Guest Post via @tiffbutton: Stoplight On Understanding: A Reading Comprehension Strategy


Tiffany Boley is a Title I Interventionist, assistant track coach, event & wedding planner,  , and the Founder/Moderator of .  Connect with her on Twitter at @tiffbutton.

Working with intervention students, also known as Tier III at my school, is a joy for me. I focus on building fluency, word meanings, expression, and other things critical to becoming a better reader. One literacy component that the majority of my students struggle with is comprehension. Each student is different, so each struggle is different. Where one student may struggle with comprehension due to not being phonemically sound, another student may struggle with comprehension because they are not familiar with the content. During my instruction, I use a variety of strategies to work on comprehension, and one strategy that I use is what I like to call the Stoplight On Understanding.

What Is It?

It is a laminated sheet of paper that has a stoplight, like a traffic light, on it. Each color has a level of understanding for each student to place their marker on after I’ve asked the question related to the text we just read.  There are 3 levels:

Red- I don’t get it! I need help understanding.

Yellow– I think I understand, but I need a little support.

Green– I understand and can try this on my own.

The marker piece can be anything. I use the yellow hexagon piece from my math manipulative box, but it can be anything of your choosing.


What’s My Purpose For Using It?

I allow students to have a voice in my room. I cannot tell what they know if I am the one doing all of the talking and just asking questions, hoping someone gives me the right answer. No. First, I want to know if they understand the question I am asking them. Second, I want to know if they know the answer to the question I am asking them and if they are able to express that answer orally. Last, I want them to be able to cite text evidence that supports their answer.

How Does It Work?

Each student is given one paper and one marker. They are also given their own copy of the story. Before asking questions, we read the story together. I chunk each section of the story and ask questions based on that section, not the whole story. The marker piece will be moved at most 3 times by a student. I begin to ask my questions. The students do not answer yet, but they put their marker on the color that best represents their understanding of what I’m asking them and if they can answer it. Once everyone has selected a color, I start with who is on red. These are the students that do not understand the question and have no idea as to how to answer it. So, I ask them about what part of the question don’t they understand. I restate the question, but break it down a little more for them to understand it and attempt to answer. Based on their response, they either stay on red if I feel they still aren’t getting it, move to yellow if they kind of got it, or move to green if they got it correct. Next, I go to my yellow students. These are the students who think they understand what I’m asking and can attempt to answer the question.  Just as I do the red students, based on their response, they either stay on their color or move based on the answer they give. Last, I do the same process with my green students. Remember, the green students are the ones who “think” they understand and can answer on their own, but they can be moved to red or yellow as well. After each student has gone, I restate the question and then give a discussion about the correct answer. I will ask them how is their understanding, now that we’ve discussed it, and my hope is that everyone will be in the green before moving to the next question.

There is no wrong or right answer when I do this because I don’t ask questions to get an exact answer. I want them to be able to give an in depth discussion about the text, so I gear my questions towards those responses.

What Are The Benefits?

  • Build student self-confidence
  • Builds word meaning
  • Learn to infer using text evidence
  • Keeps students engaged
  • Having fun reading


This strategy always has my students engaged for the whole time I do intervention with them. I also use it as an assessment tool if it’s about a story that we’ve been discussing and reading all week. Some of my students are better at expressing their understanding orally than having to write it down on paper, so I cater the strategy to their needs. I never tell a student they are wrong when doing this. When they give an answer that doesn’t quite hit the mark, I ask them what led them to that answer because sometimes they could be headed in the right direction, but get cut off because it’s not the answer WE were looking for as teachers. They just need a little redirecting, and by doing that, it will boost their self-confidence for speaking and participating more in class.





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