How making connections helps your child become a stronger reader
Making connections is a natural process for skilled readers. This is how we relate to the characters we read about, and how we understand the setting and plot by using our prior knowledge and experience. While it may seem easy enough now, it is a skill that takes practice and thought, and can be improved through metacognition (thinking about our own thinking).
Studies have shown that children’s reading skills are better when they are aware of their own thought processes. This is why teachers focus so much on reading comprehension strategies, and try to help our students deepen their understanding of what they read by becoming more aware of what they already know. In a classroom, this sometimes looks like students stopping while they are reading to jot down ways in which they connect to the characters, setting, and plot of their stories. This act of becoming aware of their own connections to a story strengthens their ability to remember the events in the story and, by looking for concrete examples of how they personally connect to the story, they are more likely to be engaged and want to read more.
A study by Keene and Zimmerman (1997) found that there are three primary types of connections that are helpful to make while reading. They are:
1) Text to Self. This is the easiest type of connection to make, and the one that most people think of when they hear about the “making connections” strategy. A text-self connection is one in which we relate to something in the story because of our own experiences. For example, when I read a book about a character that has a newborn baby, I can relate to her because I remember what it was like when my own baby was a newborn. This connection helps me understand how she feels and why she might behave in certain ways.
2) Text to Text. This connection allows us to understand a story better because it relates to something else we have read. These connections are helpful when comparing and contrasting authors, books within a certain genre, and when analyzing certain elements of a story like character development and story arcs. For example, in my class of Kindergartners I read Charlotte’s Web aloud. Later in the year, we read The Trumpet of the Swan, and one of my students made a text-text connection between the main characters of both stories. He said, “Louis can’t honk like the other swans and his parents are worried about him. That reminds me of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web because when he’s born he’s the runt and Fern’s dad thinks he’s not going to be strong like the other pigs.”
3) Text to World. This connection covers pretty much everything else! A text-world connection is when we use background knowledge (but not necessarily personal experience) to better understand a story. This could be our knowledge of history, politics, geography, science, etc. For example, if there is a war happening in a story I am reading, I do not have personal experience to draw from, but I do know about why some wars start, the trauma they cause, and some ways that they impact families because of the knowledge I’ve gained from reading, movies, family stories, and my education.
What can I do to help my child make connections while reading?
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Read aloud, and if they are able to read independently, do shared reading where you take turns reading aloud. Stop regularly to check in, and prompt them to make connections with questions such as:
- Does this character remind you of anyone you know?
- Have you ever felt the way (character) feels? When?
- Does this story remind you of anything else you’ve read?
- Have you ever been to a place like (setting)? What did you do there? What was it like?
- What do you already know about (any real place or historical event that occurs in the story)?
The more often they are asked to make connections, the more automatic the process will become and they will start to do it without prompting and eventually while they are reading independently!