Reading Comprehension Strategies: Understanding Sequence

By Trent Lorcher

Remembering to put the hot pad glove on before removing the lasagna is critical. Understanding sequence of events in literature is just as critical (or at least close).

The Importance of Sequence

Anyone who's spent time with high school students has probably been shown a signal or two that their reading comprehension is not quite up to where it should be. It's time to signal back and teach them a lesson...on understanding sequence, one of the more critical reading comprehension strategies necessary for student achievement.

The best way for teachers to help students understand sequence is to locate signal words that indicate steps in a process (first, then, add, finally, proceed), order of importance (above all, the most important, the least significant), or chronological order (first, then, next). Here are some suggestions:

  • Teach students to preview the selection and determine whether it tells a story, explain how something works, or presents information,
  • Ask students what sequence might work best to suit the author's purpose.
  • Help students look for clues and signal words.
  • Teach students to restate the sequence in their own words.
  • Use graphic organizers.

Understanding Organization

In order to understand sequence or what signals to look for, students must understand how the selection is organized.

  • Chronological order refers to when things take place and is most commonly found in narrative writing. Chronological organization involves the passage of time, but may include flashbacks. To understand sequence in a chronologically ordered selection, readers should look for time cues: before, after, next, today, then, etc.

  • Spatial order refers to how items are arranged. It is most commonly found in descriptive writing. Spatial organization includes right to left, left to right, front to back, back to front, or any other directionally possible description. To understand sequence in a spatially organized selection, readers should look for spatial cues: next to, to the left, in front of, behind, etc.

  • Order of importance organization is commonly found in persuasive and informational writing. It can be arranged from least important to most important or most important to least important. To understand order of importance organization, readers should look for comparative cues: more important, less important, greater, lesser, etc.

  • Cause and effect refers to one event causing another and is commonly found in all types of writing. It can be organized by listing one cause and several effects or one effect and several causes. To understand cause and effect organization, students should look for the following cues: because, as a result, due to, etc.

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