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Basic Comprehension Strategies

Basic Comprehension Strategies

Comprehension is the last of the five key areas of reading instruction. It is the understanding of written text, which is the ultimate objective of any reading program. Comprehension refers to the ability to understand what you read – are you picking up what the author put down? A child does not obtain comprehension by rote instruction, but rather by acquiring strategies and skills that can obtain meaning from our language.

Comprehension skills are continually evolving. To help your child become more connected with a book and understand both the text and author’s intentions, ask questions before, during and after reading a book. The following basic strategies enrich a child’s understanding of the text.

Before Reading a Book

  • Use background knowledge to each a child to connect their existing knowledge with the new information contained in the text. Prior to reading, inquire as to the extent of knowledge a child possess in the subject matter as well as what questions they have.
  • Make predictions to guess what will happen. Using both background knowledge and information from the text, a child should be able to surmise what they are about to read.

When reading a book for the first time, read the title and names of both the author and illustrator and encourage your child to quickly look through the book before reading it to predict what he will read. Ask questions:

  • Have you read any books by this author or illustrator before?
  • What do you think this book will be about? Why?

While Reading a Book

  • Use context clues when encountering an unfamiliar word or phrase. Context clues (e.g. other words and phrases) are located in close proximity to the unknown text and help a child understand the meaning of the unfamiliar word or phrase.
  • Ask questions about what you are reading. In particular, ask how and why questions, e.g., how did it happen? Why did it happen? Tell your child to stop and make sure that what she is reading makes sense.

When reading with a child, let him turn the pages and use his finger to trace the words as you read along. Help your child transition from just reading the text to analyzing the material by asking questions. Stop throughout the book and ask questions like:

  • Why did the main character do that?
  • What do you think he will do next?

After Reading a Book

  • Help your child make a connection with the text. Discuss what she just read and summarize it. Have your child recall the beginning, middle and end of the story or even retell the entire story. All these strategies reinforce what a child just read and helps develop a connection between this reading and their own experience, another book or life. There are three connections a child can make to the text while reading:
    1. Text-to-self connection – occurs when a reader makes a connection between the text and his personal experience. A great activity is to complete the following sentence, this book reminds me of the time I …
    2. Text-to-text connection – occurs when a reader makes a connection between a text being read to a previous one. A great activity is to complete the following sentence, this book reminds me of ______ (e.g. another book or poem), because ….
    3. Text-to-world connection occurs when a reader make s a connection between the text and something that occurs in the world. A great activity is to complete the following sentence, this book reminds me of ______ (e.g. a recent vacation or birthday party), because …

  • Evaluate the book. Have your child make a judgment about what he just read. Did your predictions occur? Why? Why not?
  • After reading, help your child make a connection and evaluate the book by asking questions like:

    • What was the best part of this book?
    • Do you remember when … ? This book reminds me of that experience.

    Set a great example for your child and read! Let them see you read the newspaper, magazine or novel. When you read something interesting, show your child. Since my preference is novels or self improvement books, I do not often read the newspaper. However, when my husband reads an interesting article he shares it with our children and me. Likewise, when I read something interesting – either a funny joke or great advice – I share it with my family. As a result, our child observe their parents reading and sharing ideas about topics of family interest.

    Learning to read is a complex process that evolves over time and comprehension is the ultimate goal, crossing this finish line is filled with many rewards. Help your child cross the finish line by setting a good example.


    Rath, L.K., Ed.D & Kennedy, L. (2004). The Between the Lions Book for Parents. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

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