What Is Reading Comprehension?
By definition, reading comprehension is the ability to understand and process the meaning of a text by utilizing information the reader already knows.
To put it in simpler terms, once your child has read something and can discuss what they learned, they’re using reading comprehension.
For young readers, reading comprehension involves being able to explain what happened in a text, why it might have happened, and what could change if the characters made different choices.
Reading comprehension is also about connecting kids’ own knowledge and experiences to what they learn in new texts. Are there similarities between the new story and their favorite movie? What’s different about what happened in the story and what happens in their daily life?
These are all great questions to consider on the journey toward reading comprehension. But they’re only part of the puzzle!
Educators mainly target six or seven strategies to assist children in the development of their reading comprehension. Let’s take a look at those now.
This strategy is all about preparing children to use what they already know about a subject to help them increase their knowledge when they read new books or texts.
An easy way to think of this concept is to imagine a little folder (or file cabinet, really) in your child’s head. The more they learn, the more information they can stuff inside their folder of knowledge.
When they read new things, they dip back into their folder to use what they already know — and to add in the new things they pick up along the way.
For example, if your child reads a nonfiction book about airplanes, it might be helpful for them to question what they already know about the subject before reading. This is “activating,” and it gets their brains on the right path for learning.
While reading a text, there are many things that go unsaid. Even though they’re not explicit, there are subtle messages that are implied in-between the lines.
Inference is a very challenging skill, although an important one, so your child might need your help to infer — or read between the lines. Inferring is really about being able to guess what the text is trying to convey by contrasting what isn’t written with what is.
In fiction, when a character acts in a particular way, the author might not tell us what the character is feeling or thinking, but, even so, we can figure it out. Many books with undertones about morality will work along this vein, too.
Your child will pick up these subtleties the more they read. A great way to engage their inferring skills is by asking them questions about what they’re learning (that isn’t stated explicitly in the story) while reading.
Questions are the great equalizer when it comes to reading! The easiest way to clear up what your child knows, isn’t sure about, or wants to know more about, is by asking and answering questions.
Engaging your child with questions about the text both during and after reading will help build their reading comprehension.
Additionally, questioning allows you to gauge if your child understands what they’re reading and encourages them to think more deeply about the subject.
Any kind of question can get your child’s imagination going! This is one of the best ways to develop reading comprehension, as answering questions about the text encourages kids to consider what they’ve read.
We recommend making your questions follow the “I wonder” form. (I wonder why Pooh did that? I wonder what Paddington is feeling now?) This way, the questioning is a shared investigation rather than a mini-test of what your child knows.
As children get older, they’re taught to use evidence to support their ideas about the things they’ve read. Learning how to search for the information that supports their analyses (even in a picture book!) is an important part of reading comprehension.
This is a great technique to teach them so that they know where to go when they need to double-check what they’ve learned about a story.
Children have the most incredible imaginations! And those imaginations certainly come in handy when trying to develop reading comprehension.
Most kids naturally visualize the things they read in a story. What characters might look like (if they’re not already drawn in front of them) or what they might do in different scenarios, for example.
This is the key to visualization. Using their mental pictures to “see” what happened in the text and translate the events into a consequential, organized summary of the story’s plot helps strengthen your child’s reading comprehension.
Fun And Easy Reading Comprehension Tips
1) Start With The Building Blocks
A strong foundation in the overall components of language is an essential first step to reading comprehension.
Brushing up on phonemic awareness skills, letter recognition, spelling — all of it will be helpful! Since learning is holistic, working on the other skills that contribute to reading will inevitably assist in reading comprehension.
In addition, the less attention a child needs to read the words in a story the more attention they can give to understanding what they are reading!
2) Try Reciprocal Teaching
As noted above, some children get uncomfortable when they realize they are being questioned about things they’ve just read. We get it. Checking for comprehension can feel like being tested, and we know that’s intimidating!
Let your child get in the driver’s seat once in a while. Instead of quizzing them on the text they read, ask them to test you. You can purposely answer questions incorrectly to prompt them to correct you.
You can also question them and pretend to be confused or make predictions about what’s going to happen. Show your child the behavior you want them to emulate by reflecting it back at them!
3) Encourage New Vocabulary
Reading comprehension is a whole lot easier when children understand the meaning of the words they’re reading. But how do you encourage your child to actively learn more advanced words?
We recommend “sponsoring” a few words a week in your house. If you want to try this, pick out a book you’d like to focus on for reading comprehension.
When your child comes across a word they don’t know, jot it down and post it in your house somewhere they’ll see it often. After explaining what the word means, tell them that for every time they use the word properly in a sentence during the week, they get a point!
The goal is to reach a certain amount of points for the week to win. We suggest narrowing it down to three or five new vocabulary words per week. The more accustomed they become to this game, the more new words you can add in.
4) Create A Scavenger Hunt
One of the most fun ways you can incorporate reading comprehension practice into your life is by turning it into an adventure!
If you want to try this with your child, they’ll need to pick out a book to focus on first. Once your child has worked their way through the book, sit down together and sketch out a handful of scenes that they remember from the story.
Then you can go around the house and hang up all the different scenes when they’re not looking. Tell your child it’s a story scavenger hunt and ask them to try and find the pieces of the story.
Once all the pieces are collected, you can help your child organize them into the correct order. This encourages your young learner to put their reading comprehension skills to use. Plus, it’s a blast!
5) Play Reading Comprehension Jenga
There are plenty of games you can incorporate into your child’s reading comprehension practice. One of the easiest and most fun options is Jenga!
If you want to try this, you’ll need a Jenga set that you don’t mind writing on. Write a word that might be a bit of a challenge on each Jenga block (for example, “meander”).
When your child pulls out the block, they have to read the word (with your help if needed), and you can tell them the meaning if they don’t know or remember it. Then have them use the word in a sentence to earn their block (and you do the same!).
They’ll be so excited to see the tower come crashing down that they’ll forget they’re even learning in the first place!
Reading Comprehension Is A Process
Above all, reading comprehension is a process! There are many different techniques and strategies to help build your child’s understanding of what they read and why it matters.
We want to reassure you that these things take time! Reading comprehension is a lifelong process, one that adults still work on every day. There’s no rush — we know that with practice, patience, and fun, your child will get there!
In the meantime, if you ever find yourself in need of a helping hand, give our HOMER app a try for fun, personalized games and activities that engage your child’s reading comprehension.
We know it takes a village to raise a child, and we’re happy to be a part of yours!