Friday, September 21, 2012

The Comprehension "Stoplight"

Freebie Fridays

Hi Everyone! I posted this NEW freebie on Thursday, but am linking up for Freebie Friday with :) So exciting! I hope you can use this comprehension stoplight immediately in your classroom :)

 Ready? Set, Go! and Slow down, then Stop and Think :) In my classroom, I introduce students to the comprehension stoplight to help them think about different levels of thinking that we do before, during, and after reading. We talk about how readers should push (or "coach") themselves to think on all levels and as I teach minilessons, we discuss where that kind of thinking would fall on the comprehension stoplight. 

As readers move from learning to read actual words to interpreting what the words mean, the expectations for their thinking increase. Typically in 4th and 5th grades, students know that reading words is about getting the literal meaning of the text and that they should be understanding what they read, but often, we have to teach to and push them to describe their interpretive comprehension, and encourage, lead, and BEG them to engage in the "extension" types of thinking. (By beg, I mean I specifically set minilesson time aside where we talk about theme, generalizing lessons, author's message, text-text connections, etc. and then students apply this to their own books or a book we have been reading.) As readers move up in higher levels of books---as books get more complex--author’s expect us to think on deeper levels and connect with the meaning of the texts. Here are my basic definitions of each level of the stoplight along with a few questions that students might focus on at that level.

literal: (green--go--this is the most basic level of comprehension)
Who did what? What was the problem in the story? Who were the characters? How was the problem solved? What was the setting?

interpretation: (yellow) Thoughts that fall under interpretation use the text as evidence for the more profound thoughts we have. We usually have to slow down to catch ourselves having these thoughts or slow ourselves down to think more interpretively about the book.
How would you describe the character? Why? Why did the character behave the way they did? The author wrote the book that way because… I think the author’s message was…because…

extension: (red) To extend our thinking about a book beyond just that text, we usually have to stop and give ourselves time to think. (Often in my class, we use graphic organizers to help force ourselves into this kind of thinking). In this level of thinking, we are often making connections, thinking about theme, and generalizing the lessons of the story.
What was the author’s message to the world?
Have I read other books (movies, songs) with this same theme? How does the way this author has written about the theme compare to how other authors have written? 

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the comprehension stoplight because it is a concrete way to get students thinking about different levels of thinking that we should be doing while reading. (And it helps me eventually push them to better (read deeper) writing about reading.)

This year, when I introduced the comprehension stoplight, I gave students green, red, and yellow stickers and had them divide a page in their reader response notebook into the three sections. I then modeled how to apply the levels of thinking to our classroom read aloud. 

I hope you can use the levels of thinking in your own classroom. I have uploaded a pack of helpful materials for using the stoplight in your classroom to my TPT store. It includes the two graphics you see above as well as 1/4 sized graphics that you can print to have students put into their reader response notebooks or as bookmarks to remind them of the levels of thinking. I have also included a brief list of "I can statements" for each of the levels. (Would be a great list of "starter" mini-lessons to introduce the comprehension stoplight.) The best thing about this product is it's my latest FREEBIE!


  1. This is such a cute idea. I love that you are blogging about taking the student's thinking beyond the text.


  2. Thank you Antoinette! It has been quite a pursuit to figure out new ways to explain levels of thinking to students and to motivate them to think deeper at the 4th/5th grade level, but now that we have the stoplight, they seem to really get it and want to go beyond literal. Thanks for commenting! And, I'm a new follower of your blog :)



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