Comprehension is the process of making meaning from written text. In essence, this is what reading is all about! Research has taught us how to support struggling and developing readers to become more proficient and take control of their own reading comprehension (Armbruster et al., 2001).
What it means
Comprehension develops through a series of active reading strategies. Teaching and modeling selected strategies for children will help them become interactive readers. Children need to understand what each strategy is, why it is important, and how, when, and where to apply it. Key comprehension strategies include:
- Monitoring comprehension
Proficient readers know when they understand what they read and when they do not, and are able to adjust their reading accordingly. A young child may say, I don't understand what this means. This shows that she is thinking about her reading.
- Using prior knowledge
Previewing a story before reading using techniques such as "picture walks" helps children make connections between the story and what they already know.
- Making predictions
Stopping periodically to predict what might happen next helps children make connections between their prior knowledge and new information in the story.
Asking children questions helps them focus their attention and think actively about the text. Inviting children to question the text also demonstrates that proficient readers question not only themselves, but the author's intent as well.
- Recognizing story structure
Understanding how a story is organized helps readers construct meaning. Story structure includes setting, characters, plot, and theme.
A summary requires readers to determine what information in the story is important and put the main idea(s) into their own words.
What to look for
Learning to read strategically is a developmental process and happens over time. Children demonstrate comprehension when they:
- Use prior knowledge and personal experiences when discussing a book. Example: I just knew she was going to fall that's what happened to me and my friends when we were learning how to skateboard.
- Describe similarities and differences among books. Example: Most kids' books have happy endings. Mystery books always try to trick you.
- Visualize and describe scenes and characters in books with few illustrations.
- Support their ideas or interpretations by giving examples from the text.
- Identify the main ideas in a story or nonfiction book.
- Describe characters' moods and motives.
How to support learning
As you read to and work with young children, model and demonstrate different strategies. Give children direct feedback, encouraging them to think about what they are reading and what they understand.
- Story Map
Point out that most stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Explain that together you are going to make a story map that shows the sequence of events. On a sheet of paper make three columns and label them Beginning, Middle, and End. After children have listened to or read the story, discuss it and invite them to draw or write what happened at each stage. Children may also enjoy changing parts of the story or inventing alternate endings.
- K-W-L Chart
This activity is especially useful when reading concept and nonfiction books. On a sheet of paper make three columns labeled What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned. Before you begin reading, talk about the topic and invite children to share what they already know. List their ideas in the first column. Then ask them to think about what they would like to learn by reading or listening to the book, and write ideas in the second column. After children have finished the book, have them discuss what they learned and list responses in the third column.
- Interest Groups
Children like to read and listen to stories about topics of interest to them. Gather children who share similar interests together. Invite them to listen to or read books on the same topic. When they are finished, encourage children to talk about what they read, reread favorite passages, and compare books to one another.
Books for leveled reading
For a bibliography of books categorized by developmental levels, refer to LEARNS Literacy Assessment Profile (LLAP).
For more information, see the LEARNS website for this article and bibliographical references at www.nwrel.org/learns/feature/index.html.