Recurring Lesson

Guided Comprehension: Monitoring Using the INSERT Technique

4 - 6
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 60-minute sessions
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While students in grades 4–6 often have the necessary skills to decode words, they sometimes struggle with comprehending the words they have read. In this lesson, students use the INSERT (Interactive Notation to Effective Reading and Thinking) technique to help them monitor their own thinking and make connections between texts and their own experiences. Students begin with an introduction to the strategy and a teacher-directed demonstration of the strategy using a text about mummies. Students are then given an opportunity to practice the strategy in small groups and reflect on the benefits of the INSERT technique. In subsequent sessions, students are divided into three instructional-level groups to practice using the strategy and participate in various writing and reading activities.

From Theory to Practice

  • Guided Comprehension is a context in which students learn comprehension strategies in a variety of settings using multiple levels and types of text. It is a three-stage process focused on direct instruction, application, and reflection.

  • The Guided Comprehension Model progresses from explicit teaching to independent practice and transfer.

  • Monitoring involves asking, "Does this make sense?" and clarifying by adapting strategic processes to accommodate the response.

  • INSERT (i.e., Interactive Notation to Effective Reading and Thinking) provides students with opportunities for reflection. Students make connections between prior knowledge and text content.

  • Current studies demonstrate that when students experience explicit instruction of comprehension strategies, it improves their comprehension of new texts and topics (Hiebert et al., 1998).

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology




1. Familiarize yourself with the INSERT technique and symbols using the INSERT poster. Another recommended resource is the book Guided Comprehension: A Teaching Model for Grades 3-8 by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen.

2. Access the School Specialty Intervention Lesson Pack: Ancient Egypt and King Tut's Tomb and read the passages on "The Great Pyramid" and "Mummies." Pay special attention to the "Mummies" passage since you will be using that one for demonstration purposes. Anticipate places in the passage where you can use the INSERT symbols.

3. Copy the "Mummies" passage onto chart paper or an overhead transparency.

4. Copy the INSERT poster for each student or recreate it on chart paper.

5. Gather three instructional-level texts that match the needs of three levels of reading in your class (see Suggested Book List for Egypt).

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Define and understand the INSERT technique

  • Monitor their comprehension of various text passages using the INSERT coding technique

  • Work cooperatively and then independently to apply the INSERT technique when reading

  • Reflect on the monitoring strategy and how it helps to extend their understanding of texts

Day 1

NOTE: This lesson is intended as an introduction to the monitoring strategy. With continued practice, students should be able to apply the monitoring and INSERT strategy independently to other texts.

Stage 1---Teacher-directed whole-group instruction (40 minutes)

1. Explain the strategy. Ask students if they have ever been reading something and realize they have no understanding of what they just read. Explain that you are going to teach them a strategy to help them monitor their reading and better understand texts.

Display the INSERT poster and distribute individual copies to students as well. Show students each of the symbols and discuss what each symbol represents. Explain how students can write the symbols in the margins of a text to symbolize their thinking during the reading. Also emphasize that before reading, students should think about what they already know about the topic. That way, they will be able to mark the sections that confirm or refute what they thought.

You may want to have students practice writing each of the symbols and discuss why each one was chosen to represent the particular thought process (e.g., why a + would represent something that they did not previously know).

2. Demonstrate the strategy. Display the "Mummies" passage for students (either on an overhead or on chart paper). Ask them to watch and listen as you read the passage and mark it with the INSERT symbols. Model the process for students. Make sure that you "think aloud" so that students can witness the entire thought process. You may also want to refer back to the INSERT poster to reinforce the meanings of the symbols.
  • Begin by brainstorming aloud what you already know about mummies. You can either brainstorm aloud or write out a list on chart paper. For example, you might say, "I don't know a lot about mummies. I do know that the Egyptians wrapped their dead in cloth and they were called mummies. I also think the mummies were housed in pyramids."

  • Next, begin reading the "Mummies" passage. Stop every few sentences and mark the appropriate INSERT symbol in the margin, discussing your reasoning as you go. For example, after reading, "Mummies were first found in 1798," you might put a + sign in the margin to show that you didn't know that, and say something aloud such as, "I didn't know that the mummies weren't discovered until 1798. I thought it was sooner than that."

  • Continue in this way through the passage. You may want to also answer the questions at the bottom or you can just skip them.
3. Guide students to apply the strategy. Pass out a copy of "The Great Pyramid" passage to students. Ask them to begin by taking a minute to think about the things they already know about pyramids or the Great Pyramid in particular. You may want to write their thoughts down on chart paper or just discuss them aloud. Review the INSERT symbols again with students. Read the first paragraph or two of the passage together and mark the margins with the INSERT symbols. Have students discuss their reasoning throughout the reading of this passage and talk about how each of the symbols can be used.

