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Teaching How To Making Connections While Reading

    teaching how to make connections while reading

    Making connections while reading is a vital comprehension skill for secondary students. Unfortunately, it can be a challenging skill to teach, especially to struggling or reluctant readers. This post lays out strategies and tips that can help.

    I didn’t always understand the importance of making connections while reading. However, that was simply because it came easy to me, as it does for many ELA teachers and book lovers. But that’s not necessarily the case for our students, especially middle-grade readers. Therefore, it’s important for us to remember our students need explicit instruction around reading and comprehension strategies, like making connections.

    Whether you’re gearing up to teach connections for the first time or need to revamp your approach, this post lays out the basics of teaching the power of connections in your classroom.

    The Importance of Making Connections While Reading

    Making connections to what we read is important at any age. It helps us deepen our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us in an authentic and meaningful way. Rather than mindlessly scanning the words on a page, making connections requires students to actively digest the content, making links between the text and their own experiences or prior knowledge. In some cases, it requires students to dig deeper, looking beyond the words on the page to make inferences and understand implications.

    Students need to draw on their prior knowledge and personal experiences to connect with the text. Making connections requires students to be active readers. When students make connections, they engage in deeper, more critical thought. In turn, that leads to a more engaging reading experience where they can better make meaning of the ideas presented—or implied—in the text. Therefore, as students learn the skills and gain the confidence needed to make these connections on their own, they will be on their way to becoming more successful, independent readers.

    Teaching Text-to-Self Connections

    When students make text-to-self connections, they can relate to the reading on a more personal level. Additionally, when they are able to tie their personal experiences to a text, students are more likely to have a more meaningful reading experience where they understand the characters, conflicts, settings, or themes on a deeper level.

    Text-to-self connections pave the path for understanding, perspective, and empathy, all of which are imperative real-world skills. However, depending on the topic and text, text-to-self connections may require a certain vulnerability. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of students’ comfort level if asking them to share their thoughts and connections to the class.

    Regardless, students often need a little nudge to help them bridge the gap between a text and their own experiences. The following prompts can help:

    • This is similar to my life because…
    • I can relate to the [character/conflict] because…
    • If I were in the character’s shoes, I would…
    • This reminds me of…
    • When I read this, I felt…

    Teaching Text-to-Text Connections

    Text-to-text connections help students become better readers and writers, which are essential skills in the ELA classroom and beyond. Additionally, these connections help strengthen students’ understanding of both texts involved. For example, a student must truly comprehend the text, and both recognize and analyze the elements that connect to another text. That means they are thinking beyond the pages of the material before them, activating prior knowledge, and practicing critical thinking. Overall, text-to-text connections require the kind of deep and high-level thought that makes for strong analysis.

    Text-to-text connections strengthen prior knowledge and allow students to identify commonalities across authors, literary movements, and genres, noting similar elements, from themes and tones to conflicts and characters. However, as students start to recognize connections between texts, their comprehension and analytical skills aren’t the only things improving. They also become more confident in their abilities as they realize they are bridging gaps between old material and new.

    If students struggle to notice connections between texts on their own, they might need scaffolded instruction. The following prompts are a great tool to use:

    • This reminds me of another book I’ve read because…
    • This is similar to another thing I read in that…
    • This [character/conflict/setting/theme] is similar to that of another text because…
    • I notice texts by/in this [author/genre/time period] tend to…
    • I noticed… in [INSERT OTHER TEXT HERE] too, which tells me…

    Teaching Text-to-World Connections

    Text-to-world connections help students better understand a text as they relate it to events happening (or that have already happened)  in the real world. Therefore, they are able to tap into their prior knowledge of history and the world around them as they work to make sense of the new information before them. However, these connections are far from a one-way street. Just as text-to-world connections help students better understand new information they read, they can also help them better make sense of the world around them. These connections often lead them to pause and think critically about both historical and current events and their implications for themselves, others, and society as a whole.

