Higher order thinking and the teaching of reading in the middle years

Hi everyone

Kylie here from Ripper Reading Resources.  Today I am going to share with you some of my favourite ideas for supporting higher order thinking when teaching reading.

I am passionate about the teaching of reading and it is the focus of my research.

High yield active comprehension strategies

Firstly, it is important to explicitly teach the high yield active comprehension strategies.  Some teachers introduce each strategy in isolation and then integrate each of the strategies as they are introduced.  These are some of my favourite resources for explicit comprehension strategy instruction:

I also like to include the high yield active comprehension strategies in literacy rotations.
I do this in a number of ways, including the use of hands-on resources.  These include my reading comprehension die for guided reading groups, reading comprehension strategy keys for literacy stations and the reading comprehension dice game.  

You can download the dice game for free by clicking on the image below:

4H Reading Strategy

I love the 4H reading strategy.  It's an innovation on Question-Answer-Relationships (QAR), however I have found that the children find the language much easier.  QAR is an evidence-based approach developed by Taffy Raphael.  The 4H reading strategy is an innovation on QAR and Three Level Guides.  

The 4H reading strategy is also an innovation on the 3H reading strategy, developed by Prof. Lorraine Graham, Professor of Learning Intervention at the University of Melbourne. See:  

Graham, L. & Wong, B.Y.L. (1993). Comparing two modes in teaching a question-answering strategy for enhancing reading comprehension: Didactic and self-instructional training.  Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26 (4), 270-279.

The 4H strategy is really simple - is the answer literal, right here in the text? Is the answer hidden, do I need to think and search? Is the answer my own opinion or based on my past experience; so is it in my head?  Or, is the answer how I feel and therefore in my heart?

I have created many resources based on the 4H reading strategy using picture books as a focus.  
For the next two weeks, you can download a free copy of my detective 4H reading strategy bookmarks by clicking here.  Find out about the complete resource by clicking on the image above.

If your students struggle with the categories and language of QAR, give the 4H reading strategy a whirl :)

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal teaching is another evidence-based approach developed by Palinscar and Brown that is proven to improve reading comprehension through small group discussions.  

A few years ago I extended the traditional four strategies in reciprocal teaching (i.e. predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising) to include more of the high yield active comprehension strategies.  You can read my published articles about this approach here - in English (guided reading) and Mathematics.  My latest versions of this work are my best (I think) and include interactive notebook pages and graphic organisers to support each of the high yield active comprehension strategies in English and Mathematics.  You can read more about this approach at my blog post here.   
When I introduce reciprocal teaching for the first time with a class or within a school, I usually begin with the Connectors or Into Connectors series from Scholastic.  Jill Eggleton, the author, wrote the Connectors series first (for Years 5-7) and it consists of non-fiction titles with the four prompts for predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising.  She then wrote the Into Connectors series for Years 3-4 and it includes both fiction and non-fiction texts and more reading strategies integrated into each text as prompts.  You can view a short YouTube clip about the Into Connectors series by clicking on the image below.

One caution from the clip above though.  Jill mentions that the Connectors and Into Connectors can be used for small group independent reading.  I always have an adult (teacher, teacher aide or parent) work with the group, so they can assist the students to "suck" as much meaning as possible out of each page - it's not a race to get through the book - and in fact, in one 20-30 minute reading group, we may only actually work on the one double page spread.

I then introduce the role cards in small group guided reading sessions, with each student taking on one or more of the reading roles.  

I was working with a group of teaching principals here in southern Queensland earlier this year and have created an even better version now!  I am unsure about you, but I find as a teacher I am constantly thinking, re-thinking, re-developing etc.  

I think this is my best version of my work in this area to date, but I have only developed a HOT Reciprocal Teaching kit for guided reading in English so far. Click on the image below to find out more:
This version also includes graphic organisers and introduces five different questioning options for teachers - the 5W and 1H (who, what, where, when, why and how); thick and thin questions, the 4H reading strategy; QAR; and the Question Creator (sometimes called the Question Matrix or Q Chart).   

You can see in the image above that there are eight role cards, with each student in a reading group responsible for one of the roles.  Teachers may remove a couple of the role cards if they work with six students in a reading group, or two students may take on two of the roles.

To celebrate the launch of our new Australian Teachers' collaborative blog, I am going to give away one free copy of my HOT Reciprocal Teaching Bundle to one lucky blog reader who enters via the Rafflecopter at the end of this post.  

Perhaps you could also share in the comments how you have used reciprocal teaching in your classroom or other ways that you support higher order thinking in the teaching of reading?  

Collaborative Reading Workshop

Sometimes the simple things can be the most effective and this is the case for my Collaborative Reading Workshop approach.  

You can read my published article about this approach here.  I much prefer the published version, but I can't seem to find a copy of that for free online.

If you are a middle or upper primary school teacher, or a secondary teacher, please go to the back of the article where you can read my students' responses to the lyrics of Michael Franti's song, "You Can Bomb the World to Pieces, But You Can't Bomb it Into Peace" - I still get goosebumps when I read the depth of their thinking :)

On the left, you can see my old daggy version of the charts that I used in my classroom and on the right my lovely new digital version :)

Collaborative Reading Workshop is a really simple process where the teacher and students annotate the text together, marking their thinking and then the students share their burning questions, wonderings and connections (individually with the whole class).  The thinking that is generated just snowballs!  The students then work together to find the answers to their questions.  The process supports the students to move from literal, to inferential and evaluative comprehension.

