The Research Behind Our Reading Comprehension Resources

The research behind our reading comprehension resources. In this blog post, I explore the research behind our reading comprehension resources and the "why" behind the way we set out our activities. At the heart of it,  here at Top Teaching Tasks, we provide reading passages and activities on engaging topics that help students to understand what they read. We do this by taking a researched-based approach, focusing on reading comprehension, rigorous texts, vocabulary development, content-area literacy, and the integration of reading and writing.
In this blog post, I explore the research behind our reading comprehension resources and the “why” behind the way we set out our activities. At the heart of it,  here at Top Teaching Tasks, we provide reading passages and activities on engaging topics that help students to understand what they read. We do this by taking a researched-based approach, focusing on reading comprehension, rigorous texts, vocabulary development, content-area literacy, and the integration of reading and writing. Let me unpack that a bit for you!

What is Reading Comprehension?

We all know those students who can read a text fluently but can’t tell you what they have read. If you don’t understand what you have read, was there really any point in reading it? They say that the simplest explanation is usually the best, and Gough and Turner (1986)’s definition of reading comprehension is nice and simple. They explain that reading is made up of two parts: the decoding skill – the ability to read and say the words on the page, and the reading comprehension skill – the ability to understand what you read. So, reading comprehension is all about making meaning.
I love this way of explaining reading comprehension from Harvey and Goudvis (2007):
When we read, thoughts fill our mind. We might make connections to our own life… we might have a question or an inference…Strategic readers address their thinking in an inner conversation that helps them make sense of what they read. They search for the answers to their questions. They attempt to better understand the text through their connections to the characters, the events, and the issues.
It is important that teachers help students to understand the deliberate thinking that is involved when they read. We create resources to help reinforce that deliberate thinking that students use to understand increasingly complex texts – and we make it fun!

Identifying, Teaching, and Practicing Reading Comprehension Strategies

Reading comprehension is a major focus of each and every one of our reading resources. These resources help students to understand what they are reading.  Students have a chance to practice using a variety of comprehension strategies – the deliberate thinking that I talked about above. Pearson, Dole, Duffy, and Roehler’s (1992) research lists the following crucial comprehension strategies that engaged readers use to construct meaning:
  • Utilising prior knowledge
  • Asking questions
  • Making inferences
  • Visualising
  • Synthesising information
  • Making connections
  • Summarising

It is important to move past a superficial understanding of a text. Often reading activities will include a text and a couple of short answer questions focusing on lower-level thinking skills (Remember and Understand). That’s not how we roll! Our resources challenge students to use the full range of thinking skills including Applying, Analysing, Evaluating, and Creating/Synthesising. These strategies help students to understand more complex texts across the curriculum. As Harvey and Goudvis (2007) explain, higher-order thinking skills and “strategies such as determining importance and synthesising information help students as they read for information, particularly in social studies and science content areas” (p. 14).

How Our Resources Align With This Research

Our reading comprehension follow-up activities feature a wide range of reading comprehension strategies. We don’t just stop with summarising a text or finding specific information. Students make connections, use their prior knowledge, ask questions, make evaluations and personal judgments, visualise, make inferences, extend their vocabulary, have discussions, analyse, and more. From the very beginning, we have focused on including higher-order thinking skills that push students to think, dig deep into the text/topic, and use their new knowledge.

New Zealand Disasters Unit
Some of the activities included in our New Zealand Disasters Reading Comprehension Activities Pack.

Providing rigorous texts that challenge students

We believe that, even by Year 3 and 4, students are ready to be challenged with texts of greater complexity. They also need to have a breadth of reading material across a range of genre, text types, and curriculum content. Research backs this up.

Professor Stuart McNaughton, chief science advisor to the Ministry of Education, states,
“We may have a problem with the ‘reading diet’ at school, specifically the range and variety of texts for reading. We need a greater focus on complex reading, figuring out meanings, appraising, and critically reasoning.”

It is so important in this era of fake news for students to be able to look critically at a text and to read deep for meaning.

EROs research document, “Keeping Students Engaged and Achieving in Reading” looks at a school that prioritised the time they gave to reading and literacy each day. By implementing a Daily 5 system where students also completed independent reading and word work, teachers had longer to spend with each reading group. “The new approaches allowed teachers and children to explore texts in more depth…The key was to slow the process down and allow time for the students to explore more challenging texts over time.” Results showed that students enjoyed the more complex texts and felt a feeling of achievement in completing them. They felt like “real readers.”

How Our Resources Align With This Research

To align with this research, the texts we provide are more involved than a basic text. These texts will take effort to read and understand. However, through exploring the text in a guided or shared reading session and using their toolkit of reading comprehension strategies, learners will develop their understanding of the text.
We also realise that not all students are at the same reading level, so we look to provide more than one level of reading passage in a resource. Our close reading activities feature a scaffold and an extended version, and many packs include these texts plus another shorter passage. Our scavenger hunt puzzle reading packs include short reading task cards as another text choice for you and your learners. You know your students best so with the variety we provide, most students in your class should be able to work on the same topic and activities using the most suitable passage for them – differentiation!
Build enjoyment and engagement in your reading program from day one of the school year! Our Waitangi Day Reading Comprehension resource is easy to use and features flexible text and activity options for you to choose from.
Our Waitangi Day reading activities.

