Reading Comprehension Activities

One of the great perks of homeschooling is that we have more flexibility in how we structure (or, often, don’t structure) our class time.

Since we’re working in very small groups (often just one-on-one!), we can do a lot of things that are difficult or even impossible in a large, traditional classroom. One area where we can really take advantage of this is in testing reading comprehension.

Reading comprehension is sort of tricky territory, pedagogically speaking. See, we need to know that our learners understand what they read, but the traditional methods for testing their understanding are, well, pretty boring. Reading quizzes and book reports dominate traditional comprehension assessment because they’re easy to deliver and measure, and they have a structured format that makes grading a stack of twenty papers go by quickly. When you’re not bound by those constraints, though, you can really open it up to much more exciting (and meaningful) types of comprehension activities.

Here are five ways you can check for and build reading comprehension that aren’t book reports.

1. Character Studies Through Dramatic Acting or Puppet Theater

Bringing in some acting is a great way to test for your reader’s understanding of character traits, plot, themes, and motivations. If you have enough people (in a co-op class, for instance), you can assign roles. If it’s a book with a clear favorite character, you might try drawing names out of a bucket and switching scenes every ten minutes to give everyone a chance to play the part they’re excited about. If you don’t have a lot of people, you can play the same games with puppets, which allows one person to switch between characters if necessary. We just assign roles to our existing puppets in the house (even if they’re animals), but you could also make your own puppets and add a layer of art and costuming to the project. Whether you are using people or puppets, here are some games you can play:

Characters in another setting– Test your reader’s ability to recognize major traits about the characters by placing the characters in scenes outside the book. You can make two buckets: one full of character names and one full of settings. Draw one from each and start acting! What would Romeo do if he were on the moon? How would Tom Sawyer react to meeting the President? The goal is to find something at the core of the character’s motivations and attributes that you can draw from in this external setting. After each scene (just two or three minutes is usually sufficient), spend a couple minutes discussing.

The book in three minutes– Challenge your reader to summarize key plot points by re-enacting the entire book in three minutes (or five minutes, or ten minutes if you read something really complex). It’s most fun if you are super strict about the time. They might have to practice it a few times to get it all within the time limit. Once they’ve figured it out, record it so that they can watch themselves perform.

Alternate ending– Ask your reader to create an alternate ending for the book and play out how it would have gone differently. Afterward, discuss why you think the writer chose the ending they did.

2. Video Reviews

If your kid loves making videos with the selfie-side of an iPad, this is the reading comprehension challenge for you! Ask your reader to give a review of the book and record it. If it’s a rave, challenge them to really play up the positives and convince new readers to give it a chance. If it’s a negative review, focus on critiquing specific elements and warning people against the reading. Be sure to explain that reviews shouldn’t spoil the ending, so it adds the work of picking out key details without giving away too much of the plot.

3. Emotion Chart

This is a favorite in my house because my reader is particularly attuned to how everyone feels all the time. We typically do this at the end of a chapter or two because it’s interesting to plot how characters’ emotions change over the course of a book.

We’ll take a piece of paper and fold it in half lengthwise and widthwise and then unfold it so that there are four quadrants. At the top of each one, we’ll write an emotion that we’ve seen characters exhibiting in that chapter. Fear, sadness, anger, hope, jealousy, embarrassment: the possibilities are endless.

We’ll then write the names of which characters were showing these emotions. For young learners, I’ll ask them to draw a picture of the character feeling this way and the situation that made them have that emotion.

4. Graph Some Data

This is another activity that is best done chapter by chapter. Grab some graph paper and choose some common scenarios that you think might happen based on what you know about the book. This can be a good activity to talk about genre, tropes, and common plot devices. If you’re reading an action/adventure book, for instance, you might have categories like “leaves for a new location,” “fights a monster,” “gets lost.”

At the end of each chapter, fill out a square for each time that the event occurred. Depending on what categories you’ve created, this should provide some illuminating information about plot trends and how excitement peaks and then dips as the book progresses.

5. Put a Character on Trial

This is a fun one for the future lawyers in your life who want to argue every point imaginable. Let them put a character on trial. The character can stand accused of a real crime if it fits the book, or they can be accused of a wrongdoing that isn’t strictly criminal. There’s a ton of potential for comprehension exploration in either the role of the character or the questioning lawyer. If you’ve got another person, you can even have a judge make a ruling at the end.

Put the character on the stand and let the lawyer ask questions and present the evidence against him/her. The character can answer the questions and give a closing statement as a defense.

Whatever you decide to do as a reading comprehension activity, be sure to have some fun with it. Your readers are much more likely to get engaged in the book and remember the details if they feel a connection to the characters and talk about the plot in a memorable way.

Meet author Michelle Parrinello-Cason at the 2018 Convention in Atlanta

 Michelle is giving the talk: Homeschooling in the Age of Robots:

How the Humanities Offer a Bridge into an Uncertain Future

Michelle Parrinello-Cason

Founder of Dayla Learning

Michelle Parrinello-Cason is an unexpected homeschooler who found her worlds colliding when her “spirited” daughter wasn’t able to find a traditional classroom fit that served her needs.

Michelle has a PhD in rhetoric and composition and has spent the past ten years as an educator teaching classes in the humanities. Serving primarily as a community college composition instructor who specialized in classes for at-risk student populations, her teaching philosophy has always been one of meeting the student where they are and walking with them as they find where they want to go.

She had to apply those lessons to her own daughter’s education when her daughter was diagnosed as being gifted with ADHD and anxiety. A series of attempts to make a traditional classroom setting work were unsatisfactory, so Michelle began exploring homeschooling as a way to meet her daughter where she was and take her where she wanted to go.

Now Michelle teaches co-op classes, Outschool classes, and designs curriculum to “homeschool the humanities with humanities.” Her teaching experiences include teaching all ages from elementary through college in literature, composition, creative writing, philosophy, and cultural studies.

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