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.
What is the Summarizing Comprehension Strategy?
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.
- Make sure the text is at a suitable reading level for your students, if you know them or teach them often this should be fairly straight forward but if you see them less regularly consider a reading level lesson to give you a better idea of what is a reasonable level of text they can tackle. For teaching this strategy you don’t have to get a 100% accurate level, but it would be useful to know if you should be asking for summary of Macbeth, or a brief history of time from that class of second graders or not.
- Start with shorter stories to practice. These are often quicker to get to important plot points and information. Magazine or newspaper articles are also a good way to practice if not that ‘’wordy’’.
- If the students are not quite ready for text, or you want to take a different approach why not watch a video. This could be a short cartoon, even a silent one from the 30s or a commercial and ask them to write down a summary of it. It is a different and inventive way to teach the skill and shows that it is transferable across other medias.
- Make sure they are aware of the questions they need to ask. It is a new and difficult skill for them to move away from the teacher doing the questioning to them questioning themselves. Spend time going through questions they can ask about the text and make sure they are aware of the vocabulary to use, for example:
- Where can I find the main points in the text?
- what do I think are the key words?
- What information is NOT important?
- I have seen a really good game suggested on other sites to drive home that when summarizing a text, it should be much, MUCH shorter than the original. The game is called 2-dollar summary and you give each student an imaginary 2 dollars. When they summarize the text, every word will cost ten cents. Of course, you can scale this up or down depending on both the students and the text. What is does achieve though is to show them how careful they have to be with words when they are summarizing. If you are doing it with your own children you could try it with 2 dollars and tell them they can keep any change from the two dollars as long as their summary makes sense!
- We have more ideas and links to resources here as well.
What is the Questioning Reading Strategy?
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.
- Although introduced as a during reading exercise above, questioning is a skill that happens pre, during and post reading. For students who have not experienced this before the teacher can demonstrate these strategies at the beginning – before students even touch the book.
- Guided reading sessions lend themselves to this very very well, with picture walks, teacher led cover introductions and if the students are able, for them to actually look at the book and assign questions they hope to find out the answer to after they have completed it. The questioning strategy develops prediction and prior knowledge skills very effectively.
- During reading as we have mentioned, there is the opportunity for students to question motivations, facts, if they agree with the text, and also to put themselves in the story and judge how they would react or feel in those circumstances.
- Post reading questioning should not just be introduced as factual questions, like a retelling or summarizing the text. It can be used to ask did the text answer your questions, did it tell you what you wanted to know, where could you find out more information. If they enjoyed a piece of fiction, what made it enjoyable, the characters, the story, the language, where could they find more like this. The options with this reading comprehension strategy are limitless!
- We have over 30 pages of resources to help teachers and parents develop their children and students reading comprehension abilities on the site. Feel free to check them out here.
What is the Graphical Organizing and Visualizing Reading comprehension strategy?
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.
- Choose a great text. I love to do this with Roald Dahl books as he has such a mastery for flowing, colorful descriptions that lends itself completely to imagining both the characters and the situation. My personal favorite being the description of grandma from Georges Marvelous Medicine
‘’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
- It is all but impossible not to visualize that description. This is a chapter book of course, but books like Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo also offer great visualization opportunities for younger readers.
- Create their own info page: Have students listen to you read a section of the text and have them take notes and draw pictures of what their imagination is telling them it looks like. You can scaffold questions into this if they need a little additional support. Let them know visualizing the story is going to help their comprehension, they can even try closing their eyes as you read. Remember to them there are no right or wrong answers for this as its what they got from the story, if they are willing, have them share what they wrote and drew with their classmates and see if there are any similarities. After they have drawn and wrote what they think then you can do a compare and contrast activity with how the author saw things.
- We have resources and ideas for visualizing skills here
What is the Inferencing Reading Comprehension Strategy?
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.
- Teaching students how to use inferencing is not easy, you are going to have to more than just infer it! I am a great fan of teaching skills and letting students know they are being taught a skill. Oh so much of education is memorization of facts and regurgitation of them for an exam never for that knowledge to be used again. It’s the old adage of give a man a fish etc etc, education seems to be generationally fixated on giving out those fish and not teaching how to catch them.
- Use the term in your questioning with students. If you say ‘’why’’ add inferring to you question, let students know you are explicitly looking for them to think beyond the text explain their reasoning. If they form an opinion ask them how they came to that opinion and what inferences they made that helped share that opinion. When you do this in a group it is also useful to ask how others came to these answers and opinions and then ask if others think they should perhaps change their opinion now they have heard other inferences and thoughts. This brings in debate and compromise skills that are life long skills often, and clearly currently, neglected. Skills and approaches like this are vital for students to be able to evaluate their thinking process and validity of their conclusions. Again, this is a really REALLY good skill to have in todays current climate.
- We have an in-depth resource article here for you to get ideas and resources to help teach this skill at home and in classrooms.
What is the activating prior knowledge comprehension strategy?
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.
