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Help Children Understand and Remember What They Read

With Post-it notes, comprehension is fun

With the surge in the quantity of reading children are required to do for school it is often challenging for them to fully understand and remember what they read...especially when it is not particularly interesting or relevant to them. Both for children and adults, it is not unusual to get to the bottom of a page of text and realize we have no clue about the information we just "read."

Quasar/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Quasar/Wikimedia Commons

What makes reading stick?

It has long been recognized that certain strategies applied during reading are effective in increasing memory and understanding. These are probably quite familiar to you and your children. These include strategies such as predicting what will happen, making personal connections to interests and experiences, relating the reading to what the reader already knows, and taking time to evaluate diagrams, pictures, graphs, etc. that accompany the text.

Understanding and remembering texts, as with all new memory construction, involves connecting the new to the known (i.e., using existing memory networks). Optimal brain engagement, understanding, and storage occur when new information is identified as being related to an existing memory pattern.

When children recall prior related memories, these circuits activate in long-term memory storage making it more likely that the new information will be encoded in the hippocampus (where new memories are linked to existing ones). Similarly, when children think of how what they read is related to their interest, they maintain more attentive focus.

Making predictions enhances children’ interest by encouraging curiosity. Making predictions also encourages the brain to stay attentive and engaged as children actively think about what they read, while constructing meaning, understanding, and linkages to existing memory circuits.

ACTIVE reading With Post-it Notes

The problem is: How does one encourage children to use these strategies and not see them as just more work? A solution I found was to have them fill in post-it note that you or they write as "prompts" before they do the reading.

Their job is simply complete each prompt on a single Post-it and place it on the page to which they are responding in the text. As you'll see, the prewritten post-it prompts activate their brains to use the reading comprehension strategies we know that work e.g. engage prior knowledge, make predictions, relate the book to their own lives, and pay attention to diagrams, pictures, etc.

Sample Post-it Prompts

In these prompts, children address the text directly—by calling it “you”—as though it were a partner in a conversation.

To be completed before reading for prediction and preview:

I think you’ll be telling me...
I already know things about you, so I predict...

To be completed after briefly skimming the assigned pages:

What does the heading for this section suggest about what will come?
What does this picture (graph, diagram, etc.) suggest about this reading topic?

To be completed during reading as a response to what is read:

You’re similar to what I’ve learned before, because you remind me of...
I would have preferred a picture of... (Children can also sketch, describe, or download a picture, graph, or diagram)
This is not what I expected, which was...
This gives me an idea for...
I want to know more about...
This information could be useful to me because I’m interested in...
I think this will be on the test because...

Quasar/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Quasar/Wikimedia Commons

Why This Works

This process is appealing in several ways. There are no wrong answers. The assignment requires very little writing as it has already been started on each Post-it in class—so this activity is low stress and high outcome as it upholds the general principles of reading comprehension.

The use of Post-its increases memory pattern linkages, understanding, and the pleasure of reading. The benefits of reading with the post-it plan for engagement, comprehension, and memory include greater comfort and participation in class discussions, greater understanding of what is read, increased memory of the text, and a reduction in the amount of rereading or review needed for test time.

Your children will not only have increased pleasure, motivation, curiosity, and engagement, but will also develop stronger confidence in their own abilities as readers. You will empower them by increasing their access to the rich world of written information and imagination that is available in books, newspapers, magazines, online reading, and even on boxes of cereal.

More from Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed.
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