Improving Written Comprehension and Responses! [+ 2 FREEBIES!]

This post is for ALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHERS WANTING TO INCREASE WRITTEN COMPREHENSION and RESPONSES!!!

This post is full of ideas, suggestions and more to help improve student’s ability to compose text!

Now, are you in NC like me? If so, everything below started from being involved in K-3 right here in NC. So this post is definitely geared towards you!

If not, I’m pretty sure everyone involved in teaching the Common Core [or a variation of it], or giving a variety of assessments has run into the same problem… Students struggling to compose text. Am a right?

So let’s get right to it…

For higher level Kinder students, ALL 1st GRADE STUDENTS, some 2nd and 3rd grade students this is one of the, if not, the BIGGEST change in Common Core Curriculum. It has also impacted 4th and 5th Grade students!

First graders are not only being asked to read more complex texts at a much higher level now, but they are also now required to respond to what they have read through writing. This writing is also encouraged to include proper punctuation, capital letters and sentence structure. In the written response, students need to restate part of the question in their answer, answer all parts of the question, along with supporting details and text evidence as proof of their answer.

Umm… HUGE right? Especially for our little learners!

But, let’s see the positive… The higher we set the bar, the further we will have students stretch to reach it! Guess what, they usually surprise us and do more than we ever expected them to do! If grade levels are vertically on the same page, students will grow beyond expectations year after year.

Also, speaking of changes in the Common Core [or a variation of it], SPEAKING/LISTENING/VIEWING are of more importance in instruction that ever before! Our instruction of Reading Strategies and Skills for viewing and comprehend text needs to be turned up a notch! We need to teach these critical thinking skills for viewing text in order for students to orally speak and listen within conversations of text with peers and teachers. Raising the richness of this in your classroom will have a huge impact on students being able to compose text independently. Which, composing text is the highest level of comprehension!

So that’s the end goal in mind… Now what road map can you take and implement to help your young readers get there fluently and independently?!?!


There are a few little things we can all do as teachers to help improve written comprehension and response!

So keep reading to see if any of these would benefit you and your students ↓↓↓


#1 Implement Question Stems by Reading Levels

Using the question stems below will help students increase proficiency in oral and written comprehension. Some questions may only apply to Informational or Literature texts. Some questions can be used for both genres. Students must be able to proficiently answer the majority of these questions without assistance from an adult. The focus is on the student’s comprehension of the text. When questions like these are mastered with ease in written format, students will show proficiency and move through the reading levels. Remember these questions are aligned to all of the Common Core standards, not just a specific reading assessment. Therefore they will fit all classrooms! Most importantly, as educators, we want to make sure we are asking questions in oral and written format in the same manner they are asked on assessments. Not just random or general, we need to be specific!

[Click on the photos below or HERE for a direct link to these Question Stems!]

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#2 Implement Written Comprehension and Response Rubrics

Rubrics! I can’t say enough about my love for rubrics and checklists! As an adult, I need to know what I need to do and accomplish. So do our students. The expectation to master a standard is not a secret, why are we not sharing these expectations with out students? We know how we need to preform in the classroom to have the highest rating, so we need to tell our students the end goal as well. Students are visual, we need to increase the visual imprint for them to follow. Think about this, Writers Workshop, did you ever or do you have rubrics for students to follow when they write their Narrative or Expository pieces? So why don’t we use rubrics for students as a guide for Written Comprehension and Responses? Give students a guide!

Have a mini-lesson on what makes a Great Written Response first!

[Click on the photos below or HERE for a direct link to these Rubrics!]

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Then the following day have a mini-lesson on putting that into a rubric with student input continued!

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Implement rubrics in your writing station, small groups and whole groups! Model, model, model during mini-lessons. Use them as a conference with students or as a peer conference!

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Written Response Rubrics


#3 Implement Sentence Frames by Reading Comprehension Standards

When students are struggling to orally express an answer or to compose an answer, they just cannot put the pieces together to express. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t necessarily understand the story, they just don’t know how to answer all the time. Especially our young readers! This is a specific skill we need to consistently model and focus on! For example… How many times do you look at your baby, point to yourself and say “Mama”? Repeatedly, for months, until the magic moment your baby says it!?!? To me, it’s the same concept! We are taking 5-10 year old students and teaching them a “formal” “complex” “higher level” way of responding to a text that is either instructional or above level. Give students a visual sentence frame! Students need a visual imprint! Yes, some students can hear you say it when modeling repeatedly and get it. But most, especially our young learners with this complex way of responding formally, need the visual too! Give them the sentence frame!!! All students can benefit from sentence frames. It’s part of the gradual release model when scaffolding instruction. I definitely recommend starting the year with sentence frames!

[Click on the photos below or HERE for a direct link to these Sentence Frames!]

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Other samples taken from my school are…

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#4 Have an Instructional Plan [FREEBIE]

Having supplemental resources to implement in work periods is great! We need them! But first, most importantly you need to have your instructional plan! You need to be prepared to have a scaffolded plan of instruction to improve written comprehension and responses. This is not just something you tell your students, “This is what you need to do, now do it.” This is a process that takes time for our young learners. With rigorous instruction and standards students are being faced with, complex texts, higher level questioning, high stakes testing, etc… EVERYTHING WE DO NEEDS TO BE visual, oral, scaffolded, repeated, multiple opportunities and I can go on and on. You need to think of this when planning instruction. It’s not we are going to teach problem and solution this week then move on. No more choppy instruction, everything is blended and continuous throughout the genres, levels and all content areas. So we need to make sure our implementation of instruction and resources is beneficial for ALL of our students!

Below you can grab this plan to help you get started ↓↓↓

[Click on the photo below or HERE for a direct link to this FREEBIE!]

Instruction for Written Response


#5 Teach the Academic Language

I have previously wrote a post about the academic language found in most reading assessments. This language is very important and needs lots of attention. Click HERE or on any of the photos below to read all about it! It’s full of specific information you will find beneficial! I definitely suggest you head on over to catch all the details!

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Also, I have created a list of ways you can implement teaching academic language daily in your classroom! Check it out below ↓↓↓

[Click on the photo below or HERE for a direct link to this FREEBIE!]

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Want more?!?! I’ve got more, another great post to help you with instruction!!! Check this out below!!! ↓↓↓

I wrote another post about teaching students to Construct Written Responses! Lots of visual and tips! Head on over to check it out  😉

[For some other great tips click HERE or on the photos below!]

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I hope that the information in the post and the resources will be helpful to you and your students!

I also hope that the 2 posts I have linked you too will be beneficial as well!

Here are the links again in case you missed them up top:

  • Resources in this post can all be found in this group by clicking HERE!
  • To read my previous post “Common Vocabulary in TRC Written Comp. Questions” can be found by clicking HERE!
  • To read my previous post “Teaching Students to Construct Written Response to Text” can be found by clicking HERE!

Lastly, you may also like to read this…

  • A previous post that includes Written Comprehension as well, “The STRUGGLE & HELP of Making Inferences!” can be found by clicking HERE!

Thank you so much for reading and making sure you go to the top right side of my page to follow me along my journey!

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Jenni Clark
    September 25, 2017 at 12:37 am

    Wow, I teach 2nd grade in NC and this post is pure gold!!! About 80% of our students are below grade level and a lot are stuck on the E/F level where the writing comes in. I love all of your ideas to help with written comprehension. The bit.ly link you have posted throughout is a dead link and I can’t seem to get to the things you are trying to link to. Can you help? 🙂

    Thanks for an awesome post!!

    • Reply
      diannaradcliff15@gmail.com
      November 23, 2017 at 5:49 pm

      Links are updated! Thank you!

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