Improving Reading Comprehension

The number one reason that students perform poorly on comprehension tests is because they can’t decode (i.e., read) the text. Therefore, checking a student’s decoding skills should always be the starting point.

The second most common reason that students have difficulty with comprehending texts is because they have a poor understanding of word meaning and/or lack the background knowledge that provides context for making meaning of the text.

If poor decoding is not the problem, the following strategies should be included in comprehension programs:

Explicitly teaching new vocabulary. This needs to include not only understanding the meaning (or multiple meanings) of the words, but also their morphology (meaningful word parts such as prefixes, suffixes and root words and also parts of speech – nouns, verbs, etc.), their relationship to other words with similar meanings (synonyms), opposite meanings (antonyms), word categories (e.g., a chair is a type of furniture), etc.

Strategies for inferring the meaning of unfamiliar words from the context of the text and the sentence structure.

How to break sentences with complex syntax into meaningful smaller units.

Identifying links across a text and to the reader’s own knowledge and values.

Identifying and correctly interpreting the organisational structure of a text (particularly non-fiction texts) and strategies for using this structure to organise study notes and subsequently remember the key information (e.g., mind maps link effectively to this strategy).

How to interpret an author’s tone and understand the impact this has on the underlying message.

Identifying the key components of a text and then learning to summarise these key components in the student’s own words.

Strategies that help students self-monitor their understanding of the text as they are reading and the steps to take if understanding is lost.

Explicitly teaching students how to interpret the graphic elements of texts (e.g., illustrations, charts, graphs, tables).

Improving reading stamina so students are able to sustain attention while reading longer texts.

Comparing and contrasting information from multiple texts and then combining the key information into a meaningful whole.

If possible, as often as possible students should be given multiple texts in different genres on the same topic to build background knowledge and to enable multiple exposures to key vocabulary.

For more ideas go to: Reading Comprehension


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