Building Comprehension and
Vocabulary with TextBased Discussions
Goals ofTraditional
Comprehension Instruction
• Teach comprehension skills (e.g. finding
the main idea)
• Assess whether students can apply a given
• Assess whether students have gained a
specific meaning of a text
• Focused on mentioning vs. teaching
• Remembering information vs. creating
Traditional Patterns of
Classroom Talk
• IRE (Initiate, Respond, Evaluate):
(Dillon, 1998; Mehan, 1979)
Teacher: What was Toad looking for?
Student: His button.
Teacher: That’s right.
• “Classroom quiz show”: Teachers act as quiz show
hosts, asking questions that have one correct
answer, which can usually be found right in the text
(Roby, 1988).
• “Bull sessions”: Students offer opinions, but
comments are not connected or responsive to what
others are saying (Roby, 1988).
How can we use storybooks to move beyond quiz
shows and bull sessions? Why should we bother?
Research: The Vocabulary Gap
The Vocabulary Gap Persists…
White, Graves, and Slater (1990)
Growth in Vocab.
Growth in Vocab.
• Urban Gr. 1-3:
3300 words
• Suburban Gr. 1-3:
3500 words
• Gr. 1-3:
5200 Words
By the end of third grade, these differences in vocabulary
had increased to approximately 5,000 (or twice as many
words) known by the middle SES students
as compared to the low SES students.
But teachers CAN influence vocabulary development!
Text Talk Read-Aloud and Vocabulary
(discussion/comprehension and vocabulary)
Summing Up the Research
• The amount and quality of parents’
conversations with children is strongly
correlated with socioeconomic status
(SES) (Hart & Ristley, 1995)
• Effective read-alouds (e.g., Text Talk) with
good storybooks can promote a rich and
robust vocabulary, rich discussions, and
deeper comprehension (McKeown & Beck, 2003).
Choosing a Text to Read
Aloud in Grades K-1
Texts should:
– be I___________ C___________ to
the students (harder than they could
read on their own, but not so hard that
they couldn’t understand them with
– tell the story primarily through
W______, rather than pictures
– follow S_______ G_________
(setting, characters, plot: beg, mid, end)
Guided Reading/Word Study
Instructional Reading Level
Shared Reading/Text Talk
Too difficult to read by self
Asking Questions
• According to Beck & McKeown (2001),
what kinds of questions should we be
asking to foster deeper understanding
and discussion?
• Why?
Constrained/Closed Questions
Harry the Dirty Dog
Solution: Ask Open
Ended Questions to
generate more discussion
What’s going on?
What does that mean?
What do you think?
• Multiple answers; students build off each other
rather than always looking to the teacher (NOT
Solution: Open Questions
Harry the Dirty Dog
What’s going on with
these questions? OPEN or CLOSED?
Who’s one of the main characters?
What can you tell me about some of the characters?
What color is the train?
What’s the train like?
Would you want to be on that train?
So what do you think about her as a person?
So, is she more successful now?
Does she feel better about herself?
How Discussion During Reading
Helps Support Comprehension
• Discussion can link oral and written
– Students can think and talk about sophisticated
texts even if they can’t read those texts
themselves (read-aloud texts)
– Discussion of texts provides students the
opportunity to experience and use decontextualized
language (ideas about something beyond the ‘here
and now’; not just look at the pictures)
– Models the process of “making meaning”
How Discussion During Reading
Helps Support Comprehension
• Students can expand their vocabulary
knowledge through discussion about texts
• The social context of the group can
support student effort to comprehend
text ideas.
– An audience of peers can motivate students to
– When students respond, they are modeling for
other students, demonstrating how they are
thinking and making sense of ideas
Preparing to Discuss a Text
(Read-Aloud or Guided Reading)
• Read the book several times
• Identify the most important concepts
students need to understand
• Take note of what might be confusing
• Based on ideas you have identified as
important or confusing, decide what to
talk about before reading
Designing A Text Talk
• Comprehension: Select points in the story
where you will stop reading and ask a
• Choose the questions you will ask (write
each question on a Post-it note and insert
it into the text)
– Initial and Follow-Up Questions
• Vocabulary: Choose three or four
vocabulary words that are interesting and
useful (Beck’s “Tier 2” words)
– Link to student friendly definitions and
extended examples
Introducing the text
• Before reading, ask questions that focus on
specific ideas that are relevant to understanding
the story
• Help students connect what they know to what
they will be reading
• Pre-reading discussions should be brief and
– Prolonged discussion can overemphasize the importance
of what students already know (or think they know)
about the content of the story (over-reliance on
background knowledge)
– Prolonged discussions can divert students’ attention
away from what they might discover from the text
(under-reliance on text)
Guidelines for Questions
• The questions teachers ask send
messages to students about what’s
“What did Papa Bear do next? (Students need to
remember the information)
“What does this tell us?” (Students need to
think about what they have understood)
• Develop open questions that require
students to describe and explain text
– Avoid solely asking questions that require
students to give one word answers or
playback words from text
Responding to Student
Comments (Following-up)
• The ways teachers respond to
student comments send messages
about what’s important and scaffold
students constructing meaning from
Reinforcing (on the right track)
Marking (focus on certain ideas)
Turning back to student (why?)
