April, 2007

Kathy Cearlock, Melani Ferchow, Darla Frye,
Karen Hollett, Christy Simon, & Tracy Welch


How does understanding the “Clicks and Clunks” of comprehension improve student self-monitoring, the main thrust of during-learning instruction, across different grade levels, abilities, and content areas?


While discussing our students’ (lack of) self-monitoring strategies, we quickly realized that this concern was not unique to any particular grade level or content area, but rather was a problem across the board. We began to search for strategies that would help improve student self-monitoring and content comprehension. “Click clunk” (Robb, pg. 41) stood out to us as a fairly simple strategy lesson that could help all of our student become more independent, effective self-monitors in a relatively short period of time. As described in Robb, pg. 41, “Understanding is often described by researchers as the click of comprehension, the feeling of ‘Aha, I’ve got it.’ These ‘clicks’ let readers know that it’s okay to continue. The parts of the text that confuse are referred to as clunks.”
After a lengthy discussion about teaching this strategy, we decided that we could best serve our students by varying the way we teach this lesson based on our grade level, content area, and students’ ability levels. Our decision was to explore this strategy through the use of the same lesson plan (but with different students) and then reconvene to discuss our results and findings.



Teacher Name(s): K. Cearlock, M. Ferchow, D. Frye, K. Hollett, C. Simon, T. Welch Date: 04/07 Content Area(s): History, Math, Reading Grade Level(s): 6,7,8

Objective, Purpose or Goal of Lesson

The student objective(s) of this lesson are to:
  • Discuss and recall different strategies and resources available to use when one comes across a word (or part of the reading) that they cannot comprehend.
  • Recall why it is important to use fix-it strategies to figure out the meaning of words that one does not comprehend.
  • Easily use context clues and other strategies to help define words that may otherwise limit comprehension.

Instructional Procedure

  • Ask students to describe what it’s like when you’re in a vehicle that’s going along the road just fine (“click, click, click, click…”) and then all of a sudden something happens and there’s a “clunk.”
  • Allow students to describe situations such as this that have happened to them or family members.
  • Once students have described what this situation feels like, ask them to give examples of ways that they have (or would) remedy this problem (when their car has broken down). Some examples might be to call for help, pull off the side of the road and think about their options, check the car for damage, etc.
  • After the discussions about the car have ceased, ask students to think hard about what it’s like when they are easily reading along and all of a sudden they “clunk” when they come to a word that they don’t know the meaning of.
  • Allow students to describe situations where this has occurred in math and in other subject areas.
  • Ask students to recall the strategies that they thought of to fix the “clunk” that happened in the car and apply it to the reading that they did (or would be doing). What could they do to fix the problem?
  • Allow students to brainstorm different fix-it strategies to improve reading comprehension (some will be similar to the car strategies, and some will be much different). If students are having a hard time coming up with strategies, assist them by asking them questions/giving them hints. Strategies include:
-Make a connection between the text and your life, your knowledge, or another text.
-Make a prediction
-Stop and think about what you have already read
-Ask yourself a question and try to answer it
-Visualize (see it in your mind)
-Retell what you read
-Notice patterns in text structure
-Adjust your reading rate: slow down or speed up
-Reflect in writing on what you have read
-Skip the word or sound it out
-Try again
-Use another word
-Use context clues
-Keep looking for small words inside difficult words


  • Have students read a hard piece of text from the book (a unit/chapter they have not yet covered with unfamiliar vocabulary words). As they come across words/meanings they don’t understand, ask them to pick a fix-it strategy to see if it works/helps them to figure out the meaning
  • Have students write about how their fix-it strategy helped them make meaning and how they could use some of the fix-it strategies in the future when reading.


Kathy (8th Grade Special Education): Teaching Special Education students who are hard to motivate and very reluctant to read is challenging. I am always searching for new ideas. This lesson will be one of the memorable lessons of my teaching career! The students were engaged from the onset because prior knowledge was activated immediately about something they have all experienced, car trouble. No matter their reading level, each student could tell of a time they were in a car when it stopped working. The greatest moment was to watch them make the connection from car trouble to “reading trouble”. I could almost see them relax when they realized everyone comes across words they don’t know and paragraphs they don’t understand, but there are ways to “fix-it”. They were eager to start naming reading fix-it strategies just as they had when they named how their cars were fixed. After we worked through several of the “fix-it” strategies and began to read unfamiliar text, they couldn’t wait for someone to go “clunk” and then stop to figure out which fix-it strategy to use so they could get back on the reading road again.

Darla (6th Grade History): Students on my team already participated in the Click-Clunk lesson in their reading class. I expanded on it in the social studies classroom. We also used the bookmarks. The lesson was on Julius Caesar and his accomplishments. It was a perfect opportunity to take a slightly confusing reading, and turn it into something fun to learn about, using our strategies.

