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Comprehension Connections

Bridges to Strategic Reading

By Tanny McGregor
Foreword by Stephanie Harvey

Comprehension Connections makes the comprehension process achievable, accessible, and incremental. Tanny’s lessons build bridges between the concrete and the abstract by incorporating writing, discussion, song, art, and movement into a web of creative connections that reinforce each strategy on a variety of levels.

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Full Description

Inferring, questioning, determining importance. It’s not easy to explain these abstract reading strategies to elementary readers, yet knowing how they work and how to use them is an important first step to connecting with texts. Fortunately Tanny McGregor has developed visual, tangible, everyday lessons that make abstract thinking concrete and that can help every child in your classroom make more effective use of reading comprehension strategies.

Comprehension Connections is a guide to developing children’s ability to fully understand texts by making the comprehension process achievable, accessible, and incremental. McGregor’s approach sequences stages of learning for each strategy that take students from a fun object lesson to a nuanced and lasting understanding. Her lessons build bridges between the concrete and the abstract by incorporating writing, discussion, song, art, and movement into a web of creative connections that reinforce each strategy on a variety of levels. All the while Comprehension Connections offers an inside look at the dynamic of McGregor’s teaching, showing you how her ideas look in action, and including the language she uses and that she encourages her students to use as they build their facility with:
  • schema
  • inferring
  • questioning
  • determining importance
  • visualizing
  • synthesizing.
Many students struggle to understand what it is they are supposed to do as they learn to read strategically. Help them make connections to the ideas behind reading and watch as your readers go deeper into texts than ever before.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)


Prologue: Concrete Bridges: The New Deal for Readers

1. Bridge Building 101

2. Metacognition: It’s the Thought That Counts

3. Schema: Your Own World Wide Web         

4. Inferring: Not Just Anybody’s Guess

5. Questioning: Fuel for Thought

6. Determining Importance: Under the Big Top

7. Visualizing: See for Yourself

8. Synthesizing: Keep the Change

Epilogue: Where the Sidewalk Begins 


Companion Resources

Listen to Tanny's appearance on Education Talk Radio, where she talks about Genre Connections and Comprehension Connections.


VIDEO DEMONSTRATION: Click here to see a demonstration of the Reading Salad lesson by a real teacher.

Tanny McGregor's book brims with ideas, lessons, and projects that make abstract thinking visible and concrete for our kids, so they can undestand their thinking and think to undestand. The strategies described in this book are not merely reading strategies; they are thinking strategies. If we teach thinking strateges out of text before teaching them within, our kids just may have a more seamless tansition as they use and apply strategies flexibly in their reading.

—Stephanie Harvey, Coauthor of The Comprehension Toolkit

After I finished my earlier (January 4th) blog entry, I began googling "comprehension" as I so often do to see where it would lead me. led me to Tanny McGregor's Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading and a reminder that although I own Tanny's book I had never read it.

So that's how I spent the rest of the afternoon...reading through this compelling book about the importance of making our comprehension strategy instruction concrete, with the help of onions, lint brushes, salad bowls, etc. (I know it sounds crazy but the ideas are actually quite clever, and I can see how they would be helpful to students).

So, in light of my concern expressed in my earlier blog that we're making kids work too hard by keeping ideas and information abstract, is this find serendipitous or what?

Tanny writes: "...I'm using concrete objects to craft 'launching lessons'; lessons that unleash new paths of thinking, lessons that support lots of student-to-student talk, lessons that can be referred to again and again, lessons that kids will remember and think about long after the school day is through." And she does just that.

I recommend you give this book and its ideas a try.

—Sharon Taberski, 1/4/2011

Comprehension Connections has a constellation of qualities that makes it a perfect choice for a professional book club book, especially a first book club of the year. It is:

  • Short - only 107 pages. There is lots of white space, and there are plenty of photographs. A teacher flipping through the book won't be frightened off.
  • Written in teacher-friendly language - no dictionaries required.
  • Full of ready-to-use instructional activities. These include new classroom-tested activities for teaching inferring, visualizing, synthesizing, questioning, and accessing schema.

—Shari Frost

“Comprehension Connections is one of those books brimming with original ideas that are not only fun to teach, but also highly effective.”

—Kim Yaris, reviewed at

This book is so amazing. I have a large plastic container filled with every idea from the book.

—Nancy Ehrlich, Third Grade Teacher, Ambler, PA

Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor was a turning point in my strategy teaching. Today we looked at paintings by Vermeer to practice our questioning skills, amazing questions from kids who a few days ago were asking the most literal questions. It has made the lessons in the other great books mentioned so much easier because the preteaching of the strategy in concrete ways made the more abstract lessons possible. As you can tell I love this book and tell the teachers I work with I would replace this book if someone "borrowed" it from me. Okay I'll stop gushing now.

—Kathy Mills, Seattle, WA

I love that Tanny uses wordless picture books to begin the process for strategy work. This makes it all about the strategy and NOT reading at the moment, which levels the playing field = very accessible to all readers!

—luvin1st, member,

One of the books that I’ve enjoyed the most was Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor. Here’s why: it’s quick, it’s friendly, and it’s got some great suggestions for introducing those very “abstract” comprehension strategies in a more concrete and visible way.

—Brenda Mazza, Warner Elementary School, Springfield, MA

A reading coach told us Comprehension Connections in her top five of must have books; me too! The anchor or wall charts are included as pictures, most of the high-interest lesson activities have multiple options for a lesson and analogy. For example, you can teach determining importance by straining noodles from a pan, showing what's in your purse or using a flashlight in a dark room and link the concrete experience to an analogy. Chants or songs are also a part of learning the strategies.

—crazycatgirl at

Last year as a literacy coach I began using Tanny McGregor's book Comprehension Connections, which teaches students about metacognition. I used all of her suggestions, which I felt were wonderful! As I presented those lessons, I began using Level E, F, and G books so that students would be able to focus on the process. It was unbelievable how well students were able to understand and apply their new learning to such easy levels of reading. It was such an easy way to introduce those processing skills, that by the time it came for students to transfer what they had learned to their on-grade-level reading, it was a successful process for a lot of the students.

—hdhami710, Arkansas

In Comprehension Connections, McGregor has produced an applied text that provides educators with plausible examples and motivation for developing reading curriculum plans that may help students along the pathway to becoming strategic thinkers.

—Philip E. Strong, Assistant Dean, Lyman Briggs College, Michigan State University

I borrowed this book a year ago from a friend and never returned it. I guess that’s the sign of a good book (or a good friend). This book breaks down each comprehension strategy and includes practical and easy ways to explain them to children. I also found it helpful when explaining the strategies to parents via my classroom newsletter. Check it out!

—Asha Ruiz, first grade teacher

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