Cover for article titled Reading Comprehension Strategy #6: Organizing Ideas showing a notetaking sheet with headings.

Reading Comprehension Strategy #6: Organizing Ideas

In our last reading comprehension post, we talked about how to help your kids determine which information in a book is important.  Today, we talk about helping kids with organizing ideas that you all found important while reading.

This involves taking the important information, combining it with your own background knowledge and weaving the two together.  By combining the new important information with the knowledge you already have, you develop a deeper understanding of the topic that is greater than what you knew before.

How you combine the information will differ based on the age of your child and what your future plans are for the information you have gathered.  Are you just reading about a topic because you find it interesting or do you have a specific writing assignment or project you will need to complete after the reading? This answer will determine how you will organize the information.

Here are four different levels of organization…

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Organizing Ideas You Found Important

Make Mental Connections…

For younger kids or older kids just reading for pleasure, you may just make a mental note of a connection between some new important information in the book and some background knowledge that they have.  If you all notice your thinking is changing about a topic, this is a sign of a mental connection.  It can be good to explain this to children as a way to know they are starting to organize what they are learning.

During a read aloud,  making a mental connection would look like a quick discussion where you all connect some background knowledge to what you have read.  Or even just you repeating some of the information from the book along with a “hmm…that is interesting” comment.

For example, if you read a book about the layers of the Earth, you might connect what you read to a video or field trip you took that introduced you to a concept.  Maybe you are adding deeper knowledge as you read.  Or if the idea of the layers of the Earth is new to your children, then you might just repeat some of the most important information as you read and say it is interesting.  You may also start to organize it in a framework like talking about how many layers you are learning about and counting them as you read.

If a child is reading independently, this dialogue around organizing ideas would just take place in their head.  If you have modeled it for them several times, then hopefully this will start occurring naturally when they read.

Of course, this mental connection may lead you to the next step…

Highlight or underline important information…

If a reader needs to go back to important information at some point such telling someone what they learned, writing a summary of what they read or taking a test at a later date, then highlighting or underlining information is helpful.

To teach this, you would have the discussion above where you are making mental connections.  Then, verbally cue children to highlight the information so they can easily find it later.  As kids start to highlight on their own, you can fade this cue.

Note, if you are reading a book that you cannot write in, page marking stickers can be helpful.  Page marking stickers can also be helpful even when you are highlighting so you can find your highlights!

Highlighted text in an astronomy book with a diagram below.

Verbalize or narrate information at the end of the reading…

At the end of a reading, you can have your children review these highlights and then explain what you all read. Discussion helps us sift through important ideas, make connections, sort out main ideas and details, and maybe even exclude unimportant information.

This is a great, low-prep way to review what has been read during a read aloud or at the end of each lesson you do with your children.  When kids read independently, they can come tell you what they read.  Praise whatever they tell you and ask a few questions to prompt for information or clarify what they have told you.

Write out important information

Writing out information to organize has two benefits.  One, the very act of writing helps us remember information.  Have you ever written out a grocery list, but then left it at home?  I bet you still remembered most of the items on that list because you had written them out.  Research shows that activating the parts of the brain involved in writing aids the memory of the information. The second benefit, is students have the information they need all in one place where they can easily refer back to it.

Before a student organizes what they have read through writing, they need to decide on how they want to organize it…

A chart can be helpful if you are organizing information in a couple different categories.

Cover of book about the Earth showing a picture of the Earth next to a T chart with the layers written on one side and notes about each layer on the righthand side.
Guided notetaking sheet with the title, author, and setting at the top of the page and a place to write each character with a description below.


An outline can be helpful when there is a sequence or flow of ideas in what you are reading.  Outlines can be a good way to organize information when reading about the history of a particular place, civilization, or event.  They can also prompt students to pay attention to the headings like we talked about in our last post since they can use these headings as part of their outline.

A written outline on notebooking paper about Ancient China.

If your kids are not ready to organize the information into an outline, yet, you can have them start by writing information on notecards.  Then, help them organize the information into different categories or a different order later, and then have them write the outline.  Notecards are also helpful if  you are gathering information from a few different texts on a single topic.

Six notecards, each with a sentence about Ancient China.

We also talked in the last post about using guided notetaking sheets to help kids find important information.  Another benefit of guided notetaking sheets is they organize the information for kids as they are taking the notes!  This is a great way to teach children how to organize and to support learners who might have difficulty with organizing.  This is why we include guided notetaking sheets in our unit studies.

Regardless of which organizational method you choose for writing the information you read, you want to start by reviewing your highlights.  Go through each piece of information you highlighted and determine if it is important enough to write down.  You may find that some of what you highlighted did not end up being important to the overall reading.  That is ok…just write down the important information.

Each of the four ways of organizing ideas above builds on each other.  Start by modeling the first level of making mental connections.  As your children start to make mental connections on their own, then build on the next layer of highlighting or underlining information.  As your kids become comfortable with each level of organization, you add on the next one.  You may have creative children that may want to draw out the information they learn or even act it out.  Encourage any kind of organization that they do on their own!

Next week, we will cover what to do when your child still runs into reading comprehension problems despite incorporating the strategies in the series so far.

If you enjoyed this post then you may be interested in reading 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!

7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!
  • Zimmermann, Susan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 07/22/2003 (Publication Date) - Harmony (Publisher)