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How parents can use the “C.I.A. Approach to Reading” at home


The jump from learning to read to reading to learn is one of the toughest educational challenges kids face. As teachers and parents, it’s our job to make that transition as painless as possible so that children become bibliophiles.


That’s why I was excited to read Raising the Standards: Through Chapter Books: The C.I.A. Approach, by Sarah Collinge. I first heard of C.I.A. at of my son’s school. Several teachers are going to Read Side By Side’s upcoming training in October, and are writing grants to pay for new materials.

My son’s third grade class is using the C.I.A. methods already.  This is Bruce’s assessment of what it’s all about: “Basically it’s teaching you to read something and regurgitate information.  Then you regurgitate it again.” Considering that description is coming from an eight-year-old, it’s not too bad.

At its very heart, the C.I.A. approach teaches kids to understand, synthesize, and write about key information.

C.I.A. stands for “collect, interpret, and apply”. It dovetails on the Guided Reading approach and the classic book by Fountas and PinnelI, Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy.

Okay, so why should moms and dads care about any of this? Because, dear friends, after reading  Raising the Standards I’m really excited about ways that parents can incorporate many of Collinge’s ideas at home.

Turn bedtime read aloud into instructional read aloud

Turn bedtime read aloud into instructional read aloud

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1) Divide your next chapter book read aloud into four quadrants using post-it notes.

This is going to make a big-old chapter book seem less scary and more approachable. The C.I.A. method is all about helping kids develop the stamina to get through challenging material.

2) Use a “turn to talk” framework to help kids identify places in a book that give readers important information.

  • “When the book said__________ I inferred/visualized/predicted/thought_______________.”

3) At the end of quadrant one, help your kids identify the four corners of a story that hold the whole thing together:

  • character
  • setting
  • problem
  • main events

Quadrant one is the most laborious. The first quarter of a chapter books is when kids need the most support to understand what’s going on.

4) In quadrant two, start looking for the hidden and ambiguous. Keep your eye out for the following:

  • vocabulary
  • repeated words
  • author’s style
  • themes

Don’t forget to summarize what you know. This is especially important in bedtime read aloud, when you might not have read for a few nights. “Okay. Where were we? What just happened? Help me remember because I’m old and forgetful.” 🙂

5) In quadrant three, help your child identify the turning point of the novel.

Were you able to predict the turning point? What evidence enabled your prediction? What is the author trying to say? The more you can point out specific passages in books to ground your answer, the better.

6) In quadrant four, read quickly and with enjoyment.

The last part of the book should be the easiest. Kids understand what’s going on, and are excited to reach the conclusion.


I am very glad that Collinge sent me a copy of her book for review so that I could brag a little bit about this exciting pedagogy coming from Washington State.

For more information about the C.I.A. approach to reading, please check out Read Side By Side.

Understanding POV

“Who is telling the story?”

Write it on your arm to remind yourself to ask, every time you read your children a book today!

Understanding point of view is a major learning objective you can help your children master.

I’m feeling kind of lazy and am not bothering to look it up in our state’s K-12 standards right now, but I know from being a teacher that understanding point of view is something third graders are expected to understand. You can give your kids a head start by covering POV at home.  They don’t have to be eight years old to learn this.

First Person POV

A great book to get you started is My Little Brother by David Mc Phail.  I highly recommend checking this book out from your local library.

In My Little Brother, the older brother is telling the story.  But the way the story is written, and the way the pictures are drawn, there are lots of opportunities for children to have to really stop and think.

Here are some prompts you might try using: “Who is telling the story?  Point to the person who is telling the story.” etc.

Third Person POV

In the case of a book written in the third person POV, like When Sophie Gets Angry–Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang, the answer to the question “Who is telling the story?” is: The Narator.

The concept of a narrator can be a bit confusing for preschoolers, so make sure they understand first person POV first.  I’m training my three year old daughter Jenna to recognize the difference.

“Who is telling the story?”

Did you write it on your arm yet?  😉

Text to Self Connections

One of the ways teachers encourage reading comprehension in Balanced Literacy classrooms, is by teaching kids to make “Text to Self”, “Text to Text”, and “Text to World” connections.   Another educator-phrase for this is “Activating prior knowledge.”  The idea is that if kids come into a text already knowing something about it, then they will be able to understand the content better.   You can encourage these types of connections at home when you are doing read aloud at bedtime. “Hmmm, this part reminds me of_______”  etc.

Here’s an example of a “Text to Self” connection that my two year old daughter Jenna made yesterday.  She is 30 months year old:

We were reading Bumpy Tractor and got to the line “Though bumping’s what I love to do, I can be very gentle, too”.  Completely unprompted, Jenna said “I can be gentle. I’m gentle when I hold kitty cats.  I held the orange kitty cat in my lap very gently.”  She was referring to when she played with her cousin’s new litter of kittens.  Whether or Jenna did indeed hold those cats gently is up for debate!