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  • Writer's pictureMr D

Using Lyrics to Support Reading Comprehension

Some Reading Thoughts

As a Year 6 teacher, I've been thinking long and hard about teaching reading (especially since the SATS tests have become increasingly more difficult) but also because I want to get better at teaching reading. Above all, I want my class to read with greater understanding, to use key reading skills and to persevere through tough texts.

I was interested in reading from That Boy Can Teach and his post on allowing children to retrieve and record information and look at vocabulary before the inference can really take place:

I've also recently been inspired to give the guided reading carousel the boot and opt instead for whole class reading. There's been much research of late describing the benefits of mixed ability teaching, as well as whole class reading. A recent article in the TES by DM Crosby discusses how this can be done on a practical level in the classroom:

With these in mind, one thing has always annoyed me when collating reading resources: the dreaded reading comprehension. Millions upon millions of extracts, chapters, poems and news articles are available everywhere, with a range of questions about the text that teachers give out in the hope that children improve their reading. Much like an independent writing task doesn't improve writing, nor does an independent reading comprehension. 

Reading Lyrics Using Key Skills

As a teacher with a huge passion for music of all genres and ages, it occurred to me that that the lyrics to many famous songs work as both narratives and poems. (I'm very much expecting a poem in SATS this year.) By carefully selecting 10 suitable, famous songs, I then broke each one into 4 scaffolded reading comprehensions. We initially listened to the song, learnt the chorus and enjoyed singing along. We then annotated the lyrics with any ideas, understandings or questions we had. We then used the following sequence (one per day) to aid our comprehension.

1.) Retrieval and Recording

2.) Context Clues

3.) Inference

4.) Independent Assessment

This meant that children fully engaged with the song, analysed its contents and then practised key skills, either as a whole class with a mixed ability partner or  independently. They then had the opportunity to answer an assessment of mixed questions. Rather like Maths No Problem, I'm now modelling answers, completing guided questions and then allowing them to complete some questions independently. All of this is done at snails pace, allowing for discussion, critical thinking and a constant revisiting of strategies to take precedent.

One of the key strategies I am now using in my class (and I have added codes for children to circle on the assessments) is to use their new knowledge of each skill to work out which question type they are being asked. So many children do not answer the question because they are not sure what skill they are being asked to use. They are now practising this on SATS papers as well as during lyric comprehension lessons. The codes they write next to each question is as follows:

1.) RR (Retrieval and Recording)

2.) CC (Context Clues)

3.) INF (Inference)

4.) S (Summary)

There is much to be said for teaching content when it comes to reading (historical, social and cultural context can easily leave children unable to comprehend (see Doug Lemov's article on the TES: but we can equip children with some key skills to help overcome barriers they need not get stuck climbing over. They are as follows:

RR (Retieval and Recording Skills)



-Underlining key words

-Knowing synonyms of words you are looking for

-Knowing antonyms of words you are looking for

-Copying the word/sentence/phrase accurately

CC (Context Clues)

-Replace the unknown word with a replacement which works

-Look at the rootword for clues

-Identify any prefixes or suffixes

-Knowing synonyms of words you are looking for

-Knowing antonyms of words you are looking for

-Identify clues to identify which word class it falls into

INF (Inference)

-Think what you already know about this subject

-Use two or more clues in the text to come up with a new peice of information

-Consider summarising paragraphs to aid general understanding

-Do I need to change my thinking?

S (Summary)

-What inferences can I make?

-What is the overall 'feel' of the piece?

-Summarise a verse/paragraph in a word or short phrase

-Be general rather than specific

It's early days but my class have completed a handful of songs and they are all clearly more confident with knowling and understanding the skills that are using and how to use them. By practising a new skill for 30 minutes each day, regularly, I can model answers, use suitable vocabulalry for inferences (this emphasises, this suggests, assumes, most likely etc) and transfer these skills into the millions and millions of mixed skill reading comprehensions which often leave children flicking from one skill to another without the faintest idea that they are doing so.

Plus, if you can get your class listening to Iron Maiden, Tom Waits and David Bowie in the space of a few weeks, something's going well!

 Mr D

- To download the 40 Reading Comprehensions (Book 1) CLICK HERE

Big Yellow Taxi (by Joni Mitchell) Indian Sunset (by Elton John) Ironic (by Alanis Morissette) Pompeii (by Bastille) Space Oddity (by David Bowie) The Trooper (by Iron Maiden) The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (by Gordon Lightfoot) Thriller (by Michael Jackson) What is Truth? (by Johnny Cash) What’s he Building? (by Tom Waits)

TES Rating = 5 Stars

Quality Marks = TES Recommended Resource 

Other = TES Primary National Tests Hub Resource

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