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Reading comprehension is the ability to process text and understand what it means. CLICK HERE to read about the factors that can influence reading comprehension. This article covers reading comprehension strategies that activate prior knowledge and demonstrate how to process information from the text. This article does NOT cover methods for improving general language comprehension or reading fluency, which can also greatly influence a child’s reading comprehension skills.
Steps for Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies
Step 1: Select a focus of the Comprehension Activity
Reading comprehension can be measured in many ways. Finding answers to questions, drawing conclusions, and summarizing content are all possible areas of focus.
Finding answers to questions
One of the most common ways to measure a child’s reading comprehension is to have them answer questions about the passage. Questions vary in complexity as follows:
- Answer questions about vocabulary from the text.
- Find answers to fact questions.
- Find answers to sequence questions.
- Find answers to other questions that are explicitly stated in the text.
- Find answers to inference questions (these are not explicitly stated in the text and require a child to draw on prior knowledge and language skills to develop conclusions).
- Finding answers to complex questions (which may utilize all of the above skills).
(Howell, Morehead, & Zucker, n.d.)
Writing With Ease is the best program I have come across that systematically teaches children to summarize content. Although this is actually a writing curriculum, the processes involved also teach the child to pinpoint the important parts of a passage and put that information in their own words.
The Charlotte Mason approach for homeschooling also uses oral narration (summarizing the important parts of content) throughout content areas. The child is supposed to retell in their own words what was read (or listened to) and also make other connections by tying in their prior knowledge and opinion about the content.
Other Literary Features
Any literary component can be covered using the same format. Character development, plot, descriptions, etc. can be covered following the steps that below. Graphic organizers provide a visual framework for filling in information. For example, if plot was going to covered, the instructor may draw a diagram of important plot points (e.g., Intro, climax, conclusion, etc.). This diagram can then be filled in while reading the text.
Step 2: Select a Text
Basal readers and other leveled texts gradually increase in difficulty. You can buy your own, borrow from the library, or join a website that has readers available. Last year I tried an online subscription to Raz-kids. It was a good source to find many books at my child’s reading level for working on fluency and comprehension. I did not renew after the first year as my child eventually lost interest in reading the types of books available in the electronic format. I also frequently use Evan-Moor’s daily reading comprehension books. These books also include ways to teach specific reading comprehension strategies.
For the skill area of summarizing content, any grade level passage can be used.
Step 3: Activate Prior Knowledge
There are a few methods that can be used to activate prior knowledge. Accessing related prior knowledge and experiences allow the child to make connections as they read through the selected passage, thus improving comprehension.
Brainstorming works well in a group setting. Students are asked to describe what they know or associate with a specified topic (Bos & Vaughn, 1998). The resulting comments can be written on a board or organized by subtopics.
K-W-L is a comprehension technique that:
- Starts by discussing what the student(s) already know about the topic.
- Next, students discuss what they want to know about the topic or what they expect to learn from the passage.
- Last, after reading the selected passage, students discuss what they learned.
Covering key vocabulary prior to reading the passage can also assist in improving comprehension. The National Reading Panel (2000) found that vocabulary instruction is most effective when the presentation of new terms is engaging and presented in a variety of ways.
Word webs are one way to discuss new vocabulary (Lerner, 2000). The target word goes in the center. Then examples, categories, and descriptive words can be discussed in relation to the target word.
Provide background knowledge to maximize comprehension
If the child’s experience is limited with the topic in the text, now would be a good time to provide some kind of connection. For example, if the text was about volcanoes, explaining the basics about volcanoes and showing the child pictures of volcanoes would provide some background information.
Step 4: Model the strategy
When you demonstrate the strategy, it is important to narrate your thought processes. For example, if you are modeling ways to find the answer to inference questions, you may start by reading the questions. Then you can say, “I’m not sure, I need to go back and read through the passage.” Find where the answer is covered. Read through it, and then model tying the section with your prior knowledge and deduction skills to select the correct response.
Step 5: Guide the child through the strategy
Next, you will guide the child through the procedures to used to find a correct answer. Continue to help the child through the process until they are able to complete the activity independently. Depending on the complexity of the task, this may occur the same day, over several days, or be practiced over a longer period with many different texts.
Step 6: Independent Practice
Once a child can complete the strategy independently, periodic practice with gradually increased passage difficulty will provide continued development of reading comprehension skills.
Conclusion on Reading Comprehension Strategies
Direct instruction on reading comprehension strategies have demonstrated positive results on a child’s reading comprehension abilities (National Reading Panel, 2000). The best outcomes were a result of utilizing a variety of reading comprehension strategies. For example, exclusively using summarizing techniques will not help a child learn how to find the answers to questions within a passage. In contrast, only teaching a child how to find the answers to questions will fail to develop a child’s summarization skills. Instead, instructors should model and guide the child through a variety of reading comprehension strategies for maximum comprehension benefits.
Howell, K. W., Morehead, M. K., & Zucker, S. H. (n.d.) The Multilevel: Mathematics, Reading, & Language Arts. Task Analysis: Grades 1-8. Columbus, OH. Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company.