This week’s tip is fairly basic but will have a huge impact on the reading comprehension of your kids: Start using graphic organizers as part of all your reading activities.

We know the brain needs several things to happen before long-term learning takes place.

* Activate prior knowledge
* Construct new knowledge
* Reflect on new learning

We also know that the brain responds to visuals and emotion. So before starting a new unit, have kids interact with the new content in a way that lets them activate prior knowledge and also sets them up to construct new knowledge later.

I’ll use a Civil Rights unit as an example. Find 4-6 images of the civil rights movement; depending on the age of your kids, these could be pictures of Jim Crow era signs, scenes from Little Rock, sit-ins from South Carolina or Bloody Sunday in Selma. The idea is to gather images that have emotion built in to them. You can find many of these images online at the Library of Congress or the National Archives. Google Images and Flickr are other options. We’ve also got a nice list of possible images sites on our Sites for Teachers page here at Social Studies Central.

Have a music clip handy as well. (Select a clip in a minor key, helping to create a stronger emotional connection to the images.)

Before showing the images (using a LCD or overhead projector), have students fold a piece of paper in half. (My wife calls it a hot dog fold!) Title one side “What I see” and the other “What I feel.” Instruct kids to write down very specific details on the “What I see” side such as a dog, a sign, three people, etc. Have them write down descriptive, emotion-filled words on the other side such as anger, disappointment, questioning, etc.

Start your music and flip slowly through your pictures. Have students record details and feelings and compare their list with a partner. You should be able to lead the kids through a pretty good discussion starting with what they saw and moving into what they felt.

The last bit is almost always the most effective. At the bottom of the paper, ask them to write a sentence explaining what all of the images have in common. This is a great lead-in to the rest of your unit. Have kids refer back to their list often, adding new details and reaction.

Try it and let me know how it works. Be sure to have fun!