10 strategies to improve student reading comprehension

They don’t understand what they read! laments the professor. “This book is too hard,” complains one student, “I’m confused.” Statements like these are often heard from kindergarten through high school and highlight a problem with reading comprehension that is tied to a student’s academic success. These comprehension problems are not limited to poor readers. There are several reasons why even the best reader in the class may have difficulty understanding the reading chosen by the teacher.

One of the main reasons for lack of understanding or confusion remains the course manual. Most middle and high school textbooks are designed to cram in as much information as possible for each of the chapters. This information density can justify the cost of textbooks, but it can come at the expense of students’ reading comprehension. 

Another reason for the lack of understanding is the high-level, content-specific (science, social studies, etc.) vocabulary in textbooks. This vocabulary reflects an increase in the complexity of the manual. Organizing a textbook with subtitles, bolded terms, definitions, charts, graphs coupled with sentence structure also increases its complexity. 

The same goes for the wide reading range of students in French classes, which contributes to low reading comprehension. Students are assigned to read the literary canon, including works of literature. They read publications whose format differs (drama, epic, essay, etc.). They also read literature that varies in writing style, from ancient drama to modern romance.

This difference in student reading levels and text complexity suggests that increased attention needs to be given to teaching and modeling reading comprehension strategies across subject areas. Some students may not have the basic knowledge or maturity to understand material written for older audiences. Additionally, it is not uncommon for a student with a high readability measure to experience problems with reading comprehension due to lack of knowledge or prior knowledge, even with easy text.

Many children have difficulty determining key ideas from details; other students struggle to understand the purpose of a paragraph or chapter in the book. Helping students improve their reading comprehension can be the key to success or failure in school. Good reading comprehension strategies are therefore not just for low-level readers, but for all readers. There is always room to improve understanding, no matter how proficient a student is. 

The importance of reading comprehension should not be underestimated. Reading comprehension is one of the five elements identified as essential to the teaching of reading. Reading comprehension, the report notes, is the result of many different mental activities in a reader, performed automatically and simultaneously, in order to understand the meaning communicated by a text. These mental activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Predict the meaning of a text,
  • Determine the purpose of a text,
  • Activate prior knowledge to understand the text,
  • Connect previous experiences to the text;
  • Identify the meanings of words and sentences in order to decode the text,
  • Summarize text to create new meanings,
  • Visualize characters, parameters, situations in the text,
  • Query the text,
  • Decide what is not included in the text,
  • Use strategies to improve understanding of the text,
  • Reflect on the meaning of a text,
  • Apply text comprehension as needed.

Reading comprehension is now seen as an interactive, strategic and adaptable process for each reader. It is not learned immediately, it is a process that is learned over time. In other words, reading comprehension takes practice.

Here are ten effective tips and strategies that teachers can share with students to improve their understanding of a text. These are strategies for all students. If students have  dyslexia  or other special learning needs, they may need additional strategies.

1. Generate questions

A good strategy for teaching all readers is to pause reading and generate questions rather than rushing through an entire passage or chapter. These can be questions about what just happened or what they think might happen in the future. This method can help them focus on the main ideas and increase their engagement with support. 

After reading, students can go back and write questions that could be included in a quiz or test on the material. This will force them to look at the information in a different way. By asking questions, students can help the teacher correct misconceptions. This method also provides immediate feedback.

2. Read aloud and monitor

While some think a teacher reading aloud in a high school classroom is elementary practice, there is evidence that reading aloud benefits middle and high school students as well. More importantly, by reading aloud, teachers can model good reading behavior.

Reading aloud should also include stops to check student understanding. Teachers can demonstrate their own reflective elements and intentionally focus on meaning “in the text”, “on the text”, and “beyond the text”. These interactive elements can push students further to think about a big idea. Discussions after reading aloud can support classroom conversations and help students make critical connections.

3. Promote cooperative dialogue

The fact that students stop periodically to turn and talk to discuss what has just been read can reveal problems with comprehension. Listening to students can inform teaching and help a teacher reinforce what is being taught.

This is a useful strategy that can be used after reading aloud (above) when all students have a common experience of listening to text. This type of cooperative learning , where students learn reading strategies reciprocally, is one of the most powerful teaching tools.

4. Pay attention to text structure

An excellent strategy, which soon becomes automatic, is to ask struggling students to read all the titles and subtitles of all the chapters assigned to them. They can also look at images, graphs or tables. This information can help them get an overview of what they will learn from reading the chapter.

The same attention to text structure can be applied to reading literary works that use story structure. Students can use the elements of a story’s structure (setting, character, plot, etc.) to help them remember its content.

5. Take notes or annotate texts

Students should read with paper and pen in hand. They can then take notes of the things they predict or understand. They can write questions. They can create a vocabulary list of all the highlighted words in the chapter as well as any unfamiliar terms they need to define. Note taking is also helpful in preparing students for later class discussions.

Annotations in a text, writing in the margins or highlighting certain details, are other powerful ways to record understanding. This strategy is ideal for handouts.

Using sticky notes can allow students to record information from text without damaging it. Sticky Notes can also be deleted and later organized to reply to a text.

6. Use context clues

Students should use the clues provided by the author of the text. They may need to look for context clues, i.e. a word or phrase before or after a word they may not know.

Context clues can take several forms:

  • Roots and affixes: origin of the word,
  • Contrast: recognizing how the word is compared or contrasted with another word in the sentence,
  • Logic: consider the rest of the sentence to understand an unknown word,
  • Definition: using a provided explanation, which follows the word,
  • Example or illustration: literal or visual representation of the word,
  • Grammar: determining how the word functions in a sentence to better understand its meaning.

7. Use graphic organizers

Some students find that graphic organizers like websites and concept maps can greatly improve reading comprehension. They allow students to identify areas of interest and main ideas from a reading. By filling in this information, students can deepen their understanding of the text.

By the time students are in middle school or high school, teachers should allow students to decide which graphic organizer will be most helpful to them in understanding text. Giving students the ability to generate representations of reading material is part of the process of reading comprehension.

8. Use the six-step strategy

It consists of six stages: Overview, Questioning, Reading, Reflection, Recitation and Review.

For the preview, students scan the material to get a preview. Questioning means that students must ask themselves questions while reading the text .

The other four steps ask students to  read  the material,  reflect  on what has just been read,  recite  the main points for better learning, and then  return  to the original material to see if they can answer the questions previously posed. .

9. Summarize

While reading, students should be encouraged to periodically stop reading and summarize what they have just read. When creating a summary, students should incorporate the most important ideas and generalize from textual information. They need to distill important ideas from irrelevant ones.

This practice of integration and generalization in creating summaries makes long passages more understandable. 

10. Monitor understanding 

Some students prefer to annotate, while others are more comfortable summarizing, but all students should learn to be mindful of their reading. They need to know how fluently and accurately they read text, but they also need to know how they can determine their own understanding of the medium.

They must decide which strategies are most useful for making sense of the text and then practice those strategies, adjusting them as necessary. 

Source: Kelly, Melissa. “10 Strategies to Increase Student Reading Comprehension.” » ThoughtCo , 08/27/2020.

Read also:

7 Strategies for Teaching Reading Comprehension

Effective solutions for different types of reading difficulties

Understanding the Types of Reading Difficulties in Elementary School

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