How to Support Comprehension in Readers
January 07, 2020
Within reading there are two main elements that create great readers: comprehension and fluency. Comprehension is our ability to understand a text, and often we use a wide range of strategies to form a schema of the text we’re reading. Fluency is our ability to read smoothly, with speed, accuracy and expression.
Often, children are assessed merely by how they read the words on the page. If a child reads a story beautifully a parent or teacher, without digging further, may be unaware that the child has missed arguably the most important part of reading: that is, accurately understanding what the text is telling us!
As a teacher, you’d be surprised how many students can read a text absolutely perfectly, but, once you dig deeper and ask them questions relating to the characters, setting and plot, they struggle immensely. Every day we read a tremendous number of things, from advertisements to warning signs and recipes to SMS messages – we are constantly reading! Realistically, fluently reading a contract or text message isn’t going to help you nearly as much as understanding exactly what the messages are saying. Developing a child’s ability to understand a text is something that you can do right at home, just by asking comprehension related questions.
Let’s explore some common comprehension strategies we teach emerging readers to use when reading, and some example questions you can ask to promote each strategy.
Activating prior knowledge
This is usually one of the first strategies readers use to understand a book: the ability to recall what you may already know about the book or topic. For example, if a child is reading a book about space, they might use this strategy to think about everything they already know about space to help add new information or modify miscues.
Before a child reads, ‘Tell me everything you know about…”
Or if it’s fiction you can ask about the genre, “Tell me what you know about magic.”
While reading, great readers will make connections to their life and events around them. Making connections refers to how a reader can relate to an experience. For example, if a main character falls off a bike, they may remember what they feels like and make a connection to the character.
“Tell me about a time that’s happened to you..” and “How did that feel when it happened….?”
Or, “Has anything you’ve read happened to you before?”
It’s no surprise that when we read, we begin imagining what the book is describing – but articulating it is how we develop the strategy.
“What do you think the main character looks like?”
“What does the setting look like?”
Alternatively, you can have kids draw what they think the main character looks like, or what the setting looks like.
How great did it feel when you guessed what happened next or who the mysterious villain was?! Predicting is another valuable strategy we use as readers to paint the picture and stay engaged. Predicting is essentially making an educated guess about what’s to come, based off information you already have from reading, or even from the front cover and blurb.
Before reading, “What do you think this book might be about?”
During reading, “What do you think might happen to the main character?” or “How will the book end?”
Inferring is quite possibly the biggest of the comprehension strategies and also the most challenging to develop. Inferring is our ability to create a schema by combining information that isn’t usually right on the page. We must read between the lines and that can be quite difficult to bypass the literal meaning of parts of the story.
“How do you think the main character felt when…”
“Why did the character make that decision?”
“Why do you think the author wrote the book?”
Asking questions while reading helps kids to stop and really think about what’s happening in the book. Writing questions down is a great strategy for kids to actually follow up on thoughts they had. It’s a way of closing the loop on information you were wondering or confused about earlier.
“What questions or wonderings do you have?”
Have kids write these down as they go and try to answer them along the way!
Have a go at using these simple question stems to develop comprehension with your child, and to extend their answers you can add in, “Why do you think that?” This challenges kids to dig deeper into their thought processes. As your child becomes more proficient they will develop their ability to summarise, analyse and synthesise information.