The Comprehension Continuum

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Comprehension moves from the basic recall of information through to making inferences and finally making evaluative judgements.  Each of these types of comprehension have a place to play in our understanding of the text.  However, many comprehension activities don’t move past basic literal comprehension questions where the answer can be found simply by looking back in the text.

Literal Comprehension Inferential Comprehension Evaluative Comprehension
· Only requires surface
understanding· Requires skimming and scanning skills· Short-term recall
· Think critically

· Determine main idea

· Retell key points

· Draw conclusions

· Predict

· Infer

· Recognise relationships

· Distinguish between fact and opinion

· Apply new knowledge

· Evaluate information

· Form opinions

· Take action

Teacher Language Teacher Language Teacher Language
· What is….?

· Where did…?

· Who was….?

· How did…?

· How many…?

· Which way…?

· What happened first,

· Tell me what happened.

· Does it makes sense?

· Where is the evidence?

· Why…..?

· What did you visualise?

· What did you learn?

· What is the most
important point?

· Which information is

· Does anything confuse you?

· What does it remind you of?

· What have you learnt
about the characters?

· Do you agree or disagree? Why?· What would you have done?

· How do you think you can help?

· What will you now do

· How can you convince others?

· How does this compare to other texts?

· What do you think of the character’s actions? Why?

There are many instances when it is important to have literal comprehension. If you want to know the time that a movie begins or where to go to watch the movie, you need literal comprehension.  Knowing the characters in a story and the setting are critical elements in understanding a story, but this information only requires literal comprehension.

However, in our fast paced, ever changing worlds and especially with the proliferation of information, including fake information, inferential and evaluative comprehension is critical. Critical thinkers:

  • Reread, reflect and rethink.
  • Are skeptical.
  • Look beneath and beyond the information presented.
  • Ask questions and look for supporting evidence from reliable sources.
  • Imagine a situation or impact from multiple perspectives.
  • Look for and listen to multiple opinions, interpretations and ideas.
  • Analyse and synthesis information across different genres and disciplines.
  • Integrate information from a variety of sources to formulate their own viewpoint.
  • Take action based on their critical interpretation of information.

When we design comprehension instruction activities, we need to consider:

  • The purpose: What do we want out students to learn from the activity?
  • The genre: Each genre has its own structure and techniques. It is important that we expose students to poems, short texts, long texts, instructions, recipes, timetables, maps, advertisements, fiction, informational texts, opinion pieces, memoirs, etc.
  • The topic: It is often useful to explore the same topic in different genres to enable students to build knowledge and to compare and contrast.
  • The reading level: Will students be able to decode and understand the text? If not, can we provide the necessary support (e.g., electronic or auditory versions of the text, pairing with a more competent reader, etc.).

Reading for Comprehension workbooks


Harvey, S. & Goudvis, A. (2017). Strategies that Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding, Engagement and Knowledge Building (3rd Edition). Stenhouse Publishers: Portland, Maine.

Oakhill, J., Cain, K., & Elbro, C. (2015). Understanding and Teaching Reading Comprehension: A Handbook. Routledge: New York.