Four Strategies to Start the Year


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The million dollar question is always, Which strategies on the CAFE Menu do we introduce first? Is there a correct, sequential order?

Alas, our students vary so widely in experience and needs that there just isn't a systematic order we can rely on that will allow them to become exquisite readers. We have to make decisions based on student need with every new group we get, while keeping in mind what we know to be true about proficient readers.

We tend to consistently introduce the following three first:

  • Comprehension - Check for understanding
  • Accuracy - Cross checking
  • Expand Vocabulary - Tune in to interesting words.

After that we typically layer on the Comprehension strategy, Back up and reread.  Here's how it sounds in our classrooms.

"Boys and girls, I am excited to teach you another comprehension strategy called Back Up and Reread. Many of you might already know this strategy. Let me show you how I use it when I am reading. I used Check for Understanding after reading these last few pages, and I realized I couldn't remember what I read, so now I am going to turn back to the beginning of this section and reread it. The secret to this strategy's success is to really pay attention to what I am reading. Sometimes I need to back up, slow down, and read it more slowly, really thinking about the words as they enter my brain." We reread the section, a bit slower this time, enunciating each word clearly and thoughtfully.

"Class, I just reread the section, now I will Check for Understanding again to see if Back Up and Reread helped me understand what I read. Let's see, I just read that the friends were having lunch and were going to spend the night at Kelsey's house. Wow, Back Up and Reread did help me remember what I just read.

Think about it - I just used two of the strategies together to help me remember my reading. I started with Check for Understanding. When I couldn't remember what I read, I backed up and reread the section and then Checked for Understanding to show I could remember what was happening in the story."

We write Back up and reread on a post-it, and have a child refer to it when filling out the blank strategy card which will be posted under Comprehension. We close the lesson with, "Boys and girls, today when you are reading, if you don't remember what you read, try the strategy of Back Up and Reread and see if it will work for you, too."

Though all the strategies are important, these four are the ones we refer to over and over again, all year long. We reiterate their value and importance with each read aloud, whole group lesson, small group lesson, and individual conference, constantly pointing and anchoring students back to the CAFE Menu board.

We remind students often of the menu metaphor, explaining that just like a menu at a restaurant - you don't usually order just one thing. You might order a main course and a dessert, or an appetizer and a beverage. We explain that readers do the same thing as they read. They don't use just one strategy, but often try out two or three when they get confused or struggle to make sense of a text, until something works and the light bulb of understanding becomes bright for them.

In the beginning of the year, we really immerse ourselves in these key strategies for at least a few days, modeling over and over, allowing students time to try them out, becoming more aware and proficient as they practice. Even if they have had experience with the CAFE Menu, we reteach and reinforce these core strategies first, because we believe they hold the power to produce those exquisite life long readers we want them to be.

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