- There are two considerations that teachers need to consider before they can develop learning activities to help students learn and practice this comprehension strategy. How to activate this prior knowledge and what to do if there is a lack of prior knowledge.
- Thinking out loud and stopping to explain what you are thinking at relevant points can help. Go through the text and explain to students how it relates to you experiences and try to illicit the students to do the same. As an example, I teach in Hong Kong, we have a theme park called Ocean park. I enjoy scuba diving and have swam with sharks. With my higher ability students, I always read a book about with sea animals or sharks. When we look through the book prior to reading I stop at pictures and explain where I have seen some of the animals, how it made me feel, what they looked like, where they lived who was with me. This models me using and activating my prior knowledge, I then ask them what they know, or what they have seen about these animals. They have usually all been to the theme park, some have been to the Philippines or Thailand and snorkeled. Once this has been modelled it is much easier for them to relate to the topic and start to trigger those memories and the knowledge that they hadn’t thought relevant before.
- I also have topics that students may not have had the chance to acquire significant amounts of knowledge about. ( in this case a rocks book). We spend the first lesson going through some of the pages and explaining some of the types of rocks, but not in any detail. Then part of the lesson looking at some realia examples I have. Their task before the next lesson is to find one to three rocks before the next lesson. Then we will go through using both the examples they found, the examples ( with names) we have and the book to categorize and spot differences and similarities. This starts the process of them developing prior knowledge. Then we can read through the book and use this knowledge explicitly.
- We have an article and resource workbook especially for Reading strategies that will help teachers and parents introduce these concepts to their children and students.
What is Determining Importance Comprehension Strategy.
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.
- We will cover both fiction and non-fiction here. In fictional text students should be able to judge the level of importance of actions and events in the story, things the characters do and say, if the setting of these events has importance, and setting could be location, environment and era. they should look for any changes in these elements, does the character behavior change over the course of the text, do their motivations. By prioritizing these it enables them to understand the major themes of the story and what it is trying to tell them, or how it is trying to influence their opinions and thoughts.
- Nonfiction, for the most part is more straightforward than fiction. Authors will often include links, graphs, charts and tables, bullet points, lists etc. All of which are usually aimed to clarify the main points of the text. However, it is useful to explain to students to look for the source of these text and judge how much importance to put on the facts and information they are reading.
- A good example of this I have seen is to give the students a number of post-it notes (I use 10 if it’s a reasonable sized text) and ask them to write down the examples they have seen that they think are important to the story. Then once completed they can try to order these from most to least important. They should be taught to examine reasons why words in the text are important, to sentences and even to images. All of these will tell a story about the purpose of the text and if they can correctly analyze these then they can work out the purpose of the text both on the surface and the underlying meaning.
- This is also a critical exercise to do with different texts and not just the information in texts. It can encourage them to look at the sources and intents of the text they are reading. This is great for critical thinking practice and a life skills that we are needing more and more in todays multi media world.
- We have more ideas and resources here for determining Importance
What is Metacognition Reading Comprehension Strategy?
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.
How Can I Teach the Metacognitive / Monitoring Comprehension Strategy in the Classroom?
- Read aloud with your students, it keeps them as actively participating in the class and not just passively listening ( or not as the case may be) we can model our thinking and comprehensive strategies during these readings. While it starts with the teacher we have to explain that we want them to start asking the questions of themselves with out a teacher prompt.
- So try the same thing with reading in groups or pairs and ask the others in the group to see if they can come up with comprehension questions for all members of the group but especially the reader. This offers more avenues for thoughts, and helps students to develop more monitoring strategies by listening and incorporating the ones used by their peers.
- Give them a set of headings on the board or a crib sheet to remind them of what they can be thinking about. Questions or statements like do I understand this, can I summarize this, what are the key facts. Do I need to reread the text, did I pay attention or skim read it, do I need to take more time and think after each paragraph? All these strategies and mental cues can be given to students to help them practice.
- You can give them the above cues and then a selection of multi media, some difficult some easy but varied. This allows them to take something, for example how to change a wheel, split an atom, make a cake, a biography of someone. and try to use metacognition strategies to read it, and then think about their levels of understanding
- There needs to be a lot of reading going on for this to happen, and students need to be engaged, interested in reading to fully develop these skills. Make sure you vary texts, give them choice and allow them the practice on topics, subjects or genres that they want to do, this saves the challenge of motivating them to think about their thinking when their sole thought may be ‘’ I don’t want to read this’’
- This level of comprehension only comes after students have developed decoding and literal comprehension skills, So be aware of the reading levels and abilities of your students, and don’t be afraid to take the level of tasks down a little if you have gone to fast or if they are just not ready yet. Students have to read with comprehension to be able to enjoy it and to develop a love for it, and to do that they have to gain skills along the way. Missing them out or not developing then properly is going to hinder not help their progress. Give them the skills they need, the practice than helps and the books they love and then show them how to comprehend even more and the students will follow you on their reading journey willingly and happily.
So, what next….
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!
About the Author
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!