Your Reading Comprehension Toolkit: Synthesizing

By Amy Mackenzie | Reading Comprehension

Does the word synthesizing leave you scratching your head? It might be because this reading comprehension strategy is a mash-up of summarizing, making connections, and making predictions. Whew! It turns out that synthesizing is one of the more difficult tasks for the brain to do. (Check out one of the bazillion websites on Bloom’s Taxonomy if you want more info.)

So what exactly does it mean to synthesize when we’re talking about reading? It’s probably best to think of synthesizing as an ongoing, multi-step process. We want students to stop multiple times to evaluate what they know or think they know about some element of the text. Elements like the topic, the characters, the problem, etc. Each time students stop reading, they reflect, they combine their previous thoughts with new information and they form new ideas.

You can help your students practice synthesizing with lesson plans and activities to pair with these great read alouds:

Looking for some go-to activities that can be used with any book? Luckily we have some clever, low-prep ideas guaranteed to turn your students into expert synthesizers.

Here are 3 Clever Activities to Help Students Synthesize What They Read

Create Synthesis Fold-a-Fans

Model how to fold a piece of paper, accordion style, so that it has 4–5 sections and forms a fan. Then provide each student with a piece of paper, inviting them to create their own fold-a-fan. Explain that you will be using the fans to track how a reader's thinking can change from the beginning of a story to the end.

Begin reading. After reading the beginning of a story, work with students to write their thoughts about a character, the plot, or another topic from the text in the first section of the fan. As you read the story, stop periodically, to fill in fan with new thoughts or information. At the end of the lesson, use the final section of the fan to write down how their thoughts changed by the end of the story.

Write an Ever-Changing Book Review

This idea works best with fiction.

Start by telling your students that you are going to ask them to review a book towards the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the story. Let them know that their thoughts about the book will likely change over time, which is exactly what happens to readers who think while reading!

Stop during the beginning, middle, and end of the story and let students write down what they think about the book and a few reasons why. Try these sentence frames to support their writing:

  • After reading the first few pages, I think this book is __________ because ___________.
  • Now I'm starting to think this book is __________ because ___________.
  • In the end, I have to say this book was __________ because ___________.
  • Try a Brain Squeeze

    This idea is a fun (and slightly goofy) way to teach students to synthesize. It works best with nonfiction or informational text.

    For this activity, you’ll need three pieces of paper each with a large thought bubble. Each thought bubble should be labeled 1, 2, and 3.

    Start by previewing the text. Identify the topic. Then ask students to “squeeze” their brains to let out all the information they know, or think they know about the topic. Record all their information inside of the first thought bubble.

    Begin to read the text. When you have read approximately half of the text, tell the students it's time to "squeeze" their brains again. Write the new information inside of the the second thought bubble.

    Last, finish reading the book. Then invite students to "squeeze" their brains one final time. Record the information inside of the third thought bubble.