I first had the class read the four paragraph article silently to themselves. I didn’t give them enough time to highlight or reflect much on it on their own. I then explained how we were going to do two-column notes for the whole article. They grumbled at first, but I ensured them that I was going to show them exactly how to do it. We did the first two paragraphs together. Ahead of time, I picked out the words that were making the article harder than it had to be. I modeled the two column notes on the board. One of the words from paragraph #1 was “descended”. We all wrote it down on the left side and defined it. I also pointed out information in parentheses that was clouding the main purpose of the article. They were kind of shocked to find out that you could do that with some parts of an informational reading.

Next, we all labeled the second column “Strategy”. This is where we went through all of the strategies on the bookmark, and recorded the ones we used for paragraph #1. Out of the ten strategies, we discovered that we used seven of them in a matter of minutes. They were happy with themselves when they realized that they were already doing some of the strategies on their own. I pointed out that these strategies will help them read anything.

Melani (8th Grade Special Education): As a teacher of students with behavioral disorders, its hard to motivate my struggling readers. It is difficult to get them to try to find something to read let alone read it. Simply, they just find reading frustrating. This strategy made a big impact for my struggling readers. Prior to introducing the click clunk strategy, when they began to have problems while reading they would simply give up or raise their hand to have me provide the answer. When asked to name fix it strategies, they were only able to name a few they used. The click clunk strategy connected to their knowledge of a car breaking down. This in turn helped them to be able to brainstorm ways to help themselves. I could see them making the connection. They began to attempt a strategy prior to just raising their hand for my assistance. This in turn gave them the confidence they needed. I have the strategies written on a car picture posted in the room as well has them having a personal copy to act as a visual prompt when they "clunck".

Karen (6th-8th Grade Special Education): As a teacher of students with autism, I did not believe that they would be able to make the connection between what you do when your car “clunks” and what you do when your reading “clunks.” However, I did decide to give it a try and my students did understand the concept well.

I chose to try this strategy with two high-functioning students with autism who love to read science fiction novels, but hate to read their history or science textbooks. When I began talking about how you know when your car breaks down and what you do about that, they had many, many ideas. They could have told me stories all afternoon. “It breaks down when it won’t run or your tire goes flat or it’s making funny noises.” Some of their thoughts to fix their problem of a broken car (What do you do when your car clunks?) were to check the tires, call for a tow, call a family member, try to restart it, try jumpstarting it, and walk home. Then when I asked them if they ever clunked while reading, one immediately said, “Never.” While the other student said that he has. We then went into a discussion about how you know if you are clunking while reading. And they had great responses, even the student who doesn’t clunk! “ I can tell if I am stuck when I stop making pictures,” he said. After we listed how we know we are having problems with our reading, we listed possible reading strategies that we have worked on and those they already knew to get them to comprehend their texts. At this point one of the students asked why we were talking about strategies. “Isn’t a strategy what you use to win a game like chess?” he asked. We stopped to discuss this and we talked about how a strategy can be a plan to help you win a game, but it can also be a plan to help you comprehend what you are reading. That is when I saw him make the connection. We listed about ten strategies they knew, such as looking back, using a dictionary, making a picture/movie in your head, stop reading, and ask for help. After discussing strategies, I gave them a difficult piece of text from a college level book about autism and asked them to monitor themselves to see if they know when they are “clunking.” I think this step is important for these two boys because often they do not even realize that they aren’t completely understanding what they are reading. While reading the few paragraphs, the one student who made the chess connection was able to stop and say that the text didn’t make sense a few times. He was able to say that he was clunking and then we talked about what strategy that he already knew would be helpful at that point.

I was impressed with the discussions I had from my two students. I will definitely refer to this lesson throughout the rest of the year and will teach it again next year. At the end of the lesson, my one student did recognize that this wasn’t just going to help him in reading. He could use strategies in History and Science classes as well!

Christy (6th Grade Math): I did my “Click clunk” strategy lesson with my sixth graders at a perfect time. We had just finished a unit on fractions and were getting ready to begin a new unit on area, perimeter, etc. I knew that this unit was going to be a bit of a challenge for some of my struggling readers because this particular unit is so vocabulary-intensive with many words that my students have never heard before. Thus, it was the perfect time to remind my students of what to do should they come across a word or words that they can’t read or can’t comprehend. I am sure they had many strategy lessons like this in the past and earlier this school year in their reading class, but as the year drags on, the students seem to forget about some strategies and how to use them, so this lesson was a great refresher of these fix-it strategies.

When I began the lesson, the students were totally confused as to why I had the words “Click, click, click, click…CLUNK” written on the white board. Of course, the first thing many of them asked was “Are we going to have homework tonight?” since this was something very unfamiliar for them in math class. I explained that we were simply going to review some reading strategies they knew and how to apply them to our new math unit. When we started discussing what happens when you’re “clicking along,” many of them (even the ones I expected not to participate) began raising their hands with stories to tell about what had happened to them and what they did to remedy their car problems. As I began to transition into the discussion about what happens when you’re reading and you “clunk,” they seemed to have forgotten about the strategies they have previously learned. However, once a student came up with a good fix-it strategy, many students started coming up with other relevant strategies that were easily related to the fix-it strategies for the car problems.

