Teaching Strategies – Reading is Like Eating an Elephant

Teaching strategies eating elephantsTeaching Strategies - Reading and Eating Elephants

I have to premise this article so that Animal Rights do not approach me: No Elephants were harmed during this article and eating of elephants is not condoned by the author. But if eating elephants was on the agenda that same teaching strategies are applicable to reading. How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Teaching Strategies, Reading and Elephants.

But what reading strategies do we use for reading - we do everything at once.

I was relief teaching with a group of year 6 students and I tried to apply the eating elephants theory.

I presented an article on the carbon tax one sentence at a time and developed the reading lesson around this.

The carbon tax is topical in Australia at the moment

Now the first sentence was straight forward enough - or so I thought!

carbon tax is a tax on industry and other sources which emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Pretty straight forward. I assumed kids would understand that sentence and normally teaching strategies would not include unpacking a sentence.

But this was an explicit reading lesson so I was going to eat elephants.

For some reason we seem to distance reading and writing as separate skills. In fact they are closely related.

You write so someone can read.  So it is good idea for a reader to understand the writing process.

In fact, good readers are often good writers.

 Back to the sentence -

carbon tax is a tax on industry and other sources which emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Now the teaching strategies.

First task - rewrite the sentence so that it ends with ...

...carbon tax.

Easy I thought. Not so.  Kids had to do a little bit of thinking and planning.

Second task - rewrite the sentence so that it starts with ...

Industry and other sources ...

These teaching strategies work on the premise that the meaning of the sentence needs to be understood before the students rewrite it.

The lesson proceeded and the kids were really focused on the task at hand.

So after the rewriting we worked on a few simple comprehension questions

1. A carbon tax is a tax on __________________
2. The carbon tax  puts a tax on industries that __________________________
3. The tax targets carbon that _______________________________
Using these teaching strategies lasted about 20 minutes but it did focus kids on understanding what they were reading rather than just looking at words.
So now the second sentence,

The purpose of the carbon tax is both financial and environmental.

Now rewrite the sentence so that ends in ...

 ... purpose.

And then we went into some comprehension questions.

  1. What are the two purposes of the carbon tax?
    • a._____________
    • b._____________
  2. What does financial mean?
  3. What was environmental mean?

So in 30 minutes we covered two sentences.

Obviously these intensive teaching strategies can't be used for every reading lesson. The kids would master only 20 sentences a year.

But using these teaching strategies proved two things.

  1. I was surprised how little kids understand what they read.
  2. Eating elephants still requires that you take one bite at a time.

Go for it.


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Teaching Strategies for Reading Comprehension.

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(1) comment

Martin J Potter

Very well written. It will be valuable to anybody who utilizes it, as well as myself. Keep doing what you are doing – for sure i will check out more posts.

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