How to Create an Effective Reading Comprehension Strategy

Elementary school student in a purple striped shirt reading a book

Ask your student to read a few sentences from a textbook. 

Then ask them to tell you about what they just read. 

If they struggle to explain it or simply parrot back the sentences they just read, that may signal a potential reading comprehension problem. 

Grasping the message conveyed by the written word is an essential skill needed to become a strong, capable reader.  

Thankfully, there are a variety of effective reading comprehension strategies that can help any student, from beginners to the most proficient, to build confidence and deepen understanding.    

One of those strategies is called “Active Reading.” 

How Does the Active Reading Strategy Build Comprehension Skills?

Reading comprehension resources include several active-reading models. One, which educators call SQ3R—short for Scanning, Question, Read, Recall, Remember—begins by scanning for important ideas.  

Try this useful prompt to get kids started: The plain things are the main things, and the main things are the plain things. 

The “plain” and “main” things in a text can include:  

  • Chapter titles and section headings 
  • Illustrations and charts 
  • Photos and captions 
  • Bulleted lists and words in italics or bold 

Scanning helps young readers get the gist of the selection’s main idea and gives them some clues about what they are going to read before they engage with the text. 

How Does the SQ3R Effective Reading Strategy Work?

The scanning stage—also called “Survey” in the SQ3R model—opens the door to rest of the model, with each stage building on the previous. 

  • Question. Asking questions comes naturally to kids and leveraging that tendency is the next step in strengthening reading comprehension skills. Coaching readers to ask themselves questions about what they gleaned while scanning before working out the answers helps them:    
  • Clarify the important ideas they picked up while scanning.  
  • Create a mental outline of the text before they start reading it. 
  • Start thinking about what they’ll discover when they get started reading. 

Introducing reading strategies like Active Reading to young readers may require a lot of coaching at first. Reassure and motivate them. Practice, encouragement, and guidance build perseverance and ability.  

  • Read. Give students the time to read through the text carefully. Coach them to pause every so often to ask themselves questions. Is the text following the mental outline from the survey? If not, is the outline wrong or am I missing something?

    If I missed something, can I go back and find it?  If they get stumped, let them try to work on it themselves but be ready to coach them through it before frustration sets in. Educators call this productive struggle and refer to it as “the learner’s sweet spot.” 
  • Recall. Guide students to think to themselves about what they’ve just read, the questions they asked, and the message they got from the reading. If they need to think aloud at first, let them. As they gain confidence, they can internalize the recall process. Parents  can support students in this stage by using the material’s vocabulary in conversations and asking them to connect what they learned to current events or other topics in their curriculum. 
  • Remember (or Review). Before picking up where they left off, students should take time to reflect on what they learned in the previous lesson. If they need to go back to refresh their memory, let them. Writing a summary of the reading improves the ability to remember it later. Research shows that explaining it aloud to someone else is a most effective way to learn. 

Active Reading is a skill that gets easier with practice. In fact, proficient readers do it all the time without even thinking about it. 

Taken as a whole, the SQ3R model promotes comprehension by inspiring students to think critically about the reading material, inferring meaning and drawing conclusions through active questioning, and connecting what they’ve read to real life and other curriculum topics. 

Where Can You Find Other Reading Comprehension Resources?

Reading is more than a part of a language arts course and reading comprehension strategies aren’t  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.  Understanding and grasping the meaning of the written word is fundamental to success in everything from math and physical education in school to wherever life takes them after graduation. 

Additional reading comprehension resources you might find helpful include: 

  • Connections Academy: 7 Great Online Reading Resources for Parents and Learning Coaches 
  • Connections Academy: 11 Book Resources to Help Parents Find Great Children’s Reading Books 
  • Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth: Good Books for Bright Kids 
  • Reading Rockets: Helping Struggling Readers  

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