Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Fun Test for Reading Comprehension

Old Mr. Toad 006

Never think that you have learned
All there is to know.
That’s the surest way of all
Ignorance to show.”
~The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad,
by Thornton W. Burgess


It started as a search for a great bird book for children. I was looking for The Burgess Bird Book for Children, by Thornton W. Burgess. My library didn’t have that book, but they did have The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad by the same author. Having heard such wonderful reviews of his bird book, I decided to check out the book about a toad. I’m so glad I did.

For 23 very fun-filled chapters, my little ones have been held captivated by this story, spun with poetry and lots of science information about animals and nature. From singing in the smiling pool to hopping away from a very hungry black snake, the book was packed with excitement that made my littles ask for “one more chapter.” Originally copyrighted in 1916, the book remains fresh for today’s audience, filled with great lessons in science, nature, and treating others with dignity and respect. That’s a lot to pack into a book. To put it simply, we all loved this book and I’m ready to become the author’s biggest fan.

In case you can’t tell, I love to read and I want to pass that on to my children. I don’t want to make reading become a chore, tested and dissected to the point of zapping all joy. But I do want to know what they understand. I do want to test their comprehension.

So, I got a little sneaky.

I found ways to check their understanding of the book, chapter by chapter. They never knew what I was up to.

Home-school mommas… Listen up.

Here are some ideas for reading comprehension that don’t involve tedious work or frustrated kids.

  1. Ask kids to make predictions.
    As you read along in the book, stop at key points, look at your little ones with a look of wonder, and ask them what they think is going to happen. Some answers will be right and some wrong, but it will become clear just how well they are following the story.
  2. Ask questions about the characters in the story.
    Ask kids to describe what they think a character looks like or tell why they like/dislike a character. Let kids trade places with the character and tell what they would do in the situation.
  3. Let dad read a chapter at bedtime and then let kids give you a summary before you begin to read the next chapter (so not to miss anything, of course). Ask for details as they go along and pull as much information as possible. They’ll never even know it’s a test. ;)
  4. Don’t fear books without pictures.
    Letting kids draw pictures of what they think a scene or character looks like is a great way to see what they are understanding in the story.
  5. Take advantage of the opportunities to have kids share the story with another family member or friend.
    It’s amazing what kids remember and share with grandma.
  6. Put on a play of a favorite scene. Help kids dress-up or make stick puppets. Then, leave them to play it out while you observe the details they include in their play.

Bottom line, get creative and sneaky about testing comprehension so that reading will be a fun thing you do together and never become “school.”

Here are my little ones, creating a giant map of the place Old Mr. Toad calls home, from the smiling pool to the purple hills…

Old Mr. Toad 007 Old Mr. Toad 009

Old Mr. Toad 018 Old Mr. Toad 020

Old Mr. Toad 031 Old Mr. Toad 027

Old Mr. Toad 033

Tomorrow, I think we will make puppets to go with our giant map.

And in case you want to find out more about "Old Mr. Toad,”
Amazon offers a Kindle edition of this book (and many others) at no charge.
Check it out!

Have fun reading together.

Mrs. S.


Like this? Hope you’ll leave a comment and take time to share with your mom or teacher friends. :) Thanks for visiting.


  1. I grew up on Thornton Burgess! I convinced my elementary school library to carry several books in his Adventures Of series. Now, coincidentally, I live down the street from his old homestead and a couple towns over from the Burgess Museum.

  2. Ambleside Online recommends the bird book, and the 'retelling' is a wonderful way not just to test comprehension, but build pathways in the brain - they have to sort and sequence, put it in their own words, essentially process it and 'teach' it - we all know that we learn something so much better when we teach it! We use this method in place of worksheets or "chapter questions" (we don't use textbooks, but still) or other tedium. :)

    I've not gotten the Mr. Toad book, but I'll be getting it on my kindle right now! :)

    I'm inspired by your big floor maps and story writing and such. I'm such a 'not crafty' mama when it comes to that kind of thing!! :(

  3. We are reading The Burgess Bird Book. We love it!!!

  4. Great post! Thanks for the reading ideas AND the tip about Burgess being on Kindle for free!


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