I search my students’ faces until I see it – that lightbulb moment when they’ve grasped another reading comprehension strategy. That moment when sweet “Jane” understood why making connections to our books help her grow as a reader. Simple making connections activities and strong read alouds helped her blossom as a reader. These are the small moments I love witnessing in the classroom!
Why is something this so seemingly small important? Because it will help these young readers grow into strong adult readers. Maybe even adults who love to read.
But teaching things like making connections in reading sometimes gets wrapped up in long, complicated processes and lesson plans. Let’s simplify it all to dig into how to teach making connections and why our students need to be able to do it.
Amazon affiliate links are used below at no cost to you. This is a small way you can help support this blog.
Why is making connections in reading important?
When students are listening to or reading a book, we want them to comprehend what they read. If the ultimate goals of reading are to learn and to enjoy, then we must comprehend while we read. One strategy to build comprehension is to make connections to a text. There are three types of connections:
- Text-to-self: What does this remind me of? How was this similar/different to my life? How do I relate to this character?
- Text-to-text: How is this similar/different to another book I’ve read? What book does this remind me of and why?
- Text-to-world: How does this remind me of what’s going on in the real world or the news? How is this similar to something that’s happened in history?
Making connections helps our young readers stay engaged while reading and think about their reading. Strong books and activities to support making connections will help solidify it for our readers. It’s one of many strategies readers use to understand the text and focus on the author’s message.
How to Teach Making Connections
1. Introduce the strategy and explain why it’s important.
“Readers use strategies to help them understand what they read. One good strategy you can use is to make connections from the book to your own life.” We want our young readers to know and understand the importance of understanding a book.
2. Model, model, model.
Read the text aloud and model your thinking out loud. Talk about each connection you make with a text- shallow and deep connections. I like to flip through a book and leave sticky notes with my connections jotted down so I don’t forget one.
3. Let students practice with guidance.
Have students think-pair-share during a read aloud to practice making connections, write and share connections, and complete interactive writing pieces together. Encourage them to move from “I also have a purple shirt.” to deeper connections about the character’s feelings, events in the book, and comparing/contrasting ideas from the book.
4. Share connections.
Ask students to share their connections with each other and you. I like to do a combination of sharing out loud and writing them down.
When sharing, either way, try to have students start with what happened in the book. “When __ did __ in the book, it reminded me of __.” Build the bridge between the event in the book and their own life (or book or the world), not just sharing a story about themselves. Ask them, “What does this connection help you understand?”
Favorite Read Alouds to Help You Teach
These wonderful books provide many opportunities for young readers to make connections while reading. They also easily lend themselves to making connections activities (more on that later). They are also quick and easy books to read that you probably already have in your classroom or school library.
Owen by Kevin Henkes
This book stars a young mouse named Owen who loves his yellow blanket and takes it everywhere. When it’s time for school to start, Owen’s parents want him to let it go.
It’s a great book to introduce or reinforce making connections because there are many relatable events and characters. With this book, you could guide students’ thinking by asking questions like:
- Do/Did you have a favorite blanket or animal that you like to take everywhere like Owen?
- When was a time you were sad you had to leave a favorite toy or animal behind when you wanted to take it?
- When was a time you were very sad like Owen? What made you feel better?
- Is there another book this reminds you of?
- How is this book similar/different to __?
You can get a copy of the book on Amazon HERE. While I always recommend reading from a physical book, you can find Kevin Henkes reading his book HERE. Videos of read alouds are great options for a reread!
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
This book is about a mouse named Lilly who gets her favorite new toy taken away by her beloved teacher for playing with it during the day. In anger, she does something hurtful. She later feels bad and finds a way to apologize and make up with her teacher.
This book is jam-packed with opportunities for students to make connections. Some questions to ask students to get them to start thinking can include:
- What book did this remind you of and why?
- Have you ever had something new you couldn’t wait to show to your friends?
- Have you ever been in trouble like Lilly? Did you feel the same way as Lilly or different?
- When was a time you had to apologize for something you did like Lily?
You can grab your own copy of the book on Amazon HERE.
David Goes to School by David Shannon
Kids always love this series! In this book, David goes to the first day of school and has some trouble following the rules. I love using the book at the beginning of the year to introduce classroom expectations or to review them mid-year. Get your students to make connections by guiding them with some questions like:
- What does this book remind you of in your own life?
- Have you ever made the same choices as David at school? What happened?
- When was a time you were in trouble like David?
- How do you behave differently than David at school?
David Gets in Trouble by David Shannon
Another popular children’s book about a boy named David who makes lots of excuses for his bad behavior. In the end, he does admit that it was his fault and apologizes. What a great segway to helping also teach students about taking ownership of their actions and apologizing when necessary! Dive into building connections with the text with some guiding questions:
- How is David behaving the same at school and at home?
- How is this book different or the same as other David Shannon books?
- When was a time you also got in trouble at home? Did you apologize like David or not?
- How do you behave the same or differently as David at home?
- How are David’s mom and teacher the same or different?
Activities to Support Learning
- Ask your students to write (or illustrate) about the connections they made to a book. They can do this on plain paper, in a reading response journal, or on a recording page. You can grab a FREE text-to-self recording page in my blog post HERE.
- Create a chart with three columns: text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world. Through shared writing or interactive writing, have students share their connections and choose which type it is.
- Have students write down their connection as you read. Then, they can evaluate if it was a helpful connection or not and circle the helpful ones. For example, “I have a friend named Lily.” won’t help them better understand the story. But, “When Lilly was excited to show her friends her new purse, it reminded me of the new toy I got for Christmas. I wanted to bring it to school to show my friends, too.” helps students understand how Lilly was feeling and why she did what she did.
Teaching Making Connections Made Easy
Let’s make diving into teaching making connections with high-quality books and detailed lesson plans already made for you! The Let’s Make Connections Interactive Read Aloud unit has everything you need to help your students master this reading strategy.
This unit includes:
- Interactive Read Aloud Notes
- Reading Strategy Notes
- Example Teaching Schedule
- Reading Strategy Anchor Chart
- Reader’s Toolbox Strategy Tool
- 7 Detailed Lessons
- Digital Components: Digital Resource Guide and Links for digital anchor charts and assessment page
Watch for the moments when your students “get it”. They’re some of my favorite ones! Once they do understand the concept, get ready to take them deeper into their thinking.
Without comprehension, we have word callers – not readers. The goal of reading is comprehension.
They might be young, but they can do it. Remember, making connections is an important part of reading comprehension.