Using ThinkMarks to Boost Comprehension of Fiction & Critical Thinking Skills with Young Readers

Using ThinkMarks to Boost Comprehension and Critical Thinking Skills in Young Readers
 

Hello! This week, I would like to tell you more about how I used “ThinkMarks” to help increase my students’ comprehension and critical thinking skills in fiction texts.  I have a free download of my “ThinkMark Charts” for fiction in color and black and white!  As some of you may remember, I gave a brief overview of using ThinkMarks in the classroom a few weeks ago in my blog post on January 17, 2014.  Today I will give you a few more details on how we used it, just in case you want to try it, too.

This is a ThinkMark chart that can be used for fictional books.
This is a ThinkMark chart that can be used for fictional books.
 

I’m not sure who originally coined the term, “ThinkMarks,” but I found it online when I was looking for some new and different ways to approach instruction in critical thinking.  I saw that some teachers use different types of bookmarks in different ways and call them ThinkMarks.  But when I saw that some teachers were using sticky notes as ThinkMarks, that’s when I REALLY got excited!  I loved the idea of marking a book with a sticky note as a reference to go back to.  In my last post, I shared the idea of having children mark with a sticky note the setting, beginning, middle (problem,) or ending (solution) of the story when they find it while reading. Of course, you could also mark many other things as well, as you can see by the ThinkMark chart above!  You can see me teaching a lesson below in critical thinking as I read my book, The Gingerbread Man, to a first grade class.  (If you are short on time, skip up to the four minute mark to see the section on how I teach prediction and inference.) 

 

The teacher can also model this process as well to help children visualize what she is doing more easily than if she just told them verbally.  Thinking aloud while reading is an extremely powerful way to teach reading comprehension and critical thinking, but what about the children that may not process auditory information well, or simply need more visual cues to hold their attention?  Modeling the process, and then showing children how you mark the spot with a sticky note can really help the children that need that visual cue. And when children also do this, we have added a (very) little bit of movement into an otherwise completely sedentary activity, and that’s always a plus!  It’s not much movement, but it is some!

Using a ThinkMark Chart for Comprehension & Critical Thinking
Using a ThinkMark Chart for Comprehension & Critical Thinking: We stored our sticky notes on the chart for safekeeping and to use next time!  You can download this chart in color here.  You can download it in black and white here.
 

To get started, just choose a book to read aloud to your class.  When you come to a section that you could mark, tell them what you just found, and why.  Then grab your sticky note and draw a little icon on it.  Older children can just write the word, but since I generally work with Kindergartners and first graders, I chose to make little pictures instead.  The pictures you see in this blog post were taken of a ThinkMark lesson done with first graders.

This my Gingerbread Man book that I was reading in the story!
This my Gingerbread Man book that I was reading in the video above!
 

Inference…. with KINDERGARTNERS????
Do you think that young children can be taught to infer?  I must admit that I was a little bit nervous about this at first, and I jumped to the conclusion (predicted!) that they could not!  But when you consider what an inference really is, I think that young children infer all the time!  We just don’t often call it that.  The website studyzone.org says, “You make an inference when you use clues from the story to figure out something that the author doesn’t tell you.”  We can also think of this as reading between the lines, and that’s why I drew a bunch of light lines with an I in the middle on my inference icon in my ThinkMark chart above.

Can you infer what is happening in this adorable book called "Hug" by Jess Alborough? You probably can, and your little ones can, too! The sticky note shows an I with lines which is my icon for inference. I infer that the little chimp is sad because he wants a hug. I also infer that the other animals feel bad for him and want to help. Did the author tell me that? NO! I inferred it using picture clues and my own "text to self" experiences.
Can you infer what is happening in this adorable book called “Hug” by Jess Alborough? You probably can, and your little ones can, too! The sticky note shows an I with lines which is my icon for inference. I infer that the little chimp is sad because he wants a hug. I also infer that the other animals feel bad for him and want to help. Did the author tell me that? NO! I inferred it using picture clues and my own “text to self” experiences.
 

When children read a wordless book, they must infer what is happening.  And when they read a beginning reader with tightly controlled vocabulary, very little print, and lots of pictures, they must infer what is happening in the story as well!  I think that most young children are quite adept at inferring; we just usually don’t refer to it as inference!

 

Predicting with Young Children is a Snap!
My students had no trouble at all predicting what might come next here and there in the stories that they were reading.  They just would sometimes forget to mark it with their ThinkMarks, that’s all!  I had the children make a capital P and put it in a cloud on the sticky note for the prediction icon.

Yes Book Predict Sticky
In this book, “Yes!” by Jez Alborough, the children could easily predict what was going to happen next to the little chimp, who doesn’t want to go to bed. Can you see the little sticky note with the prediction icon on it?
 

Yes, Little Kids CAN Make Text to Self Connections!
This is just not as hard as it sounds!  All I did was ask the children if the book we were reading reminded them of something or a time in their own life and asked them to share.  Voilá!  The flood gates were opened and I couldn’t get them to STOP making text to self connections!  They were CONSTANT, CONTINUAL, EVERYWHERE, AND… well, at times downright annoying, since they wouldn’t stop!  LOL!  But let’s not go there!  I was just glad to see that making those connections was EASY!!!  Hooray!!!

