Reading Comprehension Strategies Overview

As children read, they tend to put most of their energy decoding or “reading” every word perfectly. While they may be able to say all of the words right, students must also be able to obtain meaning from what has been read. Students with special needs often experience considerable difficulty in comprehending what is read aloud or silently. They may have difficulty with processing the ideas, with relating new information to previously learning facts, or with using higher order thinking skills to organize, sequence, or prioritize that information appropriately. What “good” readers may be naturally must be made very explicit for the special needs reader, and each strategy must be taught separately in a logical order.

Educators use many different strategies to improve a student’s understanding of text. The so-called “good reader” is always thinking of questions, making connections, making inferences about what the story may mean, deciding whether a given piece of information is significant, summarizing what they have read so far, and trying to create understanding as they go. They also must fill-in meanings where the text did not seem correct to them or they were unable to decode a particular term. These “good readers” may not even be aware of the ongoing dialogue that they are carrying out in their mind, yet it is a crucial part of their ability to comprehend what they are reading. This dialogue within the mind is called “metacognition” by educators, meaning that students are thinking about how they think. Such ongoing and simultaneous processing is often difficult for children with special needs, because their brain is often working “overtime” simply unpacking the sounds and changing them into speech.

The special needs child may not be ready to examine the processes that are essential to good reading noted above. Their energies are absorbed with decoding itself. How, then, can the parent teach comprehension strategies to children who think more concretely and in a more linear fashion? The first step is for the PARENT to become aware the various sub skills that the child needs to master for effective comprehension, and to recognize that comprehension occurs on multiple levels!

Years ago, Dr. Bloom identified that people learn and operate with multiple levels of thinking that progress from very concrete, fact-based learning to higher levels of abstract conceptualization that permit people to thinking about ideas. Parents must be aware of where an individual child’s thinking skills lie on such a continuum. Once the parent understands where the child’s strengths lie, then the student may need to be taught in different ways and assessed in different ways as well. For more detail, refer to the link about Bloom’s Taxonomy elsewhere on this website.

A quick review of the levels of thinking is provided here to simplify this discussion of reading comprehension:


                 Sample Verbs
       What you ask the child to do
                     Knowledge    recall, name, list, state, choose
                     Comprehension    compare, contrast, relate, illustrate,
          extend, demonstrate
                     Application    building meaning, arrange, develop,
          solve, apply, model
                     Analysis    selecting hypothesis, interrelate,
          draw conclusion, outline
                     Synthesis    predict, imagine, create,
          design, advise
                     Evaluation    make judgments, give opinions,
           report, investigate, verify

Using the perspective of Bloom’s hierarchy of thinking enables parents to gain a clearer view of the ways in which their individual child may be able to handle reading comprehension tasks. For example, a child who is a very concrete thinker will be most successful answering questions based on facts, recalling details, naming characters or places, or choosing between two choices describing what happened. This student would have considerable difficulty answering questions that required them to summarize what they have read, comparing it to another article, or using that information to conclude certain thoughts.

Examples of Reading Comprehension Strategies

Practice the following skills to improve reading comprehension.

      Skills that are important for comprehension**:

  1.    Understand the words — comprehend what the words mean
  2.    Find facts and details — seek one or more pieces of information in the text
  3.    Find main ideas — from the whole content, prioritize
             the overriding (primary) theme or idea
  4.    Figure out the sequence — tell the order of events
  5.    Find cause-effect — see how one person, action, or event triggers another;
             also, identify the “who” or “what” that occurs
  6.    Make inferences — develop ideas or images based on what is read in the text
             but not stated
  7.    Generalize — discern the relationship between single events and the
             larger situation or other events
  8.    Identify tone/mood — sense how the author was feeling and how he wanted
             the reader to feel while reading
  9.    Identify “theme” — see the “big picture” moral or abstract idea
10.    Identify characterization — comprehend what makes characters act as they do
11.    Distinguish fact from fiction — sort out what is real and what is part of the
             imaginary world created by the author
12.    Find bias or propaganda — notice obvious or hidden bias

**Adapted from The Reading Process (author unknown)

In reviewing these individual skills of comprehension in light of Bloom’s Taxonomy, it is quickly seen that many comprehension skills require higher-order thinking and an ability to view the material that has been read from an abstract perspective. For some special needs students, the realistic choice may be to recognize those skills that are not going to be within the child’s ability level. For other students, each of the higher-order skills may require targeting with a separate unit of study. The reading comprehension work for that child will have to focus on the study of word meaning, concrete facts and finding main ideas.

Parents will have to individually assess each child to see what the limits and strengths are for that child’s thinking levels. This can better equip the parent to effectively help the child’s reading comprehension.