An Introduction to Using Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies

How Reading Strategies Improve Comprehension

How do you know if your student really understands what he or she reads? Parents often resort to a strategy, such as sounding it out or decoding the letters that make the words, but decoding isn't enough. Skilled readers think while they read in order to understand the meaning of a text.

Long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I attended a meeting with a goal of revising elementary progress reports in my school district. We were talking about assessment and subsets for evaluating a student's reading progress when a committee member declared, "Let's have a line that reads, 'Uses reading strategies effectively.'" Comprehension, or understanding, was the only strategy that ended up on the final draft of the new progress report.

To help you better understand how reading comprehension works for young students, below is a brief rundown of a helpful book by Susan Zimmermann and Chryse Hutchins that highlights the essential components of comprehension: 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!

What does it mean to comprehend something?

Let's put it in perspective by using Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning. Knowledge, or remembering, is the first level of learning. For example, I know the words in the book The Cat in the Hat, but can I put those words in context and understand what they mean? Comprehension is a step above knowledge. If I understand the book The Cat in the Hat, I can explain that the two kids had nothing to do because it was raining outside. Once the cat came to visit, chaos erupted. I can build on comprehension by applying what I know, analyzing it, or breaking it down into parts, evaluating (explaining), and eventually unifying the information by reflecting on what I've read.

Why is comprehension important?

Reading is more than just a goal; reading and comprehending are essential for success in math, history, geography, science, engineering, and any other school subjects. And it's not just helpful in school. Everyday reading, whether of a recipe, an appliance manual, a road sign, or a newspaper, is dependent on knowing how to read the words and also on understanding those words and phrases. A young person who can only decode the words misses the true meaning of any text and may never learn to love reading.

What are the seven keys of reading comprehension?

To encourage and improve comprehension, teachers and parents can actively coach their students on the principal reading comprehension strategies covered in 7 Keys to Comprehension:

    1. Building background knowledge and making connections
    2. Questioning (why, what, where, who, and how)
    3. Drawing inferences
    4. Determining importance
    5. Synthesizing and putting it all together
    6. Cultivating awareness

Reading comprehension strategies are simply things good readers use while they read. These strategies are vital to reading more than words—they are the keys to understanding what those words, and the sentences they are part of, mean. Helping students master these reading skills, which I will discuss in an ongoing series of blog posts, will enable them to develop strong comprehension of their reading material and help them succeed both in school and in life!

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