Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Little Synthesizers!

Of the six main reading comprehension strategies....

  • making connections
  • inferring
  • asking questions
  • determining importance- non-fiction
  • visualizing
  • synthesizing...

I usually save synthesizing for last because it seems to be the most difficult for primary kids to grasp.  This spring, I tried something new to introduce each new strategy.  The book Comprehension Connections  explains how to use a concrete object to introduce each new strategy in order to give kids a context for understanding the strategy before trying to apply it to reading.  It's a great book, especially if you use a reader's workshop or Daily 5 format to teach reading.  Tanny McGregor gives tons of practical examples and ideas that you can try right away.  Click on the picture below to check it out.

So, for synthesizing, she suggests using nesting dolls (matryoshka dolls) to introduce synthesizing.  I put the nesting dolls on a table, gave them a quick background on the cultural aspect of nesting dolls, and asked them how the dolls reminded them of thinking.  There responses were impressive.  My second graders said things like,

  • "It's like thinking because you know more the bigger you get."  
  • "The dolls are like thinking because you're thinking gets bigger as you learn more."
  • "In first grade, you know more than you did in kindergarten.  And, in second grade, you know more than you did in kindergarten and first grade."
  • "The dolls are like thinking because they get bigger and as you learn more, your thinking gets bigger."
After a brief discussion, I took the set of nesting dolls and put them together starting with the smallest so that the kids could see how the smallest one fits inside the next one and so on.  Then, I asked them, "How did that remind you of thinking?"  Again, their responses were right on.  
  • "It's like schema.  You have a file in your brain for different things.  When you learn something new, your schema file gets bigger just like the little dolls fit inside the bigger ones."
  • "Your old schema goes together with your new schema."
Wow!  So, after a few more days of mini-lessons on synthesizing with music (I know an old lady....) and practicing with a wordless book, I felt like my second graders were ready to write their own definition of synthesizing.  They wrote a definition of synthesizing in their own words and decorated a set of nesting dolls since that was our concrete model of the strategy.  They did a wonderful job explaining synthesizing.  We also studied a few different sets of different nesting dolls and looked for common characteristics that we could include in our own (bright colors, flowers, dots/circles, etc.).
Here are a few examples:

Synthesizing means your thinking grows and changes throughout the book.
Like nesting dolls.

Synthesizing is you know a little about it and then you know some more and then you know a lot.

Synthesizing is when your thinking gets small then it gets bigger and bigger and bigger!
 Like nesting dolls!

Synthesizing is where your thinking is small.  Then it grows a little.  Then it grows more and more.
Then it's done growing.

Synthesize means my thinking grows as I get older.
Synthesize means you put all of your thinking in one file.

To get a copy of this activity sheet, visit my Teacher's Notebook store by clicking on the picture below.

Please let me know what you think.  How do you teach synthesizing to your primary students?