Helping Your Child “Read between the lines”
to Increase Comprehension
Starting in kindergarten, your child is expected to make inferences and draw conclusions about stories he reads. He must also be able to use textual evidence to support understanding of fiction elements such as plot, author’s purpose, making predictions, fact and opinion, characters, setting, problem and solution, cause and effect, etc…. Similar expectations apply when reading nonfiction.
If this sounds like a lot, never fear. I’m going to make it fun and easy for you…even do all the legwork for you. Whether you’re a parent or teacher, I’ve chosen a great dog book to get you started.
Charlie the Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman Cooks)
Illustrated by Diane deGroat
This story is told from Charlie’s point of view. He’s a Basset Hound that thinks he is pretty important on this ranch. His best friend is Suzie, but she’s just not much help in Charlie’s opinion. For your child, the fun will lie in picking up on clues and drawing conclusions that prove Charlie has it all backwards. The pictures are key to understanding the humor and your child will love being in on the secret!
Before you and your child dive into this book, have him look at the front cover. What do you think this book will be about? What other animals might we see on a ranch? What do you think a dog does on a ranch? What do you think might happen to Charlie in this story?
If the child is in kindergarten or first grade, have her take a “picture walk” of the book. This means she leafs through the pages WITHOUT reading, just looking at the pictures briefly. This helps her anticipate what to expect in the story. This also aids in decoding phonics and recalling related sight words.
Choose as many, or as few, of these to discuss with your child as you’d like.
- When Charlie introduces himself and Suzie, he describes their looks. Does he wish he looked like her? What words clue you in to how he feels about his looks? What do you think “unfortunately” means? What does he mean by “hold it against her?”
“Oh, hello. My name is Charlie. This is Suzie. She’s my best friend. We sure don’t look much alike, do we? Suzie, unfortunately, doesn’t have the paws I have. Or the droopy eyes. Or the floppy skin. Or…the big dangly ears. I try not to hold that against her.”
- How does Charlie feel about getting up early? Point to the words that give you the clue he wants to keep sleeping. Does Suzie seem to like getting up early?
“The first thing we do every day is get out of bed early. Too early. Dark early. I’d better go wake up Suzie. She’s never been much of a morning dog. [Suzie is at door running with smile while Charlie is in bed, with one eye open, one shut.] Well, I guess she was a morning dog for once. First time for everything.”
- “The next thing I have to do is chase Daisy the cow out of the yard. Some cows never listen.” [Suzie is in corner of picture staring at cow, cow staring back.] Suzie barks and the cow leaves. Charlie is seen in window. “Well…I guess I’ll let Suzie go ahead and do it this time. I like to give her a chance to shine every now and then. It’s the kind of dog I am.”
This is the second time Charlie has decided to go ahead and let Suzie do his job. Do you think he normally does it himself? Why or why not? What does Charlie mean by give Suzie a “chance to shine?” Will she glow or look brighter like the sun? How do you know?
- When Charlie and Suzie sniff the front porch to get rid of critters, do his words match the picture?
- “Mama loves her garden. I lend a hand” [nap in grass on back while Suzie is planting radishes]. What is Charlie doing to lend a hand? Who is really helping while he naps?
- There are cattle to round up and Charlie is in the jeep while Suzie is running and actually rounding up the cattle. Who’s doing more work rounding up the cattle?
- There are fences to fix. Charlie sleeps while Suzie holds tools. Who’s doing more work fixing fences? Do you see a pattern here? Which character REALLY is a ranch dog? What would you call Charlie…a lazy dog!
- For lunch and naptime, Charlie claims he is only stopping because he doesn’t want Suzie to be alone. Do Charlie’s words match the picture? Does Suzie look lonely without Charlie? What two things does Charlie seem to really like to do? (eat and sleep)
- At the end of the story, Charlie wakes up and everyone is gone, out working. He hears cows, sees Daisy eating the garden, and barks to get her to leave. “Good thing I was here.” How does Charlie save the day?
Do you remember your predictions before we read this story? Was the book about _________ like you guessed? Did we see any of the animals you predicted? What jobs can a dog help with on a ranch? What did Charlie spend most of his time doing in this story? Was he ever any help? Do you think Suzie minds working hard? What clue from the story makes you think that?
Be sure to scroll down to watch an actual video with your child of Charlie and the Pioneer Woman.
After reading the story, have students help you:
- list on chart paper all the “truths” about Charlie, despite what he may think, or
- draw a Venn Diagram—one circle lists How Charlie Sees Himself; the other circle lists Truths about Charlie, or
- create a t-chart—on the left, the child states his inference; on the right, he provides the corresponding evidence from the text or pictures that proves his conclusion, or
- compare the story with the real-life video about Charlie. (literary nonfiction) Scroll down to see the YouTube link or visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doJdtD_FR1o, or
- list on chart paper the following figures of speech and have students infer what the text really means (literal vs. figurative meanings): “give a chance to shine” not really glowing like the sun; “lend a hand” not giving your hand away for someone to borrow; “hold it against her” hold it up to her fur?
I hope this helps your child more fully enjoy a good story. Remember, good readers are critical thinkers who ask themselves questions about the text as they read each page. Then they strive to answer those questions using clues from the pictures, text, own past experience, etc… That is called reading comprehension!