In Seven Blind Mice, author-illustrator Ed
Young retells the ancient East Indian fable, "The Blind Men
and the Elephant." In the story, each blind mouse goes out
to investigate the "strange Something" by their pond.
Each returns to the group and describes a part of the "Something"
by relating a shape to a familiar object. The elephant's legs
are like pillars and its trunk is thought to be a snake. The first
six mice comprehend only isolated parts of the elephant and as
a result, come to incorrect conclusions. It is the seventh blind
mouse who takes into account all of the parts and is able to fully
comprehend the elephant.
Learning to recognize and contruct metaphors is
one of the research-based instructional strategies that increases
student achievement (Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock 2001). Educators
can help readers use metaphors to relate the parts of an elephant
to the seven reading comprehension strategies. The table below
presents comparisons between an elephant's body parts and the
seven reading comprehension strategies. Students can use these
metaphors to better understand the role each strategy plays in
reading comprehension. The metaphors are found on the downloadable
bookmarks, Web supplements 2B, 2C, and 2D.
The Metaphor of the Elephant
||Readers' background knowledge is like the elephant's
tail; it follows them as they read and backs up their comprehension.
||Like an elephant uses its ears to hear and all
of its senses to comprehend its world, readers use sensory
images to make meaning with texts.
||Readers use questioning to probe
texts before, during, and after reading just the way an elephant
uses its tusks to control and poke around in its world.
|Predictions and Inferences
||Just as an elephant uses its head to think,
readers use their heads in order to make predictions and inferences.
|| Like the elephant's legs that bear significant
body weight, readers analyze texts to determine main ideas
that support the meaning of texts.
||Readers use fix-up options to regain control
of reading comprehension like the elephant uses its trunk
to manipulate its environment.
||Just as the white mouse in Seven Blind Mice
put all of the elephant's parts together to make a whole,
strategic readers use all of the reading comprehension strategies
and combine information with their interpretations to synthesize
and create knowledge.
Chapter 3: Activating or Building Background
Knowledge: Although the tail is found at the end of
the elephant, background knowledge comes first because without
it, readers have no place to begin.
Chapter 4: Using Sensory Images:
Sensory imagery symbolized by the ear follows because using
sensory imagery is more than using visual information or visualizing.
It requires readers to engage all their senses in order to make
meaning. Sensory connections are also an aspect of our background
Chapters 5: Questioning and 6: Making
Predictions and Inferences: Asking questions, represented
by the tusks, and making predictions and inferences, the head,
require higher-order thinking skills that stretch the reader to
go beyond a text's denotation on the page or screen in order to
Chapter 7: Determining Main Ideas:
The legs, or main ideas, are next. Readers must analyze texts
in order to determine the main ideas and to compose summaries.
Chapter 8: Using Fix-up Options:
The fix-up strategy, or the trunk, allows readers to recover lost
comprehension. It uses a set of options that can be taught one-by-one,
but altogether they show the complexity of monitoring and recovering
Chapter 9: Synthesizing:
And finally, synthesis, the whole elephant, requires that the
reader use all the strategies to bring together ideas and evidence
from multiple texts and combine it with their own interpretations
to transform information into knowledge.
Active readers apply these strategies seamlessly in their reading
process. Although the how-to chapters in this book isolate individual
reading comprehension strategies, the strategies are interrelated.
Strategic readers utilize multiple comprehension strategies as
they engage with texts. The ultimate goal is to utilize combinations
of strategies when they are appropriate to different types of
texts, purposes for reading, and comprehension challenges.
order of the chapters reflects one possible and logical sequence for building
students' comprehension strategy repertoires rather than following
the order of the elephant parts as presented in Young's book. Educators should always use their judgment to determine the best sequence or select strategies based on students' needs.
Marzano, Robert. J., Debra J. Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock.
2001. Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies
for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association
of Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Young, Ed. 1992. Seven blind mice. New York: