Reading Comprehension Strategies

Children books on book shelf

Reading Comprehension Strategies

When I was teaching Prep, there was a student who could literally read novels.

He was five.

He would bring a book (more appropriate for an adult scientist) into the playground and sit and read it out loud to anyone who would listen.  Teachers and children would stand by with their mouths agape at this small boy who could read and pronounce words that possibly even the school principal had not ever encountered.

It was astounding. The comments flying around the staffroom and playground included ‘child prodigy’ and ‘giftedness’ and yet were shockingly untrue.  You see, although he would and could read anything you put in front of him, he was not necessarily able to comprehend it.

Therefore, despite his tiny size and enormous vocabulary, this child was no more gifted at reading then his little classmate reading Dr Seuss (no offence to Dr Seuss, of course).

How to learn and apply reading comprehension strategies

Reading isn’t about the ability to read the words on the page.  Reading is about the ability to understand the words on a page.  This is called comprehension.

You see, there is no point in reading anything if you cannot comprehend or understand what it is you are reading.  Teachers in primary schools regularly assess and monitor your child’s reading ability. Each time your child is reading to a teacher either individually or in a small group (which in fact should happen daily in some capacity) they are being observed on a number of things.  Some of these are; the ability to read fluently, the ability to decode, the ability to read with expression and the ability to comprehend a text.  You can read more about reading with fluency and expression here.

So how do we partner with our child’s classroom teacher and ensure that our children can comprehend what they are reading?

Stack of books

Allow the Questions

From a young age, it is a beautiful thing to read to our children.  However, as a mother, I feel the frustration that can overcome you as you are rushing through the bedtime story only to be interrupted by a well-meaning three-year-old with a hundred questions.

“What does that word mean Mum?”

“Why is the bear climbing the tree?”

“Why don’t we live in a house like that?”

questions, who,when,where,how,why,what

We often just want to get that book done and move on to better things like – a shower, a cup of tea and some mind-numbing television.

These questions during this time are so important.  It allows you to help your young child comprehend the story, look beyond what they are hearing and make judgements about what you are reading.  Comprehension often begins with life experiences and recognising these in stories. This means that relating the story to your own lives can be really significant.

Look at the Pictures

When your older child brings home a book from the school library or a home-reader for homework, have them look at the pictures first.  Reading is much more than the words on the page.  The images and illustrations in a story are the best help in comprehending a story. This is especially the case for early readers and is also something fun and fairly easy for engaging those reluctant readers.

Picture Book

You can read here about some tips on how to motivate reluctant readers.

Ask good questions to encourage comprehension from the pictures:

“What do you think is happening in the story just by looking at the pictures?”

“What is this story about?”

“Can you tell me about the characters in the story?”

This will help get your child thinking about the text and what it is about before they even begin reading the actual words.

Retell the Story

Make use of time in the car or while you are cooking dinner to have your child read a book (or a chapter) to you.  When they have finished reading aloud, ask questions about what they have read.  You could also get them to show you what happened in the story by:

  • retell the story to you
  • paint or draw a picture
  • use puppets/figurines/lego/animation

These are all fun ways to make sure that your children can understand what they are reading.

Be the Teacher

This one takes a little more time but is great to really ensure that your child is reading relevant texts that are age and ability appropriate.  Ask simple questions and then perhaps some more challenging ones that make them think outside the box.  Teachers in classrooms use two types of questioning when assessing a student’s ability to comprehend a text.

Teacher writing on white board

These are called Literal and Inferential Questions.

In a nutshell, literal questions are questions that can be answered by simply reading the text and looking at the pictures.  For example, if a sentence says ‘Sally walked to school’ then the literal question may be ‘How did Sally get to school?’  Easy to answer as it is right there in the text.

An inferential question requires more thinking.  If the sentence was ‘Sally walked to school’ the inferential question might be ‘Do you think Sally lives far from school?  How do you know?’  This way the child has to use some prior experience to make links between what they already know and what they are reading.

Click here for more ideas on how to ask literal and inferential questions.

Comprehending a text is the most important aspect of reading.  Hopefully, some of the ideas given here are simple enough to put in place at home. This can be whether you are reading to your three-year-old or listening to your ten-year-old read aloud while you cook Tuesday night spaghetti.

Remember, speaking to your child’s classroom teacher is also a great place to get some ideas and strategies.  They are working closely with your child every day and will be able to give you more specific ideas for your individual child.

Plus, I reckon they will be mighty impressed when you start the conversation with …”I have just been wondering how to ask better literal and inferential questions to (insert child’s name here) when they do their daily reading…”

That will blow their socks off for sure!

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