7 Strategies to Improve Reading Comprehension

5 min to read
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How do you know if your student really understands what they read? Parents often resort to a strategy such as reading out loud or decoding the words that make the sentence, but decoding isn’t enough. 

This is where reading comprehension comes into play.  

Reading comprehension is the process of taking in words and assigning meaning to them in a way that makes sense to the reader. Reading comprehension is a necessary life skill that students are introduced to very early on in their academic careers—as early as pre-school! Read on to learn more about the importance of reading comprehension, as well as some helpful reading comprehension strategies that you can share with your student to aid them in improving overall comprehension skills and developing effective reading strategies. 

What Is Reading Comprehension?

According to “7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!” by Susan Zimmermann and Chryse Hutchins, reading comprehension is “the ability to read text, process it, and understand its meaning. It relies on two interconnected abilities: word reading (being able to decode the symbols on the page) and language comprehension (being able to understand the meaning of the words and sentences).” 

Essentially when we read, we process the words and their meaning by first taking them in at face value, and then relying on our internal mental map to create a personalized understanding of what the text is saying.  

Why Is Reading Comprehension Important?

Reading is more than just a goal; reading and comprehending are essential for success in math, history, geography, science, and any other school subject. 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 not only reading the words, but 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. 

An online student applying reading comprehension strategies while completing her assignments.

What Are the 7 Keys of Reading Comprehension?

To encourage and improve comprehension, teachers and parents can actively coach their students on these seven reading comprehension strategies, which are also mentioned in “7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!”

  1. Creating sensory images – Creating visual, auditory, and other sensory images from what they are reading to establish a stronger emotional connection. 
  2. Using background knowledge – Using existing knowledge and past experiences to categorize and contextualize written text. 
  3. Asking questions – Coming up with questions while reading about information that may be missing (why, what, where, who, and how). 
  4. Making inferences – Using prior knowledge and information from what they read to make predictions and come up with solutions.  
  5. Determining the most important ideas or themes – Identifying core themes and questions from the text.  
  6. Synthesizing information – Tracking thinking as it progresses while reading to get a stronger sense of the bigger picture. 
  7. Using “fix-up” strategies – When encountering problems understanding specific words, phrases, or longer passages, they use a wide range of “fix up” strategies to improve reading comprehension, like re-reading, skipping ahead, or using a dictionary to look up unknown words. 

Reading Comprehension Strategies for Early Elementary Students (Grades K–2)

Here are some tips for introducing reading strategies to students in kindergarten through second grade:

  • Encourage students to ask questions about what they are reading. Why is the main character taking certain actions? Where are they going? What do they want?  
  • Ask students to point out “when the text doesn’t make sense... use strategies such as re-reading, predicting, and questioning to understand it.” 
  • Play a guessing game with them – what do you think is going to happen next in the story?  
A parent introducing reading strategies to his online students.

Reading Comprehension Strategies for Mid-Elementary Students (Grades 3–5)

Here are some tips for introducing reading strategies to students in grades 3–5: 

  • While reading, ask students to share images that they come up with. 
  • Ask students to share any memories or experiences they have that may be similar to what they are reading in the text. 
  • After they read a book, ask them what they remember about it? What was the main storyline?  

Reading Comprehension Strategies for Middle School Students

Here are some tips for introducing reading strategies to students in middle school: 

  • Inferring is one of the most effective reading comprehension strategies to encourage middle school students. Challenge them to make predictions on what they think might happen next or seek answers to questions they have about what they are reading.  
  • At the end of each day, prompt students to summarize what they read. 
  • Employ reciprocal teaching – have students come up and teach their family and friends what they have learned from the text. 
An online high school student reading. 

Reading Comprehension Strategies for High School Students

Here are some tips for introducing reading strategies to students in high school: 

  • Challenge students to comment on major themes they are observing in their reading – social themes, moral themes, ethical themes. What is the important message(s) that the author is trying to convey? 
  • Set students up in groups and launch discussions on the text. This way, high school students can engage in learning dialogues with their peers through “self-questioning, question generation, and question answering.” 

Reading comprehension strategies are simply tools that good readers use when they read. These strategies are vital to reading more than just the words on the page—they are the keys to understanding what those words, and the sentences they are part of, mean. Helping students master these reading skills 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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