Use these literacy strategies to improve student comprehension

9 Literacy Strategies for Reading Comprehension.

Reading is reading. Once we learn letter sounds, combinations and phoneme awareness it doesn’t really matter the context or content area. Whether you are reading a book, a social media post, signs, text messages, a recipe or newspaper, we all read the english language the same - left to right, top to bottom.

For those teachers in the early years of a students’ education, your focus will solely be on letter sounds, phonics and fluency. One needs to know how our language works before they take on the challenge of reading sentences and understanding what is written.

Phonics and Fluency

Realistically, the two literacy strategies for beginner readers should be taught together, not as separate entities.

Fluency is being able to decode text and read with accuracy, speed, and appropriate expression. Phonics deals with a beginning readers’ understanding of the correspondence between letters and sounds.  Fluent readers rely on their knowledge of these relationships to decode or pronounce words.

There are plenty of resources on The Wheel that focus on phonemic awareness. A quick search of Phonics reveals many pages of literacy strategies for various age groups.

This Dolch word activity bundle by OceanView Resources is an excellent resource for those early years. It links perfectly with Learning Solutions intervention handbook which covers the how and what of literacy.

        Dolch Word Activity         Literacy Intervention Handbook

Both are excellent examples of literacy strategies that provide worksheets, posters and guides to improve beginner readers’ abilities.

Once your students have grasped these aspects of our language, we move on to reading comprehension. You can track their progress to see when you believe they are ready to move onto developing their comprehension skills.

 

Below is not entirely a definitive list of literacy strategies for reading. For those with little time, using one or two of these strategies will certainly help. They do not necessarily have to be done in order either, however, eventually a student should have had practice at each of these strategies as they build their own learning styles. Quality teacher ensures students are exposed to a variety of reading opportunities and uses as many literacy strategies as possible.

 

Reading Strategy 1 - Activate Prior Knowledge

The simplest literacy strategy to use is activating prior knowledge. Each student brings with them a set of unique experiences and knowledge to reading. A quality teacher would draw on these experiences before, during and after reading a text to not only better understand the context, but also to retain the information longer. Ask students questions like:

  • Is this subject/topic familiar?

  • Where have you seen or heard of this before?

  • Do these characters remind you of someone in your life?

  • How do the ideas in this text relate to your life?

At this point it isn’t about building connections, merely seeing what students know and understand before they delve into the text itself. This literacy strategy requires very little preparation and is an excellent quick tool that a quality teacher can refer to.

 

Reading Strategy 2 - Determining Important Ideas (and Summarising)

As students read a text they are to identify key ideas or themes. This will allow them to better distinguish between what is and what isn’t important information based on their purpose and context. There are a variety of ways for students to keep track of their thoughts through simple questioning in early years to note taking, templates, mind maps, brainstorms and tables for older students. Students can utilise this reading strategy either in groups, pairs, individually or as a class to discuss their views of what the text is about, the key themes of a text and ideas.

A simple tool for summarising is completing a book review. This helps students go over their knowledge of what they read and see if they understood the text in its entirety.

A simple book review activity

 

Reading Strategy 3. Connections

This reading strategy focuses on the personal aspects of reading comprehension. Finding a connection, no matter how tenuous, gives more meaning to what we read. Students feel like they can relate and draw on their own experiences to better understand characters, events, relationships etc. Once we find a connection with a text, we are more likely to retain that information and ask more relevant questions.

There are three types of connections that can be made to help better understand what has been read.

  • The text to themselves - making a personal connection.

  • The text to other text - relating one text to something else they have read.

  • Text to the world - finding connections between current, or past, events that are occurring in the world.

 

This Fairy Tale resource uses stories most students would have hears when growing up. They are able to connect not only with the story, but discussions can be made about how they feel about the text.

A complete bundle of products for fairy tales and fables

 

Reading Strategy 4. Infer Meaning (Before and After Reading) and Context Clues

A slightly tricky reading strategy for beginner readers. Students make assumptions based on the clues within a text and their own prior knowledge. In other words “reading between the lines” to draw conclusions. Once a student has developed their fluency, they have a better opportunity to delve deeper into what they are reading and therefore improve their comprehension. A quality teacher exposes their students to a variety of topics and open discussions because the more students are exposed to, the more they want to know.

