Coach a kid's reading comprehension with the 5 why's

EEME makes monthly hands-on project kits and online lessons to teach kids electronics.

Due to COVID-19, my 3rd grade son will continue distance learning. As I watch over his day-to-day education, I am learning a lot on how to be a more effective home educator.

As a break from writing about electronics, STEM, and EEME, I thought I'd share some of the learning tactics I'm employing while working with my son (and 4 year old daughter too!).

I am a lucky parent. My son loves to read. Over the summer break, he read over twenty Magic Tree House books among many others. While I am impressed with the quantity, I started to ponder about quality of his reading. Does he comprehend what he reads? Does he extract insight? If there's room for improvement (and there's always room for improvement), how can I better coach him on quality reading comprehension?

Five Whys

How to coach quality reading comprehension?

What is quality?

Before I coach quality reading comprehension, I should first define what I mean by quality reading comprehension.

When I read, I often believe that I actually understand what I read. However, when I force myself to pause and elaborate on the last couple of paragraphs or chapter, I am stuck after recalling the broad generalities. I have forgotten the details or insights that help me elaborate on those generalities.

For example, I am currently reading A Guide to Effective Studying and Learning (A great book btw! I will have a review of the book soon!). Upon completing the chapter on self-testing, I am able to recall the general gist of self-testing's benefits to learning. I can list a couple of methods to self-test. But when I force myself to elaborate on why self-testing improves learning, I stall and have to re-read the chapter again to unearth the reasons.

By pausing to elaborate, I increase the likelihood that I remember and comprehend the important insights supporting the general gist. For me, achieving quality reading comprehension means you can elaborate on what you just read.

Elaborate. Huh?

So reading comprehension requires one to be able to elaborate on what they read. After my son's next Magic Tree House reading session, I asked him what he's read. As expected, my son initially tells me the gist of what happens - Jack and Annie went looking for some sword. When I asked him to elaborate, he stalled. "Dad, what does elaborate mean?"

"It means tell me more about what happened."

He responds, "well I already told you what happened. What more can I say?"

Hmmm, my son's not wrong. I am not asking him in the right way. What do I mean when I ask him to "elaborate"?

Asking why

When I ask myself to elaborate, what do I actually do? For the majority of my own personal elaboration exercises, I start with a "what". What happened? What was said or stated? What is the hypothesis?

Upon stating the "what", I continue to elaborate on the "why". Why did it happen? Why was it stated? Why is it important? I can continue to deepen my understanding as I continue to ask myself "why" against the last answer I gave.

With this new realization, I returned back to my son. Instead of asking him to elaborate, I asked him to first tell me what happened. Then I follow it up with a series of "why did that happen", "why is that important" type of questions.

Along the way, I can see my son digging deeper into his memory trying to recall insights and details to what he's read. Occassionally, he flips back to various sections of the book to review his answer. The reading slows down a bit, more this is the right way to read. Quality over quantity!


When I can, I will now stop my son's reading to work on this "why" exercise together. I try to encourage him to do it himself but realistically, I doubt he is!? He is only 8 years old after all.

This "why" exercise is actually not a EEME Dad invention. The Five Whys is an established technique to explore cause and effect. Inspired by this problem solving technique, I decided to aim for 5 why's too.

Often times, a series of 5 "why's" winds up to be a lot. At around the 3rd why, he truly runs out of reasons. In that case, I occassionally ask him to hypothesize a reason which seems like a good way to juggle his ability reason cause-and-effect. Perhaps it also sharpens his attention to look for evidence backing his hypothesis as he returns back to reading.

Have I measured my son's improvement in reading comprehension? Honestly, no. I have not tried to run a test to evaluate progress. My gut as a parent and educator suggests that this is a good exercise. Maybe there's a behaviorial psychologist among the EEME community who can help craft a sound scientific experiment to measure the effects from this 5 why's game!

In any case, I welcome you to give the 5 why's exercise a try. I'd love to hear how it works out for your family!

If you found this post insightful, pause and ask yourself the 5 why's. Just kidding!!

But please help share this post with other parents/families who will enjoy reading about my distance learning educator / parenting adventures.

If you have any strategies or tactics of your own, please reach out and share them by visiting EEME's Facebook or EEME's Instagram page or emailing me directly - dad AT eeme DOT co (not com!).

If you are looking for hands-on electronics kits for your 7-12 year old kid, we are still shipping during this COVID-19 fiasco. Each kit is paired with its own online curriculum to teach your family how to build the circuit as well as how the circuit works.

You can learn with EEME in three ways:

  1. Sign up for FREE, to learn with our free online lessons

  2. Subscribe to our monthly kits - each month we send you a new project.

  3. Make a one-time purchase of our 9 project set - which is effectively the first 9 month's of projects.

Thanks so much, stay safe, and happy building!!
Jack "EEME Dad"

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