Repeating or rephrasing
Rephrasing what students are struggling to
express or repeating a student comment
– Acknowledges the importance of student
– Encourages elaboration
– Invites other students to connect to ideas
Teacher: Why would she care whether or not he’s
Student: Because he might try to eat her.
Teacher: He might try to do something bad to her.
Let’s students know they are on the
right track
Teacher: Why are they worried?
Student: They're probably looking for
her. She hasn't been back.
Teacher: We got it. That's right.
Responding to student comments in a way that
focuses on certain ideas. Lets students know
that a particular idea is important to the
Teacher: How has your opinion changed about Mr.
Tumnus? Has anyone's opinion changed?
Student: I think he's mean because the witch is making
Teacher: You think he's mean because the witch is
making him? That's an interesting point you just made.
Maybe he's not so mean?
**Turning back
Turning responsibility to students for thinking
through idea, probing for elaboration, turning
attention back to the text to make connections
• Student: He's trying to, like, make her do something
that she won't do.
• Teacher: Why? Why do you think that?
• Student: Because he's, like, blowing that flute all the
• Teacher: You think there's something up with that flute?
• Student: I think that flute is magic.
• Teacher: You think the flute is magic. Does anyone
remember what she said whenever they were about to
go back to his place? Find it in your text.
A Tip About Using Background
Knowledge During Read-Aloud
• When children use background knowledge
rather than story information to answer
– Confirm knowledge, and then lead back to text
– Yes, _____, you are right, but let’s think about
what the story tells us about
Let’s Look at Some Examples
• Jot down some notes:
– What kinds of questions is the teacher
asking? (rephrase, reinforce, mark, turn
– How are students responding? One
word? Long sentences?
– How does the teacher help students
construct meaning individually? build on
previous students?
Your notes
Practice Developing
Text Talk Queries
Q: Initial: OPEN question
A: Student Response:
Q: Follow-Up: (repeat, reinforce, mark, **turn back)
A: Student Response:
Q: Follow-Up: (repeat, reinforce, mark, **turn back)
A: Student Response
Make Way for Ducklings #1
• Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for
a place to live. But every time Mr.
Mallard saw what looked like a nice
place, Mrs. Mallard said it was no
good. There were sure to be foxes in
the woods or turtles in the water,
and she was not going to raise a
family where there might be foxes or
turtles. So they flew on and on. (pg. 1-2)
Text Talk Example #1
• Initial: (0pen) So, what’s the problem here?
• Response: The ducks can’t find a good place
to live.
• Follow-up: (Turn back) But Mr. Mallard found
two nice places – in woods and in the water why weren’t they good places to live?
• Response: There were foxes and turtles
• Follow-up: (Reinforce) Yes, you are right –
Mrs. Mallard said that those were no good.
(Repeat and Turn back) So, why are foxes
and turtles a problem?
Make Way for Ducklings #2
• As soon as Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings
were safe on the other side and on their
way down Mount Vernon Street, Michael
rushed back to his police booth. He called
Clancy at headquarters and said: “There’s
a family of ducks walkin’ down the street!”
Clancy said: “Family of what” “Ducks!”
yelled Michael. “Send a police car, quick!”
(p. 34-36)
Text Talk Example #2
• Initial: (0pen) So, what’s going on here?
• Response: Michael rushed back to ask the police
station to send a police car.
• Follow-up: (Reinforce) Good. (Turn back) What do
they need another police car for?
• Response: Maybe the ducks need help?
• Follow-up: (Reinforce) Yes, (Turn back) what do you
think they might need help with? (Scaffold) Where
do you think they might be headed next?
• Response: Oh, maybe they’re going to cross the road
again in another place!
• Follow-up: (Reinforce) Good prediction Alex! Let’s
keep reading to find out if your prediction is right.
Make Way for Ducklings #3
• Just as they were getting ready to
start on their way, a strange
enormous bird came by. It was
pushing a boat full of people, and
there was a man sitting on its back.
“Good morning,” quacked Mr. Mallard,
being polite. The big bird was too
proud to answer. (pages 7-8)
Make Way for Ducklings #4
• “I like this place,” said Mrs. Mallard as
they climbed out on the bank and waddled
along… “There are no foxes and no turtles,
and the people feed us peanuts. What
could be better?” But… ”Look out!”
squawked Mrs. Mallard, all of a dither.
“You’ll get run over!” And when she got her
breath, she added, “This is no place for
babies, with all those horrid things rushing
about. We’ll have to look somewhere else.”
Text Talk Example #3
• Initial: (0pen)
• Response:
• Follow-up:
• Response:
• Follow-up:
• Response:
Text Talk Example #4
• Initial: (0pen)
• Response:
• Follow-up:
• Response:
• Follow-up:
• Response: