Seven Ways to Assess Comprehension for a Novel Study

Ways to Assess Comprehension During Novel Study

Yes, we're reading...but are we learning?

Using novels to teach sounds fun…and maybe like a little bit of work. How do you make the leap from students reading a book to students demonstrating comprehension skills? How can you actually see what they’re thinking?

First, I find it’s helpful to break apart a novel into sections that can be read over 2-3 days. Using a combination of read aloud (or audiobook) portions, partner reading, and independent reading, students will read the assigned chapters. Then, I’ll go back over significant parts with them through lessons on focusing on a comprehension skill. I model with either a read aloud, previous novel study text, or an earlier section of the book. Now I need to see if they’re able to apply the comprehension skill to their current chapters.

Seven Different Ways I've Assessed Comprehension...

  1. Quizzes: A classic assessment tool for a reason. I developed “Quick Checks” with multiple choice questions and an open-ended response for each section of the novel I’m teaching. These are easy to assign, helpful for practicing test-taking strategies along with comprehension, and simple to grade. Plus, the majority of them are also in Google Forms, so these are easy to assign online when I forget to make copies.😉Find the quick checks for your novel study here.
  2. Graphic Organizers: Sometimes a simple graphic organizer or thinking map is all I need to have students show me their comprehension. Graphic organizers are a dime-a-dozen, which is good because you can easily find something that works for you. These can be faster to complete for students because they’re more like notes, rather than writing complete sentences.

3. Sticky Notes: Is the question easy enough to answer on a sticky note? I’ll write the question on the board or anchor chart paper and have students write their responses on sticky notes. If I want to make sure I know who wrote what, then I ask them to write their initials on the back. Questions to answer on a sticky note could be: What do you predict will happen next? What kind of person is the main character? What is the conflict? What is one example of figurative language in Ch. 2? Which character would you want to be friends with? What advice would you give the main character? And on and on. 🙂

4. Discussion/Socratic Seminar: The goal of a Socratic seminar is to have a student-led discussion. In order to encourage this with 4th and 5th graders, I give students a main question to focus on, something open-ended. They get 5-10 minutes of pre-writing/thinking time to jot down ideas they might want to share. After their pre-writing, they sit in a circle and take turns answering. To help make it a fruitful (and respectful) discussion, I provide sentence starters and usually allow them to pass the talking ball around. Everyone has to participate at least once to share an idea. As they discuss, I take notes on the board from their ideas. At the end, on a clean sheet of paper, they write their final response and thoughts about the question in a paragraph. I can either grade their writing or skip that part and just grade their participation.

5. Choice Boards: This is a more open-ended way to have students show their comprehension, but this Reading Response Fiction Choice Board includes nine activities. If we’re at the point of the year where I’ve taught most of these skills, this is something I pull out to see their creativity. It also gives the students a little freedom, so they can play to their strengths. If they like to draw, they might create a comic strip. If they like technology, they might design apps for the characters in the novel. Either way, I’m provided with gradable opportunities and the ability to assess their comprehension!

These last two assessment ideas are my favorites!

6. Lapbook: Break out the scissors and glue! Let’s go! Lapbooks are fun because students get to use those fine motor skills with cutting, folding, and gluing. Plus, they’re showing off their comprehension skills at the same time. I’ve done these piecemeal, as we’re working through the novel, and all at once, when we’re finished reading. From story maps to character cards to creative writing extensions, students are covering a variety of comprehension skills. Check out the many lapbook options here!

7. Student-Designed Quiz: Turn it around on your students and give them the chance to write their own questions. You can turn these into a game like Kahoot or Blooket, or even a Jeopardy-style quiz show. Or…take the best questions and make them into an actual graded assignment. You can grade the question writing AND the answers!

The Wild Robot is one of my favorite novels. Perfect for character traits, theme, text connections, and figurative language...and any other comprehension skill you can think of!

Lots of options, but remember...

Having different ways to assess comprehension keeps my classroom from getting boring and helps students to stay on track. It also provides students with multiple ways to show their understanding of reading, so I can determine if they really can make inferences or if they’re simply good at multiple choice questions.😉 

One last thing to remember when assessing comprehension… everything doesn’t need to be a grade! You can have informal check-ins with students regularly without giving an official grade. Work smarter, not harder!

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