“The Cue to Reading” Series (Article 8): Strategies for the Three Cueing Systems

Two weeks ago, our computers were down and my productivity came to a grinding halt. (Perhaps you noticed that I skipped a week with these articles…) With nothing else to do, we cleaned out our filing cabinets.

One large drawer was overstuffed with reading materials from my days in the classroom. “This ought to be good,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll find some good treasures to share with my ‘Cue to Reading’ subscribers.”

Much to my dismay, however, I quickly narrowed 3+ feet of files down to just a few inches.

As I mentioned last week, before I really learned how to teach reading, I purchased all kinds of materials from the teacher’s store and scoured magazines for curriculum and creative lesson ideas. I had organized all of these resource books and articles into files, hoping that my collections would someday make me a better reading teacher.

It was only now, with years of hindsight, that I realized just how much “fluff” was in all of these materials. They were simply collections of novelties; various “fun” ways to do the same thing. Yet, interestingly, that “thing” was largely undefined. For example, “popcorn reading” was a new and exciting way to do “round robin” reading, but what does either strategy actually teach? The objective is a bit fuzzy.

This process helped me understand, with crystal clarity, just how much “muck” we must tread through when searching for meaningful lessons. Many of the resources we use for more information or new ideas (especially the internet) are very murky!

With that said, there are many good resources available, too. The problem is trying to determine the good from the bad and not letting the novelty of a resource bog down the true objectives of effective reading lessons.

Today and next week, I will describe basic, foundational strategies for teaching reading. I will detail strategies that are best aligned to each cueing system.

This will not be a comprehensive list, by any means. In fact, a whole article could be written about each strategy. However, I hope that this guide can serve as a compass to point you in the right direction for your child or students’ needs.

Semantics/Meaning Cueing System

When a student is struggling with the Semantics/Meaning cueing system, they are struggling to make meaning when they read. Some of the most effective, efficient, brain-based strategies that are helpful for these students include:

  • Making connections. Connections are the very life-blood of learning. Everything you have ever learned in life, you learned because you connected new information to something you already understood. So, it only makes sense that teaching students how to connect information they are reading to things they already understand will dramatically improve their comprehension.I wrote about the book, Mosaic of Thought, last week. “Comprehension through connections” is the main theme of this book. Following suggestions from Mosaic, I would often read aloud to my student, then stop and explain that I was able to understand what I was reading because of a similar experience I had. Then, I would then tell them my “connecting” story.

    My students loved this! Before long, they begged for reading time and would excitedly request, “Mizz Winter! Tell us a story ‘bout yo life!” (Bringing these connections to life with my students dramatically energized our classroom and their attitudes towards reading!

  • Making predictions. Students must learn how to “monitor” their comprehension. One way to do this is by making predictions before they read. Then, while reading, their brain will automatically either confirm their predictions or correct them. Either way, their predictions are like “water stops” along a marathon…check-in points that help monitor comprehension.
  • Think-alouds. When I sit down to read, my two year-old daughter will join me; she sits quietly next to me and “reads” a book of her own. Obviously, she is merely imitating the actions she can SEE. She has no idea what is actually going on in my head.The same thing happens for students. They imitate what they see and, unless we specifically teach them what IS going on in our heads when we read, they simply will not know how and when to make predictions and connections with their reading. Modeling this “silent” process through think-alouds is very valuable for students. I know I did not fully understand the concept of the “inner reading voice” until I was at least a senior in high school. When students understand this concept, they are able to “shift” into “high gear” and become active readers.
  • The Picture Walk. A picture walk is a process of “walking” through a book, reviewing the pictures and making predictions about information or events in the book. This procedure helps students get a sense of the storyline and match oral vocabulary to written text.

“Picture walks” are typically thought of as a strategy for “early readers.” However, it is a very effective strategy for students of all ages…even adults!

When adults read a newspaper or a magazine article, the first thing they do is look at the pictures and read the captions to determine what articles they want to read. This proves that visuals remain a powerful resource, even for advanced readers. However, we devalue the use of visuals for students as they get older. By the time they are in third grade, it is typically considered a sign of weakness if children rely on visuals to read. Let’s squash that notion right now!

In my study skills program, I teach students a reading strategy that worked miracles for me. In fact, it is the most significant reason I went from being a “struggling” high school student to a college graduate with a 3.9 GPA. I call it “Read the Pictures.” Yes, it is as simple as it sounds.

To “read the pictures,” students simply look at every photograph, chart, graph, and visual. Then, they read the caption. Finally, they ask themselves, “Why do I think this picture is here?” (This third step forges important mental connections, as described below.)

This works so well because 30-80% of the information in a textbook is presented in the visuals and captions, alone! The pictures and captions not only communicate a lot of information in a compact form, they also help readers create a “framework” for comprehension. After students have read all of the pictures, they can begin reading the text. They will find it is MUCH easier to understand the black-and-white text because the visuals will help them make essential learning connections as they read.

  • Graphic organizers. Research highly supports the use of graphic organizers to develop comprehension skills. However, I hesitate to mention this strategy because searching for “appropriate” graphic organizers can quickly become murky. I searched for “graphic organizers” at Amazon.com and the first book to come up was, “The Teacher’s Big Book of Graphic Organizers: 100 Reproducible Organizers…”ONE HUNDRED!? Really? If not used with caution, graphic organizers quickly become nothing more than worksheets; where the focus is on filling in the blanks correctly, not on framing and organizing comprehension. However, when used with a strong sense of comprehension objectives, graphic organizers are an outstanding tool!


-Susan Kruger


EB 082217

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