was why Charles Darwin was mentioned but not identified in a passage about the Galapagos Islands.  The student shrugged.  “Who is Charles Darwin?” I asked.  The student shrugged again.  How could he answer the question if he didn’t know who Darwin is?

This problem becomes more acute when the student is from another country and from another first language (or if his parents are).  Years ago I taught two brothers, third and second graders, who were English language learners.  They were reading a passage about Halloween.  They had no idea what “Halloween” meant,  nor jack-o-lanterns nor trick-or-treating.  How could they answer the questions about Halloween in the reading passage?  I took them trick-or-treating on the next Halloween, but their parents were mystified why people would give their children candy.

Even if kids know the code of reading—the sounds of our language and how putting letters together forms words—they cannot score well on comprehension if they don’t know what the facts in the passage are, and what unstated facts are expected to be known as general background knowledge.

I was working with Georgia students using a passage from a New York State test.  The passage concerned winter, snow and sledding.  “I’ve never seen snow,” said my student.  I put the passage away.

If you have young children, read them not just fairy tales and nursery rhymes, but nonfiction—facts.  If you have middle schoolers or older, talk to them about current events, and if they don’t know where something is happening, point to the location on a map.  Use dinners or car rides to offer information.

Ignorance is no advantage in reading or in life.

How to answer test questions for reading passages

Beginning in third grade, students need to learn strategies for answering multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions.  Here is a five-part strategy which works.

Student holding paper and reading it as he is writing

First, read the questions, not the selection.  That way, as you read the selection, you already know what the questions are and you might find answers.

Second, as you read the questions, circle key words.  Now find those same key words in the selection and circle them there.  Read the sentence or two before the circled words and the sentence or two after to be sure you have the right answer.

Third, underline the correct answer.  Next to the underline write the number of the question in case you need to go back later to check.

Fourth, in multiple choice questions, cross out any wrong answers. Don’t let them distract you. Usually one or two are obviously wrong, and the two left are pretty close to the right answer.  But one of those is usually better.

EPSON MFP image

Fifth, figure out the main idea.  Almost always one question asks for the main idea.  The question might ask, “What was this reading passage about?”  Or it might ask, “What could be another name for this story?”  To find out, reread the title or headline.  Reread the first paragraph, and especially if you are reading nonfiction, reread the last sentence of the first paragraph.  Or sometimes the main idea can be found in the last paragraph where the passage might be summarized.  Still don’t know?  Look for key words throughout the passage, words that are repeated.