Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Brain-Friendly Comprehension Strategy

Sometimes, you just can’t appreciate the potential of a brain-friendly strategy until you try it.  Today, I tried the “Oprah Winfrey” interview to help students think more critically about a story we read.  I was honestly surprised at its effectiveness.

Setting Up

The Oprah Winfrey interview is used to increase comprehension and foster literate conversations.  Its effectiveness is phenomenal.  Today after reading a story, I set several chairs in a row in front of the class.  “Oprah” sits in the first chair (that is the teacher initially).  The characters to be interviewed sit in the other chairs.  Our story this week was Dear Juno.  Dear Juno is about a boy who gets a letter from his grandmother in Korea.  He figures out what the letter says by looking for clues in pictures.  For our interview, I needed a Juno, a mother and father, and a grandmother.  I asked for volunteers to represent characters in the story, reminding them they’d need to be “in character”. 

The Interview

Once we were all settled, I began by asking several general questions.  I asked my “Juno” how he knew the letter was to him, how he knew who the letter was from, and how he felt when he saw it.  Next, I asked the “grandmother” and “parents” several questions, ending with questions that required students to make inferences and draw conclusions.  Finally, I let the “audience” ask questions.  They were remarkably well thought out.  It was clear comprehension was increasing as students who had not been able to participate became fluent in the story.  They were highly engaged. The interview only lasted about five minutes.  It was a very effective five minutes.


This technique can be adjusted for any grade level. I highly recommend this brain-friendly strategy.  I plan on using it regularly in my classroom.


  1. Thank you for this! I can't wait to try it! I teach second grade. I'll see how it goes. :0) Christy

    (my profile pic links to a writing blog, my teaching blog is sorry to add that in the comments. i don't know how to change my profile pic when commenting on teacher blogs!)

  2. Hi Christy,
    You'll have a lot of fun with it.
    Thank you for the link to your teaching blog!

  3. Diane,
    This role-play sounds not only engagin but highly effective in encouraging kids to use reading strategies (inferring, making connections, predicting etc0 in a more natural way. Thank you for sharing!
    @surreallyno (Cristina)

  4. Another fabulous idea!! I'm about to enter the last two quarters of my teaching certification program and came across your blog as part of an assignment. I love the ideas and resources you share and have referenced them more than once as part of my course work. I'll be following you long after my program is done!

  5. Thank you Cri and Nike. I sincerely appreciate your feedback. And I'm flattered you've referenced me in your coursework! Wow!

  6. Diane, it is great to read about someone who has used this strategy. I am currently doing course work for my Action Research and have decided to use this technique. Do you have any recommendations?? I am wanting to track the growth of 5 of my students, but I want to involve the whole class (20 students). I am planning to split them in 2 groups as a team teaching model. Do you have any recommendations for assesment? Also, would you recommend short stories, or chapter books?
    Thanks for your help!!!

  7. Hi Charlene,
    You would probably need to make a very specific rubric that will track the changes you're targeting in your action research. For example, is the student giving vague answers, specific responses, or even expanding on their answers to questions.
    As far as book length, I would start with shorter stories for sure to get them used to using the technique. Then depending on how they are doing you could move into longer texts.
    Let me know how it goes! gr8arteest(at)