While reading is a fundamental skill that we learn in elementary school, it's important to remember that reading comprehension is the ultimate goal, therefore it is important to know how to improve children’s reading comprehension.
Reading comprehension skills are essential from the very beginning of any reader's journey and will only become more necessary as they age. It starts with picture books where kids have no idea what words mean or how sentences work together, but once they read independently on their own, those same texts start to make sense!
The earlier you develop this skillset for your child, the better off they will be when faced with difficult challenges later down the road like textbooks, newspapers and other complex materials.
What is Reading Comprehension
Your child has excellent reading comprehension skills when they can:
- Fully understand what they are reading.
- Visualise what they are reading.
- Project themselves into the story.
- Question things that don't make sense or seem out of place in a text.
- Predict when something will happen next by examining clues from earlier on in the passage.
- Interpret words within context so as not to be confused about word meaning.
- Form opinions based on their understanding of characters' motivations, thoughts/actions and how this impacts other people's lives – even if different than theirs.
- Think deeply about how each experience relates to them personally, which allows them self-reflection long after finishing a novel.
How To Identify a Reading Comprehension Problem
Your Child’s Perspective
If your child is struggling with reading comprehension, you may hear them make statements such as “I hate reading!” or “This is stupid!”, this is often out of frustration.
However, your child is more likely thinking:
- I take so long to read something.
- It’s challenging to follow the storyline.
- I didn't understand what the book was about.
- I don’t understand why the character did what they did.
- I am not sure what the main themes of the story are.
- I couldn't visualise the story as I was reading.
A Parent’s Perspective
As a parent, here are some things that may indicate your child is struggling with reading comprehension:
- Your child is not able to summarise what happened in a particular passage or the book.
- They can explain what happened, but they do not know why it happened.
- They are not able to explain the characters feelings, emotions or thoughts.
- They are not able to link real-life events with events in the book.
How to Improve Reading Comprehension
Comprehension skills are critically important. They need to be active readers that understand what they are reading.
To teach and improve your child's reading comprehension, you should:
1. Have them read aloud
Reading aloud will force your child to read slower, which means they have more time to think about what they are reading. It will also help if you read aloud to your child, so they could hear how the expression in your voice adds meaning to the story. Young readers do not initially read with expression as they are focusing on getting the words right.
2. Make connections
When you are reading together, find connections to your own experiences. For example, mention places you have been or people you've met.
3. Provide books at the right reading level
Make sure the books your child reads are appropriate to their reading level. If they have difficulty picking up words, it becomes more frustrating for them and can make it difficult to follow the story.
4. Reread to build fluency
Rereading simple and familiar books will help to improve your child's fluency. The more fluently your child can read, the better they will understand what they are reading.
5. Supplement their classroom reading
When your child’s classroom work involves a particular theme or topic, look for additional easy-to-read material about the same topic. Reading simplier text that is easy for them to comprehend will increase your child's knowledge of the particular topic, which will promote reading comprehension of more complex text.
6. Talk about what they're reading
To improve reading comprehension, “verbal processing” can help the reader remember and think through ideas in the book. Ask questions before, during, and after each session to encourage quality reading comprehension.
Before: “What do you think this book is going to be about?” “Why did you choose this book?”
During: “Is the story turning out the way you thought it would?” “What do you think will happen next?”
After: “What did you like about the book?” “Who was your favourite character? Why?”
7. Make “mind movies”
Creating pictures in your head is one way to bring a story to life. When reading with your child, tell them what the scene looks like in your mind and how it makes you feel. Encourage them to create their images by drawing or colouring a picture of the event.
8. Look for clues
Combining knowledge with clues from a story helps your child make inferences about future events, which is how reading comprehension develops.
For example, when we read “Jane was smiling and jumping up and down with glee.” We can infer that Jane is happy. Help your child do this as you read. If a character is wearing a soccer kit, ask your child what the character might have been doing before.
9. Check to understand
The simplest way to identify a misunderstanding is for your child to ask themselves if what they are reading is making sense. This can be achieved by rereading the confusing part or specific words that were challenging.
10. Try new things
Providing your kids with greater exposure to world cultures will help them better understand what they read and hear. You can accomplish this in several ways, including taking trips to different places, reading books about other countries or talking about the latest events.
Watching or playing sport can help your child connect more with books about sports. Taking a bus or train ride may make your child more interested in books about transport.
Even with these tips, some children still have a hard time understanding what they read. Learn more about how you can help your child with their reading using the Children Learning Reading Program.
Effortless reading and comprehension are some of the key skills that children should have. It can also be one of the most difficult to teach; however, you can help your child improve their reading comprehension skills by using the tips above.