Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Improving Comprehension Before & During Reading [Grades 1–2]

Written by Dr. Geraldine Haggard, a retired Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher.

                                                                                                                            Comprehension is often difficult for readers for two reasons: vocabulary demands and lack of prior knowledge about the topic at hand. Today, I am going to discuss ways to help children with comprehension before and during reading sessions.

The first-grade science standards include knowing the meaning of the word sound and knowing how sound is pronounced and how living beings use sound. For today's purpose, I will use two Hameray titles, Sound and Communication and Sound Waves, as example texts. You can use similar appropriately leveled texts on sound if you don't have these on hand—simply generalize the main idea of the lessons to your books' content. Adding book plans, writing activities, class discussions, and listening activities to the teacher's provision of modeling and practice provides an opportunity to practice crucial language arts standards while learning science content.                                                                                                                                                                                        

Increasing Prior Knowledge About Sound

The following ideas are for use before the formal study begins. 

  • Discuss why listening is essential and how the sound of a teacher's voice can help them learn more. What other sounds do they hear in the classroom? Which sounds do not help?
  • You (or the music teacher) can invite the children to place their fingers on their throats and feel vibrations as they sing. Ask them to sing loudly or softly.
  • A member of the school orchestra or band could display instruments as examples of things that create sound. For example, a visitor who plays a stringed instrument that is played with a bow might point out the parts of their instrument and describe what the bow does to the instrument when it is being played.
  • Ask the students to shares sounds they hear at home. What do these sounds mean?
  • Play a keyboard or xylophone. What creates the sound? Ask the children if they have toys that produce sounds. Do they know how the sounds are made?

As you do some of these activities, create a poster of sound-related words, and read them together. Invite the students to create oral sentences using some of the words. This is an easy activity that can continue over several days.

Guided Reading Example

Using Sound and Communication, pages 16 and 20–22, discuss how animals adapt to their environment by using sounds.

  • Page 16 – Introduce the word 'communications' by reminding students of its meaning and that they communicate with each other. Using a literacy frame, ask them to frame the word communication and then have each student read the page.
  • After the students read pages 20 and 21, ask them to share something they learned. Then have them read the summary sentence on page 22.

    Shared Reading Example

    Do a shared reading with Sound Waves pages 12–19, using each page to prompt conversation about how sound travels:

    • Page 12 – How is a sound produced?
    • Page 13 – What do the pictures and diagrams show us?

      • Page 16 – What does this page tell us about hearing sounds?
      • Page 17 – How can a sound be soft?

      • Page 18 – Describe a 'high pitch.'
      • Page 19 – Describe a 'low pitch.' Sing a song and listen for high and low pitches.

        Close the session by asking the students to share in writing two things they learned about sound throughout the lesson. They can read their responses to a neighbor while you listen in and share what you hear.

        The two books used as examples in this post are part of Hameray's STEM Explorations series (GRL H–K). Each title is packed with fun facts, dynamic visuals, and nonfiction text features so young scientists can explore science topics solo. Learn more about the series here!   


        Geraldine Haggard is the author of several books from our Kaleidoscope Collection. She spent 37 years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children.