High-Impact Tips for Improving Reading Comprehension

Text-dependent Instruction

Most of the talk around the science of reading is focused on phonemic awareness and phonics, but this only addresses one part of the reading equation. We’re going to take a look at comprehension, and some strategies you can incorporate into your reading block.

Where does reading comprehension fit in?

The Simple View of Reading is a widely accepted formula in the reading research world that demonstrates the relationship between decoding and language comprehension:

Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) =

Reading Comprehension (RC)

Gough and Tunmer published their research on the Simple View of Reading in 1986, and their conclusions are still relevant today. The formula shows us that reading comprehension is a direct product of both decoding skills and language comprehension.

What this means is that reading comprehension can’t happen unless your students have strong decoding skills. Teaching foundational skills like phonemic awareness skills early on and providing systematic and explicit instruction in phonics is critical. Teaching oral language comprehension in early childhood is the other key component of this formula. One study from 2011 showed that poor language development at an early age corresponded to difficulty in reading comprehension in 5th grade. It’s important that children learn grammar and syntax as well as vocabulary in order to make meaning of language.

Strategies to improve reading comprehension

Some of your students may be reading read fluently, but are not actually thinking about and understanding the text. In addition to teacher-led discussions about the text, here are a few high-impact strategies that can help your students make sense of and connect with the text on a deeper level:

  • Summarization. Have students read a portion of text and then stop to summarize the main points that the author made. They should be able to convey the meaning in their own words.
  • Self-questioning. Have students ask themselves questions about the text and attempt to answer them. The questions could be as simple as “Who is speaking?” in a text with a lot of dialogue, or “Why was this important?” They can also ask questions and make predictions before reading the next portion of text.
  • Visualization. Have students try to create a picture in their mind of what is being described in the text. They can draw on their background knowledge and try to engage their senses (how would this feel, smell, etc.?).
  • Writing. Have students respond to text by writing about what they have read. This could be a response to a question you pose, a summary, or a more creative activity such as writing a letter to a character or writing the start of the next chapter. Balancing reading and writing instruction leads to deeper engagement with the text and can improve comprehension.

Along with these strategies, be sure to offer a wide range of texts for students to read. Different types of texts have different features that students should become familiar with. From nonfiction informational texts to poetry to novels, it’s important that students read a large volume and variety of texts.