A majority of U.S. employers rank reading comprehension "very important" for people with a high school diploma, according to a 2007 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, but 38 percent find high school graduates deficient in this area. Activities that involve "chunking" -- taking a large text passage or individual words and breaking them into smaller chunks -- help improve reading fluency and comprehension for struggling students.
Word Family Chunks
Groups of words that share a sound, known as word families, can start with the same sound, such as "shop," "share" and "show," or end with the same sound, like "pig," "wig" and "gig." New readers can study these words chunked together to learn how to identify sounds produced by the combination of letters and, therefore, recognize full words when encountered in a text. Chunking word families often employs flashcards with one word written on each, allowing students to read the words aloud.
For struggling spellers, chunking words into smaller pieces serves as practice for spelling basics. When you ask a student to "sound it out," you're actually asking him to chunk sounds together. For example, if you ask a student to spell "dictionary," you would chunk the word into syllables, or sounds, to help him spell it: "dic," "tion" and "ary." This activity not only increases spelling ability, but also increases the rate of word recognition when reading.
When students come across a daunting word while reading -- such as in passages on high-stakes standardized tests -- chunking can help them figure out the definition without consulting a dictionary. When chunking, students look for smaller words within the word, or recognizable root words, prefixes and suffixes. Once the word has been chunked into smaller words, students put the definitions of the smaller words together to find the definition of the original word. For example, if a student comes across the word "neonatologist," she can chunk the word into smaller, root words such as "neo," meaning new; "natal," meaning birth; and "logist," meaning a person who practices or specializes in something. When the student puts those chunks together, she can determine that the word, "neonatologist," means someone who specializes in new babies -- probably a doctor.
You can make puzzles from sentences, poetry, paragraphs or any other text by cutting the text into chunks for students to put together in a way that makes sense. This activity offers practice matching verb tenses across sentences, showing chronological or categorical order and making logical choices when writing. For example, students given four sections of sentences will use those pieces to create two full sentences. If section 1 said, "Harry and Sally were best friends," and section 2 said, "and they bought a cat together," section 3 could say, "Jeffrey and Nicole eat tacos at the mall," with "but their friends, Casey and Carly, prefer nachos," as the fourth section. The first two sections pair together because the past-tense verbs -- "were" and "bought" -- match. Sections 3 and 4 have matching present-tense verbs, "eat" and "prefer," as well as the food-related subject matter.
When a student reads a large piece of text, he should separate chunks where it makes sense to break up the story before rewriting it under subheadings or numbers. For instance, when reading the story of Cinderella, students break up the text into subheadings such as "Cleaning House," "The Evil Stepsisters," "The Evil Stepmother," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "The Lost Shoe" and "Happily Ever After." This activity gives students tools to break up longer passages and read smaller, more manageable pieces for better understanding.
Ashley Lauren is a blogger and professional writer who serves as a senior editor at Gender Across Borders. She received her B.A. in English with a specialization in creative writing and a 6-12 teaching certificate in 2006, and in 2010 she received a Master of Arts in English studies.