Eventually, after our discussion of the different strategies was complete, I asked my students to turn to a page in their book that we had not yet covered (in the new unit). They were asked to read the page and write down any words or phrases that they didn’t know or that made them “clunk.” Then, they were to refer to our list of strategies, or come up with others that they remembered, to write about how they could use those particular fix-it strategies to help them comprehend this piece of math text, as well as other pieces of math text that they may read in the future. They actually did a really good job of remembering different strategies that we hadn’t even discussed, which really impressed me.

If this lesson did nothing else, it triggered some memories within my students of the strategies they already knew. The idea of a car “clicking and clunking” was a great way to motivate the kids and get them to relate their reading struggles to that of being a car owner. I think the main thing that I would do differently would be to do this at the beginning of the year and then have follow-up “reminder” lessons throughout the year or when my students encounter hard text. Sometimes I (and my students) forget that reading in math class is just as important as reading in reading class, and I need to continually make sure that my students are prepared with a plethora of fix-it strategies to help them comprehend everything they are responsible for knowing in my class.

Tracy (6th Grade Reading): I had a great time doing this lesson with my students in reading class. Everyday I list the day's assignments on the board and today I listed "Click, click, click...CLUNK!" The students were dying to see what in the world that meant. I hadn't seem them that inquisitive in a long time! First, we talked about how great it is riding along in a working car heading to somewhere fabulous. We imagined click click click clicking along when suddenly we heard a clunk! Most students could relate to this and brainstormed great ideas of what to do when a car breaks down. I was surprised by how many of the car solutions really connected with reading strategies. Next, we discussed how great it feels when we are reading something that we really understand, and how awful it is when we realize we have been reading and don't remember or understand what we read! We agreed that this happens to all of us; even the smartest doctors in the world hit a clunk!

Next, while in groups of 4, students brainstormed the strategies they use when they hit a clunk while reading. Most suggested sounding out a word or rereading what they had read, but I was pleasantly surprised that several students suggested using the classroom resources, rereading the back of the book, imagining what was going on in the reading and also talking to someone about what they had read. Not one student in any of the classes suggested making connections, predictions or asking questions.

After brainstorming our ideas we compared our list to the Fix-It bookmark I handed out to students. We discussed the ones we were familiar with and the ones
that were new to us. I then passed out the purple bookmarks explaining what to do
if you are stuck on a particular word. Almost all students were familiar with what to do when stuck on a word. It is the comprehension monitoring that was new to them.

Finally, after all our discussions we decided to read a chapter from our novel, The Cay. I was very happy to see that students didn't grumble at all at the task of marking off any fix-it strategies they used during reading. Every student in every single class silently read until the bell rang. Most were marking fix-it strategies they were using or trying.

As great as the lesson was, I do think I need to continue focusing on these strategies and reinforcing them daily. Another adjustment I'd like to make is to post the strategies the students came up with so they could refer to them later. I think the fix-it strategy bookmarks I gave the students are too wordy and hard to follow. I would like to redo them in more kid-friendly terms. The purple bookmarks are already very kid friendly and are a quick reference to what to do when stuck on a word. My biggest surprise was the power it gave to the students. They were all so very quiet during silent reading, which doesn't always happen, and seemed to really be marking their strategies. Time will tell if they continue with the strategies and if the use of them carries over into other content areas. For now, I see a positive result! Some even denied they ever get stuck! Ha!


One of the foremost implications of using this strategy in multiple content areas and grade levels is that students see the importance of carrying these fix-it strategies from one context to another. Some of our other findings were that students were less nervous when they “clunked” because they now had strategies to use. Also, students didn’t laugh or get impatient with the reader like many tend to do. Students were eager to give and accept help from each other by saying, “Why don’t you try __?” At the students’ request, we wanted to see which fix-it strategy we used most often. When we started tallying the strategies the students discovered we don’t use one strategy in isolation, but we use several at one time. We saw that students carried this strategy over to another day and to another lesson without prompting from the teacher. Additionally, we found that the majority of our students did not “own” any fix-it strategies except for rereading, or their self-created strategy, “ask the teacher,” prior to this lesson. Through this inquiry project, we also found that across the board, students are so used to reading simply to answer questions that they do not value or trust their own thinking abilities.

As a group, we decided that the most important thing we would do differently with this strategy next time is to teach it at the very beginning of the school year as an introductory lesson to the many fix-it strategies available to our students. Then, we could teach individual strategies, monitor for mastery, and then move onto the next strategy.

After exploring the many facets of this particular strategy lesson, we concluded that this lesson is vital to every student in our building, regardless of grade or ability level. Thus, we would like to see this strategy become more widely available to and used by all teachers in our building. We plan to accomplish this by presenting this idea to the literacy leaders in our building to be introduced to every staff member through staff inservice. It is our goal that by introducing this lesson/strategy to every teacher at Urbana Middle School, our students’ reading abilities, comprehension, and test scores will improve greatly.