How To

How to Improve Reading Comprehension with Video

Most educators today realize that teaching students how to read is not the sole responsibility of the language arts teacher, yet many teachers still struggle to come up with effective ways to actually improve reading comprehension in the classroom.

After all, the primary purpose of reading is comprehension. Unless you comprehend what you read you might as well be reading a different language. Unfortunately, for many students, reading in the content areas may actually seem like a different language.

This is particularly true in social studies classes when using primary sources that may date back several hundred years. I can recall a lesson I did in my own 8th grade social studies class in which I used a primary source written by Gustavus Vassa, an ex-slave who wrote about his experiences on board a slave ship during the middle passage. Unfortunately, for the students, the primary source reading might as well have been written in a different language, for while my students read the passage, they certainly did not comprehend its meaning.

However, the Gustavus Vassa reading was, and still is, an excellent primary source to use in the classroom. It was my job as a teacher to figure out how.

What I needed to do to improve reading comprehension was tap into students’ prior knowledge about the “middle passage” and the horrors of the slave trade before reading the first-hand account written by Gustavus Vassa. That’s right, understanding reading is based on what you already bring to the table when you open a text, what you already know about a particular topic, your prior knowledge.

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There are many ways teachers can tap into students’ prior knowledge such as Venn diagrams, KWL charts, and various prediction strategies. However, one of the most effective strategies, if not the most effective, is to use video clips at the beginning of the lesson prior to the reading assignment. By using video at the beginning of the lesson (rather than at the end), the teacher will tap into and build upon the students’ prior knowledge thereby improving reading comprehension. Furthermore, using video at the beginning of the lesson will increase student motivation to learn. Believe it or not, students will actually read because they want to read.

When the time came to teach about the “middle passage” the following year I knew exactly how I would use the same reading passage, but with much greater success. I would simply start the lesson with a short video clip. The best tool I’ve found for using video clips in the classroom is unitedstreaming.

The beauty of unitedstreaming is in its simplicity. It took only a few minutes for me to find the perfect video clip on the middle passage from unitedstreaming’s massive database and download it to my own computer.

Knowing the students had difficulty with the reading by Gustavus Vassa the year before, my intent was to tap into and build on their prior knowledge before tackling the difficult primary source reading.

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This time around I started by playing the video clip I had downloaded earlier. The video clip was only about 5 minutes long, but the effect it had was undeniable. Not only, did the video tap into and build upon prior knowledge, but it also sparked student interest and motivated students to want to learn more about the middle passage.

Following the video clip, I had students complete a short map exercise in which they identify products exchanged in the triangle trade (including slaves on the middle passage). The map activity is much more relevant to the students now that they can make the connection between the arrows that represent the slave trade on the map and the visual images of the harsh conditions onboard the slave ships that was shown in the unitedstreaming video.

It is not until the video and the map work were completed that I first introduced the reading by Gustavus Vassa.

While the video most likely answered many of the questions students might have had about the slave trade and the middle passage, it also raised many more. By the time we got to the reading assignment, we not only anticipated and addressed possible comprehension concerns, but also motivated the students to want to read.

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The materials I used in this lesson from one year to the next were nearly identical. The only difference was adding the unitedstreaming video clip to the beginning of the lesson. This one significant change, transformed the lesson from being an ineffective lesson to a lesson that inspired student learning and improved reading comprehension.

Today, I use unitedstreaming at least twice a week in my own classroom to do just that…increase student motivation and improve reading comprehension.