MAT Blog

CAFE serves up the perfect mini-lesson for reading comprehension.

Posted by Dreu Adams on Aug 27, 2011 5:02:00 AM

I have a confession to make. I am a reading comprehension geek.  I love talking about it, teaching about it, and thinking about it. It is just amazing to me all of the things that good readers do without even thinking about it… everything from making inferences in a text to realizing that something doesn’t make sense and knowing to go back and re-read until it does!  I get so excited thinking about these things when I read and find myself doing them; not to mention how excited I get teaching about it to my students! It is one of my favorite parts of the school day.

In my classroom, I use the structure of The Daily Five to manage my language arts time.  My students participate in three, 20-minute rotations of authentic literacy activities in which they have a “controlled choice” of what to do. Prior to each rotation of independent time, I teach a brief 10 to 15-minute mini-lesson on phonics, reading comprehension, or grammar.

My favorite mini-lesson each day is the reading comprehension lesson. I use the framework of comprehension-accuracy-fluency-expand vocabulary (CAFE) to explicitly teach my students the skills they need to be strong readers. I have an area of my room set aside with our CAFE menu where strategies we have learned are posted under the appropriate column so that we can refer back to them. Students then have a visual reminder of the strategies they can choose from as readers. I write the strategy and together we come up with an appropriate visual representation for the strategy which a student then draws on the card. I love having the visual of the strategy menu and the reminder with the illustration. 

To teach the comprehension strategies, I get to read wonderful pieces of children’s literature to my students and model my own use of the strategies I am teaching. For someone, like me, who has a huge and always growing collection of children’s books, a list of books that are well-suited for each strategy is a must have! I love this list from the Reading Lady.

As the week goes on, students have many opportunities to practice the skills on their own… we use lots of body movements to show when we have used a strategy. For example, when we “make connections,” we use the thumb and first finger of each hand, linked together like a chain.  When I see students do that during my read alouds, I know they have made a connection to the text… but more importantly, I know that they recognize that they have a deeper understanding of what is being read.

One of my favorite resources for comprehension lessons is Into the Book. Into the Book has lessons and even videos to help you tighten up explicit comprehension instruction in your classroom!

The best part about using a very explicit approach to teaching reading comprehension is that having the “menu” in front of my students and using it frequently during my instruction means that I regularly hear them talking about comprehension using (and understanding!) the language skills I have taught them. There is something amazing to be said about hearing first and second graders talk to each other about the predictions they have made or how they need to remember to use the illustrations to help make inferences during a story!

CAFE Classroom Board Example*Each strategy is posted on the “wooden” portion below the appropriate heading.

*The white paper below each letter heading is where sticky notes with student names are placed. Through frequent conferring with students and talk about their strengths and weaknesses as readers, students declare their own strategy to focus on and post a sticky note under the heading where their strategy appears. When I meet with students for reading conferences, we are working on meeting their reading goals so they can choose a new strategy to work on!


Christina BainbridgeChristina Bainbridge is a seven-year teacher who currently teaches a first and second grade split class at Central Elementary in Centreville, Michigan. She earned her Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) from Marygrove College in 2009 and has incorporated her master-level teaching practices into an award-winning website: Mrs. Bainbridge’s Class. Her site is a treasure-trove of tips and advice for educators and parents alike. Also check out Bainbridge’s blog at


For more interesting ways to engage readers in the classroom, download our Free k-6 Reading Comprehension Best Practices Guide, and boost reading comprehension for every student at every level!

Download our K-6 Reading Comprehension B

Tags: Building Vocabulary, reading comprehension, reading strategies, Classroom Reading Strategies, Christina Bainbridge

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