“What do you already know about it?” is the most basic initial issue regarding reading comprehension. Although it is a natural process to draw upon your prior knowledge and background experiences as you read, proficient readers are highly conscious of making these connections. They know that they will better understand if they attempt to relate what is new in a text to what they already know or have experienced.
Children learning to read, or struggling readers, may move directly through a text without stopping to consider whether the text makes sense based on their background knowledge, or whether their knowledge can be used to help them understand confusing or challenging material.
For more information see Comprehension: Characteristics of Poor Comprehenders and Implications of Instruction. This strategy emphasizes three kinds of connections that proficient readers make as they read (Harvey and Goudvis). They are:
- The easiest connection to teach to children is the text-to-self. These are highly personal connections that a reader makes between a piece of reading material and the reader’s experiences. When a reader says, “This story reminds me of a vacation we took to my grandfather’s farm,” the reader is expressing a text-to-self connection.
- The second kind of connection is text-to-text. Sometimes when we read, we are reminded of other things that we have read, other books by the same author, stories within a similar genre, poems that follow a similar theme, or writing that has a comparable style. This type of connection draws upon a reader’s specific experience with and knowledge of the world of print. Proficient readers gain insight during reading by thinking about how what they are reading connects to other familiar writing. When a reader says, “This character has the same problem that I read about in a story last year,” the reader is expressing a text-to-text connection.
- The third kind of connection is text-to-world. We all have ideas about how the world works that go far beyond our own personal experiences. We learn about things through television or movies. We encounter information about the world through magazines and newspapers. We hear others relate their personal experiences in the world, and we form ideas from our interactions with them.
Text-to-world connections are these larger connections that a reader brings to a reading situation. Often it is these text-to-world connections that teachers are trying to enhance when they teach lessons in science, social studies, and literature. When a reader says, “I saw a program on television that talked about things described in this article,” the reader is expressing a text-to-world connection.
Activities which teach the strategy of making connections engage students in thinking about whether any of their experiences and knowledge –self, text, or world– can be applied to what they are reading to help them better comprehend. A key phrase that prompts this strategy is “This reminds me of . . .”