How To Help Your Middle/High School Student Read That Last Chapter

She patiently overcomes reading anxiety by reading titles, first sentences and captions in order to catch up.

If your middle/high school student is struggling to read that final chapter of history/science/government or other fact-based text as part of their last academic push for the year, you may want to try this strategy.

1. Have them speed read the chapter title, caption headers, and first sentences of each paragraph in the chapter. (If racing the clock helps, you can set it for 1-3 minutes and let the clock pace them.)

2. Then ask them to describe what they predict the topic will be about, including questions which might be answered in the reading.

3. Finally, have them read the chapter completely and highlight main ideas and supporting details as they go along. (If they can’t highlight in the book because it is school property you might consider copying the pages, so that they can highlight on the copies.)

4. Now, give them 1-4 minutes to study as much of their highlighted material as possible.

5. Finally take the book or text away and ask them to repeat, in order if possible, as many details as possible from their highlighted text.
This strategy works for several reasons. First, the student overcomes a little anxiety by getting a ‘big-picture’ quick look at the chapter. Secondly, you are adding a bit of a game element when you challenge them to recall as much as they can without the book. Try it out and let me know how it works!
For more information on last minute study strategies you might check out “Reading Effectively” a very clear article on reading strategies.


A Great Recall Game: My Left Foot

The memory game, My Left Foot, from Engel Tutors, is a great way to work on recall skills. Well, this may not be my left foot, but it is someone’s left foot.


When students have trouble understanding something they have read, we may quickly identify the problem as a comprehension issue. However, it can be difficult to tell whether comprehension or memory or retrieval is really at the root of this problem. Comprehension means understanding the message of the text, memory refers to our ability to hold on to information in our mind – both the literal words and the message they convey; and retrieval means our ability to recall information from memory. All three are interconnected.

Working on retrieval skills may help students with reading comprehension challenges. Recall games encourage a student to concentrate on listening and identifying specific text. While this is not the same as comprehension, it is vital because it helps them improve underlying skills of attentiveness needed for comprehension.

Here is a fun example of a word recall game. Tell your child that you are going to tell him a story and that you want him to identify 3 items in the story that you can hold in your hand. Then proceed to tell a short story. For example,

I rode my bike to the store to buy groceries for a special meal. On the way I ran over a nail and got a flat-tire. I was so close to the store, I decided to walk the rest of the way on foot. Unfortunately, I stepped in some melted gum. It was so sticky that I couldn’t lift my foot. So, I took off my sneaker and kept walking. In the store I bought an apple and some walnuts. On the way home it started raining. Can you believe that? My left foot was soaked.

Now remind the listener to name 3 things they heard which can be held in their hands. Too easy? Make them remember more items, change the criteria, complicate the story with a long diversion. Of course, you have to play too!

This is a great game for car rides, doctor offices, and rainy days. Try it out and let me know how it goes.

If you want to learn a bit more about retreival watch this short Kahn Academy video at .

Want a heavy article on the relationship between memory, retrieval and comprehension? Try: Comprehension of Linguistic Dependencies: Speed-Accuracy Tradeoff Evidence for Direct-Access Retrieval From Memory at

Honor Earth Day With A Good Book

Eric of Engel Tutors recommends Ocean Sunlight, pictured here,  for children working on reading skills and ocean ecology.Spring has arrived and Earth Day is on it’s way. Here is a children’s book, perfect for 2nd through 5th graders, which I guarantee will cheer you and your child and help you dive into the spirit of Earth Day. Ocean Sunlight by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, offers a complete and fairly detailed overview of the carbon cycle. It illustrates the role of photosynthesis in ocean life as well as land life.

Bang describes the big picture of ocean life in a way that is captivating and accessible to students and adults. I was awed by the mixture of poetry and science and finished the book with a firmer grasp of the whole earth carbon life cycle. This would also be a good book for an older student with a reading challenge who is looking for something on environmental science or ocean ecology.

If you are looking for Earth Day weekend events that are fun for the family, take a look at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum ScienceFest: Earth Day or the Leslie Science Center Spring Eggstravaganza.

What science or ecology books would you recommend for Earth Day?

Late But Great Summer Reading Recommendations for Students 2014

swallowsSo, you are deep into summer now. Perhaps you’ve gone to camp, or gone on a family vacation. Perhaps you are playing summer ball, or biking, or checking out that new skateboard park in Ann Arbor. You always need some down-time, some alone time on a favorite couch with a cold lemonade at hand. Nothing makes down-time more fun than a good book.

Here are my late, great recommendations for August. If you read one, tell me how you liked it.

1. The Calder Game, by Blue Balliett. One of my elementary students highly recommended this action mystery. (3rd grade – 5th grade)

2. My Father’s Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannett, 1948 Newbery Honors Book and ALA – an old classic children’s adventure and comedy. (4th and 5th graders)

3. Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome. Before Harry Potter, before hobbits, there was this story of childhood adventure and fantasy. It is a classic almost lost to our time. (4th -7th grade)

4. Al Capone Does My Laundry, by Gennifer Choldenko, This Newbery Honor winning novel is a fictional account from a kid’s perspective of living at Alcatraz – with its host of infamous criminals – during the 1930’s. (5th – 7th grade roughly)

5. The Talking Earth, by Jean Craighead George, a Seminole Indian girl in Florida learns how to fend for herself. This is the author of My Side of The Mountain and Julie of The Wolves. Jean Craighead George is the queen of wilderness survival novels. Check it out. (Middle to High School)

6. La Linea, by Ann Jaramillo, “Fifteen-year-old Miguel and his younger sister make a grueling trek through the desert to the border of Mexico and the United States so they can join their parents in California.” Very timely. (Younger Teens)

7. Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech, “ After her mother leaves home suddenly, thirteen-year-old Sal and her grandparents take a car trip retracing her mother’s route.” Check it out!(Younger Teens)

8. Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass. This is a pretty cool story about a 13 year-old girl with synesthesia. Synesthesia is a real condition in which sounds, numbers and words all have color. Great story! (Junior High and High School)

9. The Princess Bride by William Goldman, This is a classic fantasy adventure and romance story, great for teenagers. It is “swashbuckling” fun. (Middle School through High School)

10. The Martian, by Andy Weir. I just finished reading this very recent science fiction novel. I’d recommend this for older high school students. Here’s an excerpt from the cover,

All of the science is real,” says Weir, an easygoing “space nerd” whose hobbies include relativistic physics and orbital mechanics. “All of the technology exists today, although a lot of it is next generation.”

Weir, 41, wrote the book as a “what-if scenario,” imagining the worst that could happen on a manned mission to Mars.

That’s All! Enjoy August!

Stay Sharp with These Summer Games

man bites dogSpring is here and it is time to think about summer. Kids want to do something new and exciting outside the classroom. You probably want the same for them. However, you don’t want them to lose any of that valuable progress they made in school. Educational board games are one way to solve that problem.

Two good games for young writers are Man Bites Dog and You’ve Been Sentenced. In both games, players build phrases and sentences with word cards.

In Man Bites Dog, the cards are clippings from newspapers. Since you are creating imaginative headlines, the responses are not always standard sentences, but students enjoy the creative hilarity. In You’ve Been Sentenced, the cards are hexagon shaped and include five variations on a word or phrase.

I like this game because it is easier to build a range of sentences. References to movie stars, presidents and famous race-car drivers are included to spice things up. Find both games online through Amazon.