Comprehension Skills, Strategies & Best Practices
This module explores comprehension strategies and their benefits. Examine descriptions of each type of comprehension strategy, instructional implications for teaching comprehension, and sample lessons.
Although word recognition, decoding, and fluency are building blocks of effective reading, the ability to comprehend text is the ultimate goal of reading instruction. Comprehension is a prerequisite for acquiring content knowledge and expressing ideas and opinions through discussion and writing.
Comprehension is evident when readers can:
Comprehension strategies work together like a finely tuned machine. The reader begins to construct meaning by selecting and previewing the text. During reading, comprehension builds through predicting, inferring, synthesizing, and seeking answers to questions that arise. After reading, deeper meaning is constructed through reviewing, rereading portions of the text, discussion, and thoughtful reflection. During each of these phases, the reader relates the text to his own life experiences.
Comprehension is powerful because the ability to construct meaning comes from the mind of the reader. Therefore, specific comprehension instructionmodeling during read-alouds and shared reading, targeted mini-lessons, and varied opportunities for practice during small-group and independent readingis crucial to the development of strategic, effective readers.
There are six main types of comprehension strategies (Harvey and Goudvis; 2000):
Students quickly grasp how to make connections, ask questions, and visualize. However, they often struggle with the way to identify what is most important in the text, identify clues and evidence to make inferences, and combine information into new thoughts. All these strategies should be modeled in isolation many times so that students get a firm grasp of what the strategy is and how it helps them comprehend text.
However, students must understand that good readers use a variety of these strategies every time they read. Simply knowing the individual strategies is not enough, nor is it enough to know them in isolation. Students must know when and how to collectively use these strategies.
Modeling through think-alouds is the best way to teach all comprehension strategies. By thinking aloud, teachers show students what good readers do. Think-alouds can be used during read-alouds and shared reading. They can also be used during small-group reading to review or reteach a previously modeled strategy.
Wilhelm (2001) describes a think-aloud as a way to:
There are many ways to conduct think-alouds:
When you introduce a new comprehension strategy, model during read-aloud and shared reading:
Use the following language prompts to model the chosen strategy :
Determine Text Importance
Revisit the same text to model more than one strategy. For example, on Monday, use a text to model what's important versus what's interesting. On Tuesday, use the text to model how to identify big ideas. On Wednesday, use the big ideas to summarize and synthesize.
Extend the text as a reader-response activity. For example, on Monday, use a text as a shared reading lesson to model how cause-and-effect relationships help determine text importance. On Tuesday, extend thinking: map the cause-and-effect relationships onto graphic organizers, synthesize big ideas, and draw conclusions.
Strategy: Determine Text Importance (Main Idea/Supporting Details)
Text: greeting card, Benchmark Education Company's Comprehension Strategy Poster Safety Signs
Main Idea: Read the title and the first sentence. Ask: Is the author telling us the main idea here? Model thinking about the strategy: The title of the selection is Signs. This is the topic, which gives us a clue about the main idea. In the first sentence, the author states that it is easy to read road signs if you look at their colors. That sounds as though it is an important concept the author wants us to know about signs. Now I'll keep reading to see what types of signs the author mentions to support this idea.
Supporting Details: Read the second, third, and fourth sentences. Ask: Does the author tell us supporting details here? How do you know? Model your thinking: The author describes three different colors of signsred stop sign, a yellow be careful sign, and an orange work sign. These examples support the main idea that colors help us read road signs.
Strategy: Determine Text Importance (Implied Main Idea/Supporting Details)
Text: Benchmark Education Company's text PlantsLevel 12 (G)
Use a real-life example to model how to infer.
Say: Listen carefully to the following sentence: Even though the children wore heavy coats, they were shivering as they waited for the bus. I'm giving you a hint as to what season it might be. I don't tell you, but you can use the clues in the sentence to infer that it is winter. Many times, authors do not directly state information in the text. To be good readers, we have to infer as we read. We use clues and evidence to figure out what the author hints or implies.
We're going to find an implied main idea for two different parts of a book. We know that the main idea is the most important information that the writer wants us to understand. In this case, the topic is plants. We'll need to think carefully about what the authors tell us about plants so that we can understand the implied main idea. Remember, the main idea will not be directly stated.
Create a graphic organizer.
To activate students' prior knowledge about plants, creating a KWL chart. Record what they already know about plants in the K column and what they would like to know in the W column. Tell them that they will complete the L column after they read.
Preview the book.
Hold up the book. Ask: What do you see in the photograph on the cover? What do you think the girl is doing? What kind of plant is shown on the cover?
Look at the title page. Ask: What do you think these children are doing? How are plants involved? What things are the children using as they work with the plants?
Preview the photographs in the book, reinforcing the language used in the text. For example, say: On page 2, I see three kinds of plants. What are some ways that plants are alike?
Set a purpose for reading.
Say: I want you to see if you can find answers to the questions on our KWL chart. Monitor students' reading and provide support as necessary.
Discuss the reading and complete the graphic organizer.
Ask students to share answers to any questions from the KWL chart that they found during the reading. Complete the L column of the chart.
Sample Small-Group Reading Lesson
Model how to determine the implied main idea utilizing a graphic organizer.
Remind students that to infer means to understand clues and evidence that the author has provided for us in the text. Implications are not directly stated.
Say: The first part of the book (pages 211) gives me many details about the parts of a plant. One detail is that roots help a plant stay in the ground. The book also tells me that roots help a plant get water. I'll write these facts in the first Supporting Details box. Now I'll look for other details to add to my chart. Leaves make food for the plant. Stems take water to the leaves and flowers. Flowers make seeds. New plants grow from seeds. All these details tell me how the parts of a plant help it grow and stay alive. Even though the author didn't directly state this as the main idea, the clues and evidence imply it. I'll write this on the chart where it reads Main Idea #1.
Main Idea/Supporting Details
Guide students to identify the second implied main idea.
Briefly review pages 1216. Then ask students to select the most important details and use those as clues and evidence to find the implied main idea. If students need additional modeling and think-alouds, complete the remainder of the graphic organizer together. If they seem to understand the concept, allow them to complete the graphic organizer in small groups, pairs, or individually. Monitor their work and provide guidance as necessary. Allow time for students to share their recorded information.
Main Idea/Supporting Details