Comprehension Strategy 11: Key Themes

Comprehension strategies are seen as one of the most effective ways of helping struggling readers. In this article we explore the rationale behind the mini-skill 'Key Themes' - 11 of 12 in our comprehension resource

The ability to summarise is a vital comprehension strategy - it’s important that learners can identify the main idea in a text, and that they can link events and key themes. They can learn to do this by evaluating the text, finding key words and phrases that capture the gist of the text, and then deciding which elements are most significant.

“Research suggests instruction and practice in summarising not only improves students’ ability to summarise text, but also their overall comprehension of text content ...” (Duke and Pearson, 2002, in Cameron, 2009, p.66)

What is Key Themes?

The Key Themes mini-skill allows learners to practise this important strategy. It’s all about being able to review and recap main points. As our guide in The Red Stone of Calcutta, the Master, says: “Read and review the paragraph carefully. Recap and decide what you think the paragraph is all about – you have 3 options to choose from.”

Learners have to identify what the selected paragraph is about. The idea is to be able to focus on the paragraph, evaluate, and pull out the main themes while putting aside details which aren’t so relevant. They are given three answers to choose from, each a summary of the paragraph which may be correct or incorrect.

The summary may be based on a literal description of the action which has taken place, or it may be inference based, working out how a character might be feeling based on the clues given.

Let's take a closer look at the mini-skill. In the first example we are given a description of a series of actions…

…which tells us about the character John Wong’s jump.

In this second example, we can infer that the Master was feeling happy about how the mission had gone, as we are told that he smiled.

Summarising is a higher-order thinking skill, here learners are developing the ability to evaluate, consider emotions and empathy, and are improving their memory skills. The answers can be further discussed as a group during the discussion time with the supervisor.

What do you think?

We'd love to hear your thoughts about Key Themes as a comprehension strategy, and ways that you've integrated this practice into your classroom. Have you seen anything special?

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