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Teaching Verbal Reasoning

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Teaching verbal reasoning can be a challenge. What even is verbal reasoning? Well, as part of my series of blogs on the Scarborough Reading Rope, we’re breaking down verbal reasoning and how to teach in it! So keep reading to learn my tips and tricks for teaching verbal reasoning and improving reading comprehension. 

There’s a lot that goes into reading comprehension. The skill of reading requires students to master multiple skills and use them all at the same time. 

That is why I love the Scarborough Reading Rope because it breaks down all these components in an easy-to-understand visual.

To learn more about the Scarborough Reading Rope, click here. 

However, perhaps the most complicated strand of the Scarborough Reading Rope is the verbal reasoning strand. What even is it, and when do you teach it? 

Well, in this post, we’re going to go over not only what it is but when and how to teach it. So keep going for my tips and tricks on teaching verbal reasoning skills.

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Verbal reasoning is essentially the skills students are being tested on in State Tests. The tests themselves I would personally get rid of, but verbal reasoning is a good skill to have.

It’s a student’s ability to read a text and make interpretations and inferences to demonstrate understanding. 

In the Scarborough Reading Rope, they list a few skills students needs to know in order to have the verbal reasoning skill.

Copyrighted images used under Fair Use. Originally Published in Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Think back to high school and all those five-paragraph essays you wrote analyzing whatever book you were reading in English Class. 

(Please tell me you had to do that, and it wasn’t just me.)

You needed verbal reasoning skills to write those essays. It’s the ability to make inferences, interpret metaphors, and explain your rationale to others. 

It is, in my opinion, the hardest skill for students to master on the Reading Rope. 

Verbal reasoning cannot be taught whenever. Since it’s one of the more complex skills needed for reading comprehension, usually it’s something students begin to learn in the upper elementary grades and don’t fully master till middle or high school.

When I was still in college, my professor on mathematics education used to say you can’t teach a child to add when they don’t know their numbers. It would be like building the first floor when you don’t have a foundation. 

The same is true in reading, though we don’t talk about it as much. 

If your student has not mastered syntax, vocabulary, and the physical act of reading (decoding, sight words, and letter sounds), it’s not the right time to teach verbal reasoning skills. 

In The Reading Comprehension Blue Print by Nancy Lewis Hennessy, Hennesy talks about three levels of understanding. 

In the first level, students are only making meaning. They read the words, connect them to the syntax, and understand what the text is saying. 

In the second level, the students begin to understand what the author means. They can make connections to background knowledge and find things like the main idea.

However, the third level is where our verbal reasoning comes into play. At this level, students are able to make inferences with evidence and identify metaphors. 

It’s worth noting that just because a child is able to reach level three and begin learning verbal reasoning with one text doesn’t mean they’ll always be able to do it. 

Maybe they’re more motivated by one text over another or don’t understand some vocabulary words in the new text. 

For whatever reason, always keep an eye on students’ comprehension to see if they’ve reached a level where they can begin to work on verbal reasoning. And be prepared for that availability to change daily. 

When teaching verbal reasoning, I often like to start with finding character feelings over anything else. 

Feelings are more accessible to elementary school students because they’ve been experiencing them their whole lives. 

Make sure to break down the steps for making an inference explicitly. Often teachers leave this up to chance, and I find that students with special needs or autism really need more guidance and step-by-step instructions on what to do.

That is why I put together this presentation teaching children the five steps for finding a character’s feelings. 

It’s a fun interactive presentation that all my kiddos have loved.

Click here to purchase!

When teaching finding character feelings, make sure to go over common ques that indicate feelings and teach students to underline them as they go. 

Common phrases I teach my students include

  • She smiled
  • He stomped his foot.
  • Her face felt red and hot.
  • And so on

Make sure they know common phrases that could indicate an emotion and be sure they are on the lookout for them. 

This helps them get in the habit of finding evidence before making an inference, which makes it more likely their inferences will match their final conclusion.

Teaching verbal reasoning skills can be difficult for general and special education teachers of all experience levels. Many of my peers in college complained they feel like they never mastered those skills. So make sure you yourself are reading and making inferences along with your students. 

Modeling the skill for students is always helpful and doing it as a class helps take the pressure off your students who are struggling with the concept.

And remember that if you get stuck for concrete teaching ideas, lesson plans, and classroom activities, my Character Feeling Interactive Presentation is available for purchase here!

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