Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies for the Literacy Classroom

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teacher and students in the classroom

Have your students ever read a passage and have no idea what they just read? Even some students who have learned to decode fluently may not automatically become skillful comprehenders. Reading comprehension is a complex, multifaceted process with several cognitive processes occurring simultaneously and with differing levels of depth of understanding. Students’ comprehension can begin with the literal, then build to the figurative, and eventually lead to critically analyzing text with higher-order thinking skills. However, acquiring these higher-order comprehension skills does not develop implicitly but often require explicit instruction.   

Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies

Deepening students’ understanding of text consists of an intricate interplay of vocabulary, content knowledge, and comprehension strategy instruction to help students formulate meaning from text. Here are some evidence-based reading comprehension strategies that can promote deeper comprehension among your students. 

Using Prior Knowledge: Activating existing knowledge before reading helps readers make connections and build a foundation to enhance understanding. By leveraging personal experiences and previously learned content, readers can actively engage with the text, ask questions, and adjust their comprehension for a more meaningful learning experience. (See below to download our free KWL chart that can help students organize their knowledge in this process.)

Understanding Vocabulary: Students learn key vocabulary either prior to the lesson or during the reading by getting explicit instruction from the teacher or the dictionary, using context clues, or applying morphological knowledge. Without understanding the essential vocabulary, students will have difficulty understanding the larger passage. Therefore, encourage students not to skip over difficult words but to understand the meaning, significance, and usage of each word they come across.

Predicting: Whether it is before, during, or after reading, students can make predictions about what will happen in the text, what event may take place next, or what may happen after the story ends. Making predictions allows students to use what they know to infer a logical effect that may take place. It is important not to simply make predictions, but to compare it with what actually happens in the text.

Questioning: Students generate their own questions while they are reading. Formulating questions while reading helps students not only stay actively engaged with the text but also identify any gaps in understanding and help put their thoughts into words.

Making Connections: Making connections with the text can entail text-to-self, text-to-text (whether within the same text or with another previously read text), or text-to-real-world situations. Having students find ways to connect the text to various situations, whether it comes from a personal life experience or another lesson, is a great way to increase student engagement.

Visualizing: Sometimes referred to as mental imagery, students make a mental image of the text that they read. Creating a mental model of what students read helps them remember what they are reading.

Verbalizing: Thinking Aloud and Dialogic Reading: Students verbalize their thoughts during the task of reading. This act of thinking aloud can be done by the student or by the teacher as a form of teacher modeling. Students also discuss the reading with a partner after reading the text, which allows students to dig deeper into the author’s purpose while becoming aware of other interpretations of the same text. 

Identifying Main Ideas and Details: Identifying the key concept of a passage and finding its supporting details help students sift through all the information that they have read to focus on the important elements of the text.

Inferencing: Teachers should consider what ideas they want surfaced and help to guide a discussion. Inferencing allows students to go beyond the literal interpretation of a text and to think more deeply about ideas or perspectives that were not stated but could be suggested or implied.

Monitoring Comprehension: Students are taught to be aware of whether they are comprehending the text while they are reading. Students can learn to annotate the text (e.g., highlighting, sticky notes, writing along the margins, etc.) so they can note important words or concepts, identify where they may need more explanation, or write important details.

Outlining Story Structure and Text Structure: For narrative text, students identify the different parts of the story, such as the exposition (characters, setting, and background), rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Whether narrative or informational text, students can also identify how the topics are organized, such as with compare and contrast, cause and effect, sequence, etc. 

Best Practices for Teaching Comprehension Strategies

Teaching comprehension strategies effectively consist of:

  1. Giving direct, explicit instruction with clear explanations on what the strategy is, why it is important, when to use it, and how to apply it either before, during, or after reading;
  2. Modeling the strategy with the students so that students see various examples of how to use the strategies;
  3. Using graphic organizers or other visual representations that help students organize text;
  4. Providing cumulative instruction that continues to reinforce previously learned strategies while introducing new ones to accumulate knowledge and skills;
  5. Engaging students with high-interest topics and texts when applying the strategies;
  6. Transferring the application of the strategies across various genres and subject domains; and
  7. Encouraging collaboration and dialogue among students for deeper comprehension.    

Skillful readers typically employ multiple reading comprehension strategies as they are reading text. They could be visualizing a climactic scene while predicting what may happen next in the following chapter. They may try to infer what the main character was experiencing, which may result in making connections with their own personal lives. Therefore, it is important to note that students can utilize any number of strategies as they work through comprehending new text when and where appropriate. These strategies provide students with a repertoire, or comprehension “toolkit,” to use as they read connected text. When students are able to employ these strategies skillfully and automatically, they have a deeper understanding of the content and, therefore, become more proficient readers.        

It is important to keep the perspective that reading strategies are not the end but rather a means to achieve deeper comprehension. Furthermore, simultaneously deepening and expanding students’ vocabulary knowledge and content knowledge is paramount. No matter the strategy, choosing engaging, relevant, content-rich, and high-interest topics and genres are crucial to help transform reading from being a dry, passive activity that students dread to one that is motivating, captivating, and ultimately empowering the students.


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