4. Practice individually or in small groups. Divide students into groups of three. Ask them to work together to finish reading "The Great Pyramid" passage and marking the INSERT symbols as they read.

5. Reflect. Gather students as a whole class to discuss how using the INSERT technique helped them monitor their thinking. Was it easier to understand the passage using the INSERT symbols than if they had just read the passage silently?

Stage 2---Teacher-guided small groups and student-facilitated independent practice (40 minutes)

Before beginning Stage 2, students must be divided into three instructional-level groups. Students with similar instructional needs should be grouped together. This does not necessarily mean that students in each group are on the same reading level. Instead, they may have similar needs for comprehension instruction (e.g., students who have trouble making inferences or students who need extra practice making connections between texts).

Students are working in three different areas during this stage:

  • Teacher-guided small-group instruction

  • Student-facilitated comprehension centers

  • Student-facilitated comprehension routines

Classroom management is at the discretion of each individual teacher. You may want to assign students to small groups and set up a rotation schedule, or you may want to allow groups of students to choose their own activities. Regardless, each group of students needs to visit the three areas at least once in the three-day period.

1. Teacher-guided small-group instruction. Choose one group to begin with you as follows:
  • Review the INSERT technique using the poster from Stage 1.

  • Guide students to read a nonfiction text at their instructional level using the INSERT technique and symbols (see Suggested Book List for Egypt).

  • Have students reflect on using the INSERT technique and how it helps them monitor their own comprehension.
2. Student-facilitated comprehension centers. Students may be assigned to centers or choose activities on their own.
  • Poetry center. Have students write an acrostic poem that cleverly describes how to use the INSERT strategy. Using the letters in the word INSERT, students write words or phrases that begin with each letter to describe the technique. Students can find more information about how to write an acrostic poem by visiting the interactive Acrostic Poems tool.

  • Writing center. Have students write a story using the interactive Stapleless Book that describes what they learned about Ancient Egypt and their reactions to the passages they read. Students can then trade stories and code their partners' stories using the INSERT symbols.

  • Internet center. Have students take a virtual tour through the pyramids of Egypt at NOVA Online: Pyramids or read about Egyptians at The Pyramids and Temples of Egypt. They can take notes on what they learn and code them with the INSERT symbols.
3. Student-facilitated comprehension routines. Working in small groups, students engage in three different literacy strategies. Students should already be familiar with each of the strategies and have practiced them over time. For more information, review the Summary Sheet or refer to the text Guided Comprehension: A Teaching Model for Grades 3–8 by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen.

Days 2 and 3

For Days 2 and 3, pick up where you left off the previous day. The suggested time for each session is 60 minutes, however, since the group on the first day only had 20 minutes in small groups, you may want to meet with them for another 20 minutes and then switch groups for the last 40 minutes. The rotation should continue until all three groups have visited all three areas. On Day 3, students will spend 40 minutes in small groups, leaving 20 minutes for whole-group reflection and discussion (see Stage 3).

Stage 3---Whole-group reflection (20 minutes)

1. Talk to students about the monitoring comprehension strategy that they have been learning. Ask students to tell why and how the INSERT symbols helped them monitor their own thinking as they read.

2. Give students time to share the activities they completed in the student-facilitated comprehension centers.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Assessment can be done informally through anecdotal notes and observations.

  • Students' understanding of the INSERT technique can be assessed using "The Great Pyramid" passage they coded with the INSERT symbols in Stage 1 and any of the other activities completed during Stage 2.
    • Did students accurately use the INSERT coding symbols?
    • Did they make valid reactions and connections to texts?

  • You can also ask students to reflect in their comprehension journals about monitoring and their experience using the INSERT technique.
    • How does using the INSERT technique help you monitor your thinking as you read?
    • How do you think you will use the INSERT technique in the future?
Jennifer Grob
Shared several of your comprehension lessons with my Reading Foundations class including this specific lesson. They provided excellent insight into high quality reading instruction as well as a solid foundation for lesson planning.
Jennifer Grob
Shared several of your comprehension lessons with my Reading Foundations class including this specific lesson. They provided excellent insight into high quality reading instruction as well as a solid foundation for lesson planning.
Jennifer Grob
Shared several of your comprehension lessons with my Reading Foundations class including this specific lesson. They provided excellent insight into high quality reading instruction as well as a solid foundation for lesson planning.

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