    In fact, one of the most important aspects of our job as teachers is preparing students for the world beyond our classroom. That includes being an educated, engaged, and active citizen of society. With that said, text-to-world connections are more important than they often get credit for. While text-to-world connections increase student comprehension of the text they are reading, they also help better understand the world around them. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

    Text-to-world connections make for engaging discussions and provide the perfect springboard for cross-curricular projects. Consider using the following prompts to get started: 

    • This reminds me of the real world because…
    • This connects to what is going on in our [community/country/society/world] because…
    • This text is similar to things that happen in the real world because…
    • This text is different from things that happen in the real world because…
    • This reminds me of when I learned about [HISTORICAL TOPIC] because…

    Why Do Some Students Struggle to Make Connections?

    Making connections doesn’t always come naturally to students. In fact, some students struggle to make connections between texts and their own experiences, other texts, or the world around them. This is especially true when reading a text that focuses on topics that students are unfamiliar with. In these cases, students are often caught up in trying to comprehend the material that they aren’t focused on making connections beyond the words on the page.

    However, this is rather ironic as making these connections can actually help them comprehend what they are reading. Therefore, it’s imperative to take the time to explicitly teach, model, and scaffold instruction around when, how, and why making connections is important and useful. Oftentimes, students end up realizing they have more connections with the text than they initially thought.

    If your students are struggling to make connections, take the time to choose texts that relate to experiences your students can understand. Another great idea is teaming up with teachers in other disciplines to choose texts that line up with what they are teaching. This will help you guide students toward making meaningful connections that you know are there.

    Teaching Tips for Making Connections While Reading

    Again, making connections doesn’t come naturally for all students. As teachers, it’s our job to show students how to connect the dots. The following tips can help as you guide students toward making connections while reading.

    1. Model and practice. As with any other reading comprehension skill, scaffolded instruction is a big help for students. Be sure to model how to make connections in a text for your students. Then, give students plenty of low-stakes opportunities to practice and gain confidence with this skill.
    1. Start simple. Knowing that making connections can be a challenge for some students, be sure to start by providing texts that are rather easy to connect to. This will help students build the skills and confidence they need to make more abstract connections with more complex texts.
    1. Provide written and spoken opportunities. For some students, discussing and writing about a connection are two totally different tasks. Oftentimes discussions allow students to bounce ideas off of one another, whereas writing feels like a higher-pressure, more individualized task. Therefore, providing opportunities for students to do both can help them get comfortable and build confidence around the overarching skill.
    1. Use the right tools. Aside from modeling making connections yourself, there are several tools teachers can use to help students with making connections as they read. For example, double-entry journals are a perfect tool for helping students keep track of their thoughts while they read, including any connections they may come up with. The same can be said for encouraging students to annotate as they read. Additionally, graphic organizers provide students with a visual way to sort information, scaffold their learning, and work toward independence with a new skill.
    1. Ask the right questions. Whether they struggle to comprehend the text or are reluctant readers from the start, asking the right questions can help focus students’ thinking or offer the guidance and inspiration the student needs. Providing thinking stems, sentence starters, and prompts offers the perfect springboard for students to make connections.

    Teacher Tip: Moving Beyond Surface Level Connections

    At the secondary level, students should be moving beyond surface-level connections. These are the connections that are painfully obvious, stopping at “I did that once too.” Instead, encourage students to dig deeper by explaining the importance of deeper, more meaningful connections. You see, it’s not just about making connections. It’s about activating critical thought and building strong bridges between the new and familiar. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions and challenge students to explain connections beyond the obvious.

    Like any other comprehension skill, mastery takes time. If your students are struggling to make connections as they read, try not to get frustrated and wave the white flag. Instead, take a step back and reconsider your methods. It might just be that your students need more explicit instruction or a scaffolded approach.

    Luckily, this post is the perfect resource to help guide both you and your students toward success! Bookmark this post so you can come back to it again and again whenever you need inspiration.

    While you’re at it, be sure to check out my post all about teaching comprehension strategies!

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