Out of the many valuable strategies we use to enhance reading comprehension, “Chunking the text” is my favorite one. Chunking text simply means you take it a little bit at a time. When I teach this strategy, I like to bring in a Hershey Bar. Now that gets attention…so yummy. I ask students if they typically shove the whole candy into their mouths or if they break off chunks at a time and savor the flavor. Most of the kids like the idea of making the treat last and enjoying it a bite at a time.
This is a natural lead-in to explaining that text is more enjoyable and more easily understood if we break it into chunks. Together, we preview a challenging piece of text (usually non-fiction). Then, I demonstrate how to read just a paragraph or two at a time, stopping at that point to identify the main idea, consider any questions that pop up, and return to parts that may be confusing. I model how I often underline words or phrases that seem important or confusing or jot down my response on the side. In other words, I actively interact with the text before moving on.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that students use this strategy every time they read. I am suggesting that slowing down and thinking about small chunks of tricky text, often helps students to get the gist more quickly and move through a piece of text with a higher degree of comprehension.
To return to the food analogy, I tell students not to gulp it down in one bite. Although that is tempting (like when they are eating pizza) it is not wise in the long run. Breaking difficult text into chunks and chewing on the ideas will enable readers to more easily digest the entire piece.
Let’s break this process down into three simple steps:
- After previewing the text, begin to read one or two paragraphs at a time.
- Stop after reading a chunk of text to consider: main ideas, confusions, questions, reactions. You may want to underline or take short notes.
- Hold your ideas and questions in your head as you continue reading, repeating the process.
Try it at Home: Next time your child is struggling with a challenging piece of text, show him (or remind him, if he has already learned this strategy) to take it a bite at a time. Having a Hershey Bar on hand might provide additional incentive!