Hopefully you have picked up something new from this blog post.  

I would love to hear about how you support higher order thinking in your teaching of reading, so please leave me a message in the comments below.

Happy teaching :)


  1. Thanks for a brilliant, informative post Kylie! I have pinned it because I'm sure I will revisit and reread it.

  2. Thanks so much for that feedback - it has made my day :) I hope you can use some of the ideas.

  3. Congratulations Candice for winning our giveaway - I will be emailing you shortly :)

  4. Fantastic, informative piece! I love your Reciprocal Teaching strategies! Thank you for a comprehensive post that I'll refer to time and again!

  5. Thanks so much for your feedback Joy - I know you have been using this approach and have had success with it :) I really appreciate your support of my work. Kylie

  6. Thank you for this Kylie. There are so many wonderful strategies here, which to try first??? I particularly appreciate all the links for further information. Your passion for teaching shines through brightly!!

    1. As does yours Lauren...You have touched my life over the years and I admire you as an educator and friend very much...thanks for leaving feedback
      Kylie xxx

  7. Hi Kylie,
    The 4H reading strategy was easily differentiated and so very engaging! I loved the collaborative work needed in some activities. Well done, once again, for an extremely worthwhile resource!
    Christine Burch

    1. Thanks so much Christine for leaving feedback. I know you have used this approach with your own students and I am glad they found it engaging :) I love your passion for teaching.

  8. Kylie,
    I love it all! So easy to use and very helpful.

    1. Thanks so much Anne - I love your work too and will share your link here so others can check it out:https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Anne-Weaver


  9. Wow, thanks again Kylie for guiding my practice. As I finish up my first year of teaching, I am looking for ways to improve my teaching for next year, in particular the way I have been organising and targeting particular skills in reading groups. You have definitely given me some great, evidence based ideas and better yet, free resources! Thank you!!!
    Sarah Williams

    1. Thanks so much for leaving feedback Sarah...I remember you as an amazing undergraduate and I bet you are an amazing teacher now :)

  10. As we move further towards a whole-school approach to reading, I am more and convinced of the effectiveness of the Collaborative Reading Workshop. There is so much power in talk - students justify, debate and access ideas that aren't possible with a pen and paper, 10 question comprehension worksheet. You were my first reading 'teacher' and I never stop learning from you.
    Sam Colbert

    1. Sam I am so loving working with you again, even though we are in different places and institutions. I am so inspired by what you are doing in your school. I am so pleased and thrilled that you like my Collaborative Reading Workshop process. It is so really simple, but so powerful...happy to come and help you implement it in your school (for free) down the track if you are interested :) Love your work xx

  11. Kylie,
    Thanks for this blog post. It is timely as I am a relatively new teacher and just discovering Taffy Raphael's work on Question Answer Relationships. I found her work quite helpful in putting into words a question I have had for quite some time. Last school year I was a substitute teacher in a high-performing public elementary school in the U.S. (primarily in fourth grade classrooms). I found myself frustrated because the reading comprehension questions given the students were almost always text explicit, or "right there" questions. I found that this lead many of the students to become intellectually lazy. If the words used to make the question and those used to provide the answer were not in the same sentence, students would quickly give up and say they could not "find" the answer. Clearly more text implicit (think and search) and script implicit (on my own) questions were needed to help move these students to higher order thinking skills.

    Can you help me in clarifying the benefit of text explicit questions? My guess is that the "right there" questions assess simple reading comprehension and are therefore most appropriate in a teacher's early work with students or with struggling readers. Are there advantages to continuing to use text explicit questions with students apart from this? Simply to make sure they have done the reading? Is there a greater usefulness to using these questions with advanced readers that I am missing? I realize they are building blocks and should not be removed from the instruction, but once students are moved towards higher order thinking can text explicit questions be left behind?

    Thanks for your blog. I am an international teacher having taught in Mongolia, the U.S., and am now living in Armenia and studying for a degree in elementary literacy. I am glad to add a blog from Down Under to my list of helpful resources!

    Kind regards,

  12. So lovely to hear from you Dana...I have been having the same thoughts as you around this actually. The feedback I am giving here is my own opinion as by coincidence I have arranged some resources and research earlier today so I can read up around this. I think there are a few people making mega big bucks out of close reading and text-dependent questions type resources, as well as ones around complex texts or text complexity. I think they are riding on the wings of the "new jargon" introduced through the Common Core in the U.S.

    My thinking is that we need to deepen students' comprehension through all levels of questioning and thinking and the research actually points to the power of student-generated questioning in relation to reading comprehension actually, not just answering the teachers' questions, and certainly not just literal "right there" questions...

    Still, I will wait to the resources arrive and maybe do a provocation-type blog post around this down the track.

    I sincerely appreciate your response as it has got me fired up again about thinking deeper around this :)


  13. Thanks Kylie for sharing, some incredibly useful ideas for students of all ages! Will definitely be recommending your resources to our teaching staff!
    Thanks you!

  14. Wow! I am loving your reading strategies. Incredibly useful ideas for both teachers and moms. As a teacher myself, it can get pretty hard and tricky to figure out ways to make classes more interactive and less boring. In my frequent late night google searches for new ideas and cool projects for my kids, I decided to team up with other amazing teachers to create a nice little site with reading materials for kids with ages 1 to 9: http://readingheadstartprogram.com

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