Reading experts are forever encouraging teachers and parents to teach students “a variety of strategies” to understand and to remember what they read. But what are these mysterious strategies?
Most evidence-based comprehension strategies boil down to this:
What can we do to get kids to use their brains actively while reading?
These strategies are not worksheets. Worksheets won’t do anything to teach your children what they should do in their heads to understand what they are reading.
Reading comprehension strategies that work
Here are 6 of the best, plus some ideas to put them into action at home or at school:
1. Use existing knowledge to predict
Pull out a main idea from the text (e.g. the main character, Jane, is sick) and ask a question that ties the idea to your child’s experience (“Remember when you were sick?”). Ask your child to predict what will happen based on their own experience (“I stayed home from school, then went to the doctor. Maybe Jane will do the same”).
Stop half-way through the story and ask your child to predict what will happen, and why they think it will happen (e.g. I think Mum will find out Jane isn’t really sick and Jane will have to go to school). This will encourage your child to make inferences and to think about the deeper meaning of the story.
2. Question time – use the “wh” words
On separate cards/paper, write: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Get your child to ask questions about what they are reading using each word. For example:
- Who is the main character/hero?
- When did this story happen (e.g. part and time of day/night, season, year)?
- Where did it happen (e.g. planet, country, city, small town, desert)?
- What happened?
- Why did it happen?
- How did the hero fix the problem?
For stories, this strategy can be used in conjunction with our Story Builder or another text organiser.
3. Visualise – take a photo or video inside your head
Explain to your child that making an image in their heads about what is described will help them remember what they read.
Ask your child to examine and describe objects in front of them. Move up to pictures depicting a scene. Then take the objects and pictures away, and ask your child to picture them in his/her head in as much detail as possible (shape, colour, size, smell, how they feel, sound, movement, what they are made of, their parts, etc). Ask your child to describe what he/she saw in as much detail as possible.
Read a sentence, then describe what you see to your child. Then read other things to your child and have them practise visualising and discussing what they see in their heads.
4. Monitor, clarify, and fix up
Use traffic signs to explain strategies to your child, e.g. a stop sign for stop reading and try to explain what is happening; or U-turn to re-read parts of the text that make no sense.
Write strategies on cards with their signs, and ask your child to apply the strategies when they don’t understand what they are reading.
5. Infer from key words
Teach your child how to look for key words that help them understand the text, e.g. nouns and verbs (e.g. if the text says doctor, needle, inject, stethoscope, it’s likely that the story is happening in a medical centre or hospital).
Identify key words in a sample of the text and explain what your child can learn about the text from those words.
Ask your child to describe what happened in their own words.
If your child can’t do it, prompt them with questions like “What comes next?” or “What else did the book say about [subject]”?
The big question: one strategy at a time, or together?
The jury is still out, but there is some evidence that teaching children multiple strategies along with an explanation of how to apply them in combination produces better results that teaching children individual strategies more slowly.
You can read a lot more about each of these strategies and the research supporting their use by following the link below.
Source: Shanahan, T., Callison, K., Carriere, C., Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Schatschneider, C., & Torgesen, J. (2010). Improving reading comprehension in kindergarten through 3rd grade: A practice guide (NCEE 2010-4038). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from here.
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Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.
Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language
Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.