An important skill for students to practice is the ability to comprehend challenging texts. Chunking is an example of a strategy that helps students breakdown difficult text into more manageable pieces. Dividing content into smaller parts helps students identify key words and ideas, develops students’ ability to paraphrase, and makes it easier for students to organize and synthesize information.
Step one: Preparation
Chunking can be used with challenging texts of any length. A paragraph can be chunked into phrases and sentences while a reading of several pages can be chunked into paragraphs or sections. It is often helpful to have students record information about each “chunk” in a graphic organizer, which you may want to prepare in advance.
Step two: Review reading strategies
Before having students work on paraphrasing the text, it is helpful to go over specific decoding strategies. You may want to post the following “reading reminders” on the board:
- Circle words that are unfamiliar.
- Use context clues to help define.
- Look up the meaning of unknown words.
- Write synonyms for these new words in the text.
- Underline important places and people and identify.
- Read aloud.
- Read multiple times.
Step three: Chunk the text
“Chunking the text” simply means breaking the text down into smaller parts. Sometimes teachers chunk the text in advance for students, especially if this is the first time students have used this strategy. Other times, teachers ask students to chunk the text. Students can work on chunking texts with partners or on their own. Depending on students’ reading level, the lengths of chunks can vary. A struggling reader may work with phrases, rather than sentences. A stronger reader can often work with longer chunks.
Step four: Paraphrase meaning
Students should rewrite “chunks” in their own words. By the end of this activity, students should have a paraphrased version of the original text.
Step five: Assessment and sharing
The paraphrased text can be used to evaluate students’ understanding and reading ability. You can also have students compare their versions of the text. This step often leads to interesting discussion about interpretation – how people can often find different meaning in the same words.
- Identify and define key words: To help students move from reading the text to paraphrasing, you can ask them to first identify and define the key words found in that chunk. You can add a space on a graphic organizer for this step.
- Create a Visual: To improve comprehension and retention of ideas, have students visually represent the selected chunk as a picture or symbol. They can create the symbol or image, or they can find one in a magazine or online.
- Paragraph Shrinking: To help students clarify main ideas, ask them to summarize the meaning of a paragraph in ten words or less.
- Identifying significance and connections: After students summarize a portion of the text, you can ask them to respond to these ideas. Questions you might use to prompt their thinking include: What do these ideas remind you of? What questions do they raise? Why is this idea important? To whom?
- Jigsaw chunking: You can divide a longer text into sections and have small groups work on summarizing a paragraph or two each. Groups can share the meaning of their section with the rest of the class by using the jigsaw strategy or by having small group presentations. This variation works well with a text that has clearly divided parts, such as the Bill of Rights, because students need to be able to paraphrase their section without having read prior sections.
To see a lesson plan that uses the chunking strategy, refer to lesson six of the Identity and Community unit. This lesson includes another example of a chunking graphic organizer.