There are two skills that students need in order to become successful readers: recognition and comprehension. While recognition is about speed, recognizing sight vocabulary, and using phonics to sound out unfamiliar words, comprehension refers to how well children understand and remember what they’ve read.
Because reading is an integral part of all other school subjects, it’s important for children to have a strong base in reading comprehension. Even if your child struggles with this critical reading skill, there are a number of ways to work on it both in school and at home. The following steps can help parents and teacher improve a child’s reading comprehension.
1. Choose the right books. Books that are too hard – or too easy – can affect reading comprehension. If a book is too hard, the child spends most of their mental energy on decoding the text; if a book is too easy, they’re apt to speed read or merely skim over paragraphs. Encourage students to follow the five-finger rule when choosing a book. Choose a book, open to a random page, and begin reading. Each time they come across an unfamiliar word, have them hold up a finger. No fingers or one finger is too easy, 2-3 fingers is just right, and 5 or more is too difficult.
2. Read aloud. While older children may scoff at the idea of reading aloud, it’s one of the most effective tools for reading comprehension. Students are forced to slow down as they read, giving them more processing time. Likewise, reading aloud gives them the chance to both see and hear the words, ideal for audio learners.
3. Reread to build fluency. To improve comprehension and gain deeper understanding of a text, rereading can be a valuable tool. While it may not be possible to reread entire novels, encourage students to reread short passages or paragraphs, particularly if they do not feel like they grasped the content the first time. Rereading can also be an extremely helpful test-taking strategy.
4. Ask questions. Even if you aren’t familiar with what they are reading, ask questions about the text. Not only does this force children to reflect on what they have read, but it also encourages them to ask themselves questions as they read. For example:
- Before reading. What do you think this book will be about? Why did you choose it?
- During reading. What is your favorite thing about the main character? Is it turning out how you thought it would? What do you think will happen next?
- After reading. Can you summarize the book in three sentences? What did you most enjoy about the story? Does it remind you of anything else you’ve read?