Vocabulary development

Vocabulary development, along with phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension, is one of the five essential components of reading. The understanding of vocabulary plays an important role in reading and reading comprehension. When a reader comes to a word they do not understand, it can hinder their overall understanding of a text.

Research has shown that children with larger vocabularies achieve better results at school, including higher reading achievement in particular. Progressing as a reader has a high association with an increased focus on vocabulary acquisition (Jesson, et al, 2018). Research also shows that vocabulary knowledge also can help students to improve their decoding skills and directly affects future reading comprehension success (Tunmer & Chapman, 2011).

This quote from The Oxford Language Report sums up the importance of vocabulary development:

Language opens doors. It unlocks the world of reading and the imagination, the excitement of writing, the capacity to explore new subjects and releases our potential to learn and grow as an individual.

How Our Resources Align With This Research

We provide opportunities in each of our reading resources for students to experience and work with new vocabulary. Our texts explore a range of curriculum topic areas including social sciences, science, and technology, and we don’t shy away from including content-specific vocabulary. Students are encouraged to search in the text to infer the meaning of these new words or to find the meaning through using dictionaries and other reference materials. Lesson plans provided in all of our School Journal, Junior Journal, and Connected resources have a specific focus on exploring new vocabulary.
Our resources also aim to get students talking. For example, our New Zealand Icons of the Week Shared Reading and Discussion resource features short passages and a range of discussion prompts. These work great with a think-pair-share approach and encourage critical thinking. The more students talk to each other, especially discussions that promote critical and creative thinking, the more vocabulary they are exposed to.
Look for many more discussion prompts coming soon!

Content-area literacy

Content-area literacy is the ability to read, write, create, interpret, and present a range of texts/media, in subjects such as science, social studies, and mathematics. Research into content-area literacy points out that students need to build background knowledge across the curriculum to help them understand what they are reading. It is therefore crucial that they are being exposed to a range of non-fiction texts (and their specific vocabulary and text features) across areas such as science, technology, maths, social studies, and history.
Stuart McNaughton’s, Chief Education Scientific Advisor, 2020 research into New Zealand’s literacy landscape found that achievement drops in science and mathematics for students during Year 4-8. He surmised that “This may be due in part to an increasing need for subject-specific literacy skills.” Subject-specific literacy skills, or content-area literacy, are therefore very important.

How Our Resources Align With This Research

We believe in integrating reading with other curriculum areas such as science, maths, technology, social studies. This has multiple benefits including helping students develop content-area literacy, but also more simply, to ensure you have time to fit everything into your school day!
Our reading topics cover a range of curriculum areas, including science, maths, technology, te Ao Māori, and social studies. Check out just a few of our topics below:
  • Dinosaurs
  • The Solar System
  • Natural Disasters
  • Kiwi Innovators (inventors)
  • The Treaty of Waitangi
  • Ancient Egypt
  • Under the Sea
  • Kiwiana
  • Māori Myths and Legends
  • Sports Heroes
  • Famous New Zealanders
These topics connect to students’ current knowledge but also serve to extend and grow their knowledge, across the curriculum. We also create follow-up activities for the Connected Series, which creates fantastic texts on topics across science, technology, history, and maths.
Kiwi Innovators Unit. Explore some of the fascinating Kiwi innovators and inventions that have been created in New Zealand’s history. In this Kiwi Innovators unit, students will learn about 24 New Zealand Inventors and their creative ideas, apply this knowledge by exploring digital links, and put their own design skills to the test with creative challenges.

Our Solar System Digital Activities integrate science concepts and vocabulary (Planet Earth and Beyond) with Literacy.

Integrating Writing and Reading

Research shows that reading and writing skills improve when they are integrated. EROs research document, “Keeping Students Engaged and Achieving in Reading” looked at a school that was working to improve its students’ reading comprehension. One key decision the school made was to combine the teaching of reading and writing. This was “to make the links between reading and writing clearer so children could better understand the forms and purposes of different texts and become aware that texts are intended for an audience” (p.42).
What better time to investigate the structure of a piece of argument writing than when you are reading an argument? It just makes sense to integrate reading and writing.

How Our Resources Align With This Research

Our reading resources integrate reading and writing skills. As well as reading and practicing reading comprehension skills, students will write opinions, summaries, arguments, explanations, and pieces of fiction. We create interesting activity options so students are engaged in the writing process.

Summing Up

I hope that wasn’t all too dry for you. We are passionate about keeping our content current and up-to-date with current research into reading. This means we will continually look to refine our resources and make improvements that will help you and your learners. When you purchase from us, you get free updates for the life of the resource.

Our full range of reading comprehension resources

To see our full range of reading comprehension resources, including digital activities and integrated units, click here. 

Not a member yet? Sign up now!

Click here to sign up for our membership.

Onwards and upwards,

Similar Posts