What is reading comprehension and why is it important? Strong reading skills will help your child excel in all other academic subjects, and is especially critical for college entrance tests, which are largely based on reading comprehension skills.
Skilled readers, those with great reading comprehension skills, don’t just read — they interact with the text. It is second nature to them, so they don’t usually realize it, but as they read, they: predict what will happen next, question the plot and the character’ behavior and thoughts, and connect the message of the text to prior knowledge.
So how do I improve my child’s reading comprehension?
I am sharing five simple and useful comprehensions strategies below. I find it works best to focus on one strategy and move on to the next once when you notice your child has mastered it. By “master”, I mean that your child is taking the things you’ve modeled for her and now independently applying them to texts that she reads.
5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child’s Reading Comprehension
1. Think about and build background knowledge
For children who struggle as readers comprehension is a big deal. But if you put pressure on your child, he’ll feel reluctant or even grow to dislike reading, so try to keep things lighthearted and fun.
Before your child even opens the book, try to encourage him to think about and predict a portion of the story. You could ask him to read the title or look at the cover and ask him a couple of silly, outlandish questions to get him started. Your questions don’t even necessarily need to be about the book. For example, the book ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie’ has a picture of the mouse on the front. I might laughingly ask why the mouse is wearing clothing and whether mice actually wear clothing.
The point is to be silly — make your child laugh and be willing to interact in a fun way. Then you can lead into further questions. Conversation is key because oral language is so directly tied to reading comprehension. What’s the topic? Does your child already know anything about the topic? Does he have a plot prediction for the story, based on the title or cover?
Using background knowledge is also vital as the child reads the text. Ask your child what he would do in that situation. Has that happened to me before? I remember the time that… These thought patterns rely on what the child already knows to help them make sense of the text and apply it to themselves.
2. Help him make connections
Readers with good comprehension skills make connections when they read. It might sound like, “I felt the same exact way when…” or “That happened to me once.” When children make connections between a book and their own lives, they feel empathy for the characters and become invested in the story. They have an easier time remembering the story when they feel a personal connection.
As they gain experience, kids begin to make connections between different books they’ve read. For example, they might connect the loss of the dogs in Where the Red Fern Grows to Leslie’s death in Bridge to Terabithia. Eventually, they’ll be making connections to their own world, outside of books. This opens the door to very important concepts and understandings.
Inferrences are connections you can encourage, too. Inferring is just “reading between the lines”. It’s what the reader can guess is going on, even if the author doesn’t spell it out. Ask your child to infer the setting of the book, characters’ feelings, the lesson or moral of the story, or the author’s purpose — anything the author has not explicitly spelled out, but can be inferred contextually.
3. Help your child build fluency
How fluently a child can read the text also affects comprehension.
Related Reading: 10 Easy Ways to Help Children Develop Reading Fluency
When young readers are focused on decoding all the words they can’t also think about what they’re reading. If you choose simple books, they will be much easier to both read and comprehend.
A few other strategies for helping your child to build fluency are: modeling fluent reading as you read aloud together, buddy reading and re-reading. These methods are explained in greater detail in the article linked above.
4. Provide fun, meaningful, book-related activities
It’s not very difficult for most kids to be able to regurgitate, almost verbatim, what they’ve just read, whether they comprehended the content well or not.
The goal is for kids to be able to do more than remember and recall what they’ve read. We want them to be able to explain what they think and how they feel about the text. Asking them meaningful questions and using activities that encourage them to be critical thinkers is very helpful.
A few of my favorite book-related activities for improving reading comprehension are:
- Graphic organizers
- Story maps
- Dramatic readings
- Retelling the story in his own words; perhaps changing the ending
- Questioning the author
- Having him describe mental images from the book or even draw them
5. Make reading an interactive experience
Reading specialists estimate that reading comprehension is a 50/50 interaction. In other words, about half of our understanding of the text is what the reader puts into the reading, in terms of prior knowledge, understanding of word choice, and knowledge of text structure and the other half comes from the text itself.
So, how can students learn to read interactively to improve reading comprehension? We can use the way we watch movies (since so many people claim better comprehension of movies than books) as a positive example.
First of all, the light of the movie or television screen and the sound draws your complete attention and focus. Distractions are limited, so you concentrate well. Next, movies are multi-sensory. We also tend to involve ourselves in the movies we watch. We all imagine ourselves as the heroes of the story and even find ourselves talking to the actors on the screen, especially during scary situations.
So, how do we apply those same strategies to reading?
First of all, limit any distractions — tv, phone, music, noise — to improve reading concentration for your child. Next, help him try to apply as many of his senses as possible to reading. Help him to feel what the characters feel and imagine the settings and hear the characters dialogue. Ask him to act out his favorite scene in the book. And last, help him involve himself in the reading by “talking to the text.” This internal dialog improves concentration and will help him better interact with the story.
Helping your child to see reading a two-way active process rather than a one-way passive activity will benefit him immensely.
As important as reading comprehension is, don’t let it cause you stress. Reading, and learning for that matter, is really just one thing at a time, built on precept by precept.
The steps are pretty simple and straightforward. First, you work on phonics. The Ultimate Guide to Phonics is simple, sequential and easy to follow. Once your child is decoding pretty well, work on fluency. This article, 10 Easy Ways to Help Children Develop Reading Fluency, will help with that.
A great foundation in phonics and progress toward becoming fluent will naturally build reading comprehension. You’ll be astounded at how well your child understands quite difficult concepts! The suggestions given here will help further.
You don’t need to use all of the suggestions, or use them in any particular order. You just use what you need and what will be enjoyable for both you and your child. Because above all, reading should be enjoyable! You want to set your child up for a lifetime love-affair with learning, which begins with reading.
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This post is part of 10 Days of Tips for Homeschool Moms. I’ve partnered with 18 other homeschooling bloggers, all sharing their wisdom as part of this 10-day series. Be sure to check them out by clicking on the links below.