Fantasy, mystery, biography, poetry, and informational are some of the genres we use during guided reading. Often forgotten, or maybe not considered, is reading for test-taking. This genre demands different cognitive skills that need to be taught for both reading the passage and answering the questions.
To introduce this genre to your students, first download and print copies of the Test-Taking Strategies cards from Next Step in Guided Reading author Jan Richardson’s website. These cards outline the steps for reading the passage and answering the questions. Print the cards back-to-back so each student has a card to use in the lesson.
Strategies for Reading the Passage
Step 1. Before reading a test passage, students should use their background knowledge by previewing text features—such as the title, headings, illustrations, graphs, and/or charts—to make predictions. This preview sets a purpose for reading.
Step 2. As they read the passage, students should circle or underline one or two key words in each paragraph. This helps them maintain focus and attention. When students read with a pencil in hand, the result is an amped level of accountability and understanding.
Step 3. After reading each paragraph, students should use the key words they highlighted to orally summarize it. This helps them remember what they read, which will assist them when they answer the test questions.
Step 4. Once they read the entire passage, they can use their highlighted key words to retell the entire passage.
Strategies for Answering Questions
Step 1. The first step involves understanding the question. Here, you will teach students how to identify key words in each question. (Hint: these words often include academic language, such as compare, analyze, determine, etc.)
Step 2. Now teach students to paraphrase the question using the key words they identified in step 1. This helps students focus their attention and clarify the purpose of the question. Through paraphrasing, their processing is slowed down, providing time for students to comprehend what the question is truly asking. Students who struggle with reading tests often jump to the multiple-choice answers and look for something that may have been in the passage but may not answer the question.
Step 3. The next step is to have students decide if they should look back through the text. Once students know where to look, they can utilize the comprehension strategies you have taught them in guided reading. For example, if the question is asking for a comparison, students can think of what they know about answering yellow questions. Or if a question asks which statement would be included in a summary of the text, they can quickly use the Somebody-Wanted-But-So card for the text and choose the answer that best fits.
Step 4. Finally, it is important to teach students to evaluate all the choices. Students need to toggle with the answer choices by asking, “Does this choice answer the question?” or by concluding, “I think it is right/not right because …” Once an answer choice is determined, students should reread the question and their answer to be sure they’ve selected the correct response. Sometimes all the choices are lifted from the text but only one answers the question. In some cases, the question asks the reader to identify two correct answers.
Teach these steps during your guided reading lessons. Once these strategies are internalized, they will become second nature for students.
—Karen Cangemi, Literacy Consultant