This book, called "Yes!" by Jez Alborough, also has very few words in it and is a natural for inference and making text to self connections.
This book, called “Yes!” by Jez Alborough, also has very few words in it and is a natural for inference and making text to self connections.  I think that since most authors of books for young children try to make their stories meaningful for little ones, the text to self connections come quite naturally!  It’s just a matter of telling them what to call it and pointing out that they are there.
 

Teaching Kids to Form an Opinion is EASY!
Kids form opinions all the time.  Don’t we constantly hear things like, “That’s not fair!  He got more than me!”  “She’s being mean to me!”  Each time we make a graph in class about our favorite pizza topping, ice cream, or animal, we form opinions.  The hardest thing is to teach children the word, “opinion” and what it means.

When I taught the children about forming an opinion, I simply led class discussions when they came up, asking kids what they thought about something that was happening, and I used the word opinion a lot.  I just kept saying, “What’s your opinion?” each time a child offers up an opinion.

A teacher friend told me that she always used the “Pizza Question” when she taught the children about opinions.  She would ask the children if pizza was good, or not.  She said that if the kids think pizza is great, but the teacher thinks it’s “yucky,” then that’s an opinion.  We each think we are right, but nobody can prove it.”

 

Identifying the Parts of the Story is Probably the Hardest Part
Teaching kids to identify the parts of a story is hard.  In fact, it may be the hardest to master all of the critical thinking skills on the ThinkMark page!  Certainly, identifying the parts of the story and retelling a story seem more like simple basic skills because we hear about them more often.  But truthfully, I think they are more difficult to master than any of inference, text to self connections, forming opinions, and predicting!  Not when you take those “big boy pants” academic sounding words and apply some good old fashioned bring-it-down-to-their-level techniques that kindergarten teachers are famous for!

For some great techniques on teaching the parts of a story in an easy way, see the blog post I wrote on the topic here on January 17, 2014.

 

Using Talk Blocks as a Critical Thinking Tool
I used “Talk Blocks” from Learning Resources to help me remind the children what each icon represented and meant.  If you are not familiar with Talk Blocks, these are little electronic blocks that you can record your voice onto with the push of a button.  Once your voice is recorded, the children just push the button to hear the message.  The applications of this wonderful tool are only limited to your imagination!  They are particularly useful for recording instructions for learning centers for non-readers!

I used Talkblocks to remind children which critical thinking skill goes with which icon by recording questions on each one.
I used Talkblocks to remind children which critical thinking skill goes with which icon by recording questions on each one.
 

But in this case, I recorded questions on the Talk Blocks that went with each critical thinking skill.  For example, in the Inference Talk Block, I recorded the words, “Can you read between the lines?  What is really happening here?  Can you tell me something that you know that the author didn’t write down?  That’s inference!”  Then I put the icon on the top of the block.  (The clear plastic cover slips off easily so that you can change the picture that shows underneath.)

In the past, I have used the Talk Blocks to record new sight words that the children were having trouble remembering.  I had the class sing the sight word song that went with that particular word, and let the children push the button to hear the song at the writing table.  It was a bit noisy, but fun!

We recorded the children singing just a little bit of one of HeidiSongs' sight word songs on the Talk Block and then put it on the writing table to help them remember their new words.
We recorded the children singing just a little bit of one of HeidiSongs’ sight word songs on the Talk Block and then put it on the writing table to help them remember their new words.
 

Below you can see the “Who Song” for teaching kids to spell and read the word “who.”

 

For the “Text to Self” Talk Block, I recorded the following question:  “Does this remind you of anything in your own life or your own world?

For the Prediction Talk Block, I recorded, “What do you think will happen next?  Can you predict what will happen next?  Make a prediction!”

 

Here are some tips to make the lesson go more smoothly:

1.  I printed one chart in color for my whole class to see, and then printed a black and white chart for each child.  They stopped reading and drew their icons, but I am not positive that was the best way to do it.  My idea was to have them save the sticky notes on that chart and then they would have them saved for the next time.  But so far, I haven’t been back to try it again, due to so much traveling!  It would be great to have a nice, big, poster size anchor chart in the classroom of the ThinkMark Chart to leave up and display!
2.  If I could go back and do it again, I would do just the beginning, middle, end, and setting part with sticky notes first and separately from the other thinking skills.  Then I might do the other skills one lesson at a time, I think- just to help the kids focus on one new vocabulary word at a time.  (The vocabulary words are inference, prediction, opinion, and text to self-connections.)  As I said, the skills are not hard to for them to grasp- just the new words!

Don't forget to check out this post on Reading Comprehension Games for more activities that will help teach the parts of a story!
Don’t forget to check out this post on Reading Comprehension Games for more activities that will help teach the parts of a story!
 

