What are the seven reading comprehension strategies? Although they often have slightly different names they are commonly referred to as: Summarization, Question Asking, Activating Knowledge, Determining Importance, Graphic Organizers /Visualizing, Inferencing and Metacognition.
The National Reading panel (the major group responsible for research into reading and literature improvement) stated that reading comprehension results were improved when taught in combination with each other rather than as stand alone strategies. Before we address that lets take a look at what each of them are and how they can be used in the classroom. It is important to fully understand the concept behind each strategy before trying to introduce to our students.
Learning to read takes time, practice and skills that are only developed over time. We can teach the mechanics of reading with phonics and reading skills, which that link will take you to, and we have 100s of resources for phonics tuition on the site as well. These will develop students skills in decoding and sounding out words. However the teaching of reading comprehension strategies needs a different approach and is equally important to develop life long readers. The National Reading Panel introduced seven reading strategies for reading comprehension tuition, and although there are many ways to teach these strategies they mostly fall under these seven headings. The panel conducted research into these and found that the most prolific increase in student performances occurred when these strategies were taught in combination. Source
That report is 44 pages, which while full of important detail can be broken down into seven key areas that will improve your children and student’s comprehension of texts. We address these areas below.
This skill requires students to be able to read the text and identify the important elements of the story, or the key pieces of information to be able to retell it in their own words. It can be incorporated with reading for gist instruction and activities to help students learn how to discern what these main points are. Retelling is an misnomer though as often students will struggle with identifying the main points and get caught ‘’retelling’’ the whole text, rather than just a summary of it. To ensure that they are able to use a summarization strategy take note of the advice below.
The aim of this questioning is to enable students to develop skills that help engagement with the text. Emergent and beginning readers are not often able to demonstrate this skill as they have to spend more energy on just being able to actually read the words on the page. As those skills become automatic or more natural then it is important to introduce questioning skills to them. This can range from what is this article trying to make me think, to character and author motivations and to substituting themselves into stories to decide if they would act like that or assess their feelings in that given situation. Questioning will enable students to develop both higher order thinking skills as well as empathy for others situations and a sense of where they stand on certain issues. It is such an important tool for any reader.
Visualizing is not a descriptive enough word for this strategy, imaginative process might be more accurate. When ready, and in particular fiction and story books, it is vital we build a picture in our minds. This picture is more than just the images though, we immerse ourselves in the story, sights, sounds, smells, feelings. This is visualizing, and when we do it we absorb much more information using, even virtually, all 5 senses than just one. I’m fairly sure if you are a teacher you remember being shown or told this infographic at some point.
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we discuss with others
80% of what we personally experience
95% of what we teach others
This is what visualizing tries to do. If it can be developed it gives the students the ability to paint that vivid picture. I once read a book on the hunting habits of early man. It had an image and text discussing the hunt of a deer. I remember very clearly picturing that scene and crying my eyes out with the impact it had on me. (I was 7 years old, in my defense) The very fact that I can remember that, and even the text, 38 years later (of course when my mother brings it up I deny any knowledge of the incident totally) shows the power of that mental image and of the visualizing strategy.
Have you even wondered why so many people complain that the movie is just not at good as the book? You have already made the movie in your mind, you decided what the characters looked like to you, the locations, the temperature, they way they walked and talked. When you watch a movie you are watching someone else’s mental picture, someone else’s interpretation of that. It may not fulfil the image you had visualized.
‘’George couldn’t help disliking Grandma. She was a selfish grumpy old woman. She had pale brown teeth and a small puckered up mouth like a dog’s bottom.’’Roald Dahl
If you want the short version this strategy is where the phrase read between the lines come from. Most of the time you are going to have to give a little more explanation than that to your students though. This comprehension skills is great at developing critical thinking skills in students and requires them to look for clues in the text that may not be obvious to try to work out context and meaning. It can be difficult for some students, and teacher scaffolding and examples may well be required to help.
The ability to infer transfers across subjects very well and is important in the sciences, maths as well as of course English. They have to comprehend what the text they are reading actually says and then also what is not written in the text and what is implied or hinted at by tone or language. It certainly is a skill that is needed outside the classroom as well as in it.
Every student you teach will know something about something. Of course, they will. This comprehension strategy will enable them to access this huge resource in way that relates to the new learning they are undertaking. Students will often have an easier time relating and understanding new reading material if they can make associations with knowledge they have already obtained. This teaches them scaffolding techniques, the ability to place new knowledge with what they already know.
This comprehension strategy seeks to develop readers and students prioritizing of information abilities. Once it has been taught and mastered it enables readers to develop more in depth understanding of texts and to be able to analyze what information is important in the text. It can be split into searching for importance in fiction and non-fiction texts, though most of the strategies will lend themselves to both genres.
Readers who have robust ability in this comprehension stragety are able to differentiate between the types of information in texts. Especially information that provides key meaning and others sections of information that are, although interesting, less important.
Why on earth, we have to jargon up education I will never understand. However, for those of us who aren’t planning on writing an essay on education, we will try to make it more functional than academic. Metacognition and monitoring, the terms are both used, is the process of thinking about your own thinking. In student terms this is trying to give them the skills to judge their own levels of understanding, or ”do I know what I think I know”.
It is a higher order skill and not often enough addressed. Students will read a passage once, and rarely, without guidance, try to reflect on their understanding of that passage or text. It can be split into two parts, knowing what you didn’t understand and then trying to fix that. It is a supremely valuable skill and is addressed in common core standards in many countries. Developing this strategy takes some preparation and planning. It needs to be introduced as something that is continuously done, students need to be instructed that all of the strategies they learn about can lead into metacognition and that being able to judge, on their own, their level of understanding is a huge step forward in comprehension. If you know what you don’t know or understand, correcting that is much much easier.
That’s the seven most common reading comprehension strategies, there are more, and some are described differently but they all pretty much flow into one another. As you were reading through this you will realize that you are likely to unconsciously do these. If so this is the aim for 90% of reading you will ever do. To develop these as skills that you use automatically.
If you are a teacher, and especially for students not yet in high school, you may have noticed these are either absent or infrequently demonstrated. Try asking the question why in class a few times and you will see a distinct lack of hands when compared to asking what questions. This is not because they can’t answer the questions, its because they haven’t been taught how to think about answering questions.
We have offered brief ideas in this article but its already going on for 4000 words. So in the coming weeks we are spending considerably more time producing crib sheets and resources for parents and teachers on how to teach these reading strategies to your children and students, including if you need the reasons why they are important.
The most important point to note is that they follow a structure, developing these reading skills takes time, and it builds on this structure. if students are unable to decode or read words then comprehension is going to be a much steeper uphill struggle. If you want resources for phonics we have huge amounts here both free and premium. I will save the clichés till later but will leave you with this picture, and maybe one cliché underneath 😉
Rome wasn’t built in a day
Students need the phonics and decoding skills before anything else. They need to be able to recognize words and sounds, then they can work on literal meanings and onwards to semantics, and the critical reading comprehension skills we have highlighted above.
This doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive of course, but just to throw you a couple of long in the tooth cliches, don’t try to run before you can walk, and start with the foundations before you try to build the roof.
Apologies that was three not two!
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, mostly English but dabbled in outdoor pursuits and media. Thought is was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children. Feel free to take a look at our resources, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or jump on the Facebook group to ask questions. Happy learning, teaching or playing!
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, English, General Studies and Outdoor Education. Thought it was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children
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