As a reading strategy, this can be easily scaffolded as a class by stopping at the ends of paragraphs or sentences and asking questions like “what does that mean?”, “who do you think they are referring to?”, “is that character a good or bad person?” will further develop their understanding of a text. Once students develop confidence, they can do this on their own. At the completion of a text, ask students how correct their assumptions were and what may have made them change their mind. These reading prompts are excellent in helping students ask the right questions.

Help students develop their reading skills

 

Reading Strategy 5. Visualising

Being able to reinterpret what they are reading into visual queues not only helps build understanding but the ability to retain the information. This can be done in a variety of ways.

  • Drawing pictures of key elements in the story

  • Storyboards

  • Mentally visualising events

  • Making a picture book or comic strip

For some students, the idea of slabs of text is daunting. They can use a few of the other reading strategies to build their understanding and then turn this information into something visual. Letting students break the text into small visual sections helps them get a clearer understanding of what is occurring and being inferred.

Guinea Pig Education has a lot of resources focused on visually representing stories and a variety of text formats, from storyboards, to cut and paste activities, to rewrite and draw. This information writing bundle has a variety of reading strategies to increase students abilities.

Plan and Write a story

Reading Strategy 6. Re-Read the Text

I watched the movie The Sixth Sense and didn’t get it. I missed the key aspect of the movie because I wasn’t concentrating. I never realised (spoiler alert) that Bruce Willis was dead the entire time. I thought that it was a terrible movie and wondered why it received so much acclaim! It wasn’t until the second time around that I picked up on all the clues and finally knew what the movie was about (and it completely changed my opinion!).

Students will often skim read or read distracted (ie with music on), and not take in all the relevant information. Most senior students who have only read the book once would find it difficult to write an entire essay on the themes and receive a high mark. Re-reading a text is an essential reading strategy for all students, and frankly, it should have been first on this list! (even though these aren’t in order).

 

Reading Strategy 7. Predicting

This reading strategy can be linked with any of the others mentioned. Readers make an educated guess about what will happen next based on clues from the text and recognise misconceptions. Predicting can take place from the very beginning when looking at the title and cover, to chapter by chapter. Quality teaching allows students to make wild assumptions to gauge student understanding and to also then focus on their why.

Using any of the resources by Guinea Pig Education, such as this writing program, has students predicting what would happen next if the story does end. Students need to know what has happened and have a solid understanding of the characters and relationships before they take the story further in their own words.

 

Reading Strategy 8. Asking Questions

It seems self explanatory. Readers ask questions to clear up confusion, to make predictions, and to wonder about the author’s purpose. Many students often have difficulty in asking questions for a variety of reasons. Building rapport and a safe environment for students to excel and fail is just as important as using the reading strategy itself. As the old saying goes, “there’s no such thing as a dumb question.” Find the fit for your classroom management and style that allows students to ask questions and seek help.

These Super Six comprehension strategy posters offer students a variety of questions to ask in a visual and easily definable list. 

Help your readers ask the right questions

Reading Strategy 9. Evaluate Understanding

The all important evaluation of understanding. Before you go straight to your exam or quiz, there are a myriad of ways for students’ to evaluate their knowledge of a text.

The world really is your oyster with this reading strategy and is quite often where students build their deepest understanding of a text. Students can:

  • Retell the story to friends, or alternatively, retell the story from another point of view.

  • Debate

  • Panel Discussions

  • “Celebrity Head” the major themes, ideas or events

  • Mind Maps

  • Find related texts - visual, written, verbal

  • Draw or sketch

  • Design a poster or storyboard.

 

Summary

While some of these reading strategies are simple, others require a little more explicit teaching. They should not be used in isolation, and all students should be able to access any of these strategies when reading a text.

Is there one we missed? What have you used that has been successful?

Want to read about our 9 Literacy Strategies for Writing? Click here.

It's part of our Teacher Qualities blog posts.