A Sticky Strategy for Reading Comprehension

When teachers come into your store for reading comprehension strategies, here is an effective but simple idea you can suggest from neurologist and former classroom teacher Judy Willis. She came up with it after hearing students complain that by the time they got to the bottom of a page of text, they had forgotten what they read. In an edutopia post from January 8, she explains how to use a teacher-store staple – Post-It notes – along with prompts to help students link new information to stored information in their brain. Here is how it works.

The science: “Understanding and remembering texts, as with all new memory construction, involves connecting the new to the known (i.e., using existing memory networks),” explains Judy. “The brain does this linking through its system of storing memory in neural networks based on relational patterns. When exposed to new information, the brain evaluates it using patterns it has developed through time and experience. Optimal brain engagement, understanding, and storage occur when new information is identified as being related to an existing memory pattern.”

Pattern-linking strategies used in successful reading comprehension include activating prior knowledge; making predictions; and recognizing personal relevance to interests, past positive experiences, or goals.

The solution: If teachers discuss reading goals before they assign a reading task, students can recall related memories. It will also increase their awareness of how the reading may be personally relevant, Judy says. Making predictions enhances students’ interest by encouraging curiosity and encourages the brain to stay attentive and engaged.

So Judy suggests giving students prompts and Post-Its in advance of the reading. They are asked to address the text directly – by calling it you – “as though they were having a conversation with it.”

The assignment is to simply complete each prompt on a single Post-it. Here are a few examples of prompts,

  • a prompt to be completed before reading, “I think you’ll be telling me …”
  • a prompt to be completed after briefly skimming the pages: “What does the heading for this section suggest about what will come?”
  • prompts to be completed during reading as a response: “This gives me an idea for…” and “I want to know more about…”

Why it works

“The use of Post-its increases memory pattern linkages, understanding, and the pleasure of reading,” notes Judy. As students become more skilled using the strategy, they will build their independent skills about how to think actively about the text (their metacognitive skills).

The sticky-note strategy requires very little writing and there are no wrong answers. It’s low stress but high outcome because it upholds the general principles of reading comprehension, Judy concludes.

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