All in all, I think that young children can easily grasp these skills and can be introduced the associated vocabulary.  Like anything, it’s just a matter of bringing it down to their level.  Here’s another tip:  a friend of mine also shared that she was careful to “label outloud” what she was doing especially when her administrators came through, just to make sure they didn’t miss it. For example, “Let’s all see if you can predict what will happen next.  We are learning to predict because you are all BIG grown-up, thinkers!  Let’s predict.”  That way, she was certain that she could be “marked off” on having addressed those critical thinking skills on her evaluation!  I thought that this was a pretty ingenious plan!

What have you experienced?  Do you have any great tricks that you can share? 

– Heidi 🙂


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Heidi Butkus

About Heidi Butkus

Heidi Butkus has been teaching in California public schools since 1985. She has somehow managed to stay in Kindergarten all of those years, with the exception of five years in first grade, and also taught a parent participation preschool for a short while! Combining a strong knowledge of brain research with practical experience, Heidi has created a wealth of fun and engaging teaching techniques that work well with diverse populations. She has presented at conferences nationwide, and is the owner and founder of HeidiSongs.com. Heidi has also created fourteen original CD's and DVD's for teaching beginning reading and math skills, three musical plays designed especially for young performers, and has written some picture books and many other teaching resources. Heidi's multimedia workshops are filled with fun and motivational educational activities that have been classroom tested and revised for effectiveness with all types of learners.
  1. Heidi, I love reading your blogs! Your techniques are genius! Every time I read one, I know that I can use it with my students that have special needs. Thank you so much for all you share!

  2. I’ve always wanted to use sticky notes with my kids, but was never really confident of the “what” I wanted to use them for…. You just gave me a perfect purpose! Can’t wait to start using this idea next week! Thanks so much for your shares!

  3. I loved your post last week, and now I’m even more excited than ever to try this with my kiddos. Thank you so much for the free download- I have a copy of last week’s blog sitting on my desk because I was hoping to find the time to make my own chart. Now I don’t have to! 🙂
    Do you make individual charts, or one big one for the class? Do you have the kids draw the icons, or do you “preload” them on the sticky notes?

    • Thank you, Karen! Those are good questions. I should add the answers to the post!
      I printed one chart in color for my whole class to see, and then printed a black and white chart for each child. They stopped reading and drew their icons, but I am not positive that was the best way to do it. My idea was to have them save the sticky notes on that chart and then they would have them saved for the next time. But so far, I haven’t been back to try it again, due to so much traveling!

      If I could go back and do it again, I would do just the beginning, middle, end, and setting part with sticky notes first and separately from the other thinking skills. Then I might do the other skills one lesson at a time, I think- just to help the kids focus on one new vocabulary word at a time. (The vocabulary words are inference, prediction, opinion, and text to self-connections.) As I said, the skills are not hard to for them to grasp- just the new words!
      I think that having a nice, poster size anchor chart in the classroom of the ThinkMark Chart would be a great thing!
      Thanks, Karen!
      Heidi

  4. Hi Heidi,
    This blog has really got me excited! (Most I find interesting and helpful.) 🙂 I’ve purchased many of your wonderful dvd’s with both my school monies and my own because the children LOVE them and LEARN with them so easily! I am inspired to finally buy the talkblocks, and have already sent the poster to my copier. Thank you for offering some of your materials for free. I share these with my Kinder team and am hoping they too will see that the use of their funds would be well spent at HeidiSongs.

    • Hi!
      I have developed a page, but haven’t tried it out yet, so I hate to blog on something that I haven’t used yet! But I am hoping to use it and then blog on it as soon as possible!
      Thanks,
      Heidi

  5. Hi dear heidi
    I confess that I really enjoy reading your website . the technique you use in your classes are wonderful. you know I was looking for how i can assess my students’ critical thinking after reading a story and suddenly found your website . unfortunately , I have difficulties in downloading the critical thinking cards . I really need them because of the research I’m conducting on the impact on story reading on critical thinking and recall of information . I’d appreciate your help in advance . waiting to hear from you soon
    Best regards

  6. Hello Heidi…I am teaching first grade for the first time this year and I really like the idea of think charts but im confused as to when the class gets the chart. Do you read the book once then read it again and then they get to use the charts??? I would love to make my reading block more interactive using this but if you could let me know how Id really appreciate it.
    Mikell

    • Hi!
      Sorry that wasn’t clear enough!
      When I did it in first grade, I demonstrated the use of the chart to the kids whole group by reading a book and inviting the children up to place my Thinkmarks into the book for me. The kids helped me decide which Thinkmarks went where.
      Then we broke into small groups, and each child was working on their own individual reading book to read. (It was their AR book.) They each had a chart and as they read their books, they placed their Thinkmarks into them. As they worked, I helped and guided them through it, answering questions as they went along. Of course there was a little bit of confusion and clarification needed, but once they got the hang of it, it was not a big problem! If we had had more time, I would have liked to have them explain more about why they chose those spots for their Thinkmarks.
      I hope that clears it up!
      Heidi

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