Teaching Reading Comprehension


Use a flat, blank file card or bookmark to place ABOVE the line to keep the place.  This allows the eyes to quickly move to the next line below.

For very distractible or children with vision tracking problems, cut out a 1/2’’ wide strip from a piece of heavy poster board that is the width of the page.  The child slides the opening along while reading.

When possible, allow use of a highlighter for emphasizing main ideas.  Teach students how to do this! — Students think every word is worth highlighting!

Make mini-flash cards for each name, date, place, and key fact.  On one side, put clue in word or picture form, with the answer on the other side.  Use cards to review facts – employ the clue to recollect the answer (use list of words on word bank if necessary to help recall).  The hardest review skill is being able to elaborate on the facts after seeing only the name, date, place or fact.

Use story webs (spider diagrams) to organize facts in what has been read by main idea, details or other appropriate ways.  Such visual organizers make information more explicit and easier to organize mentally.  Let students color or decorate the webs with related art.

Some teachers call these “advance organizers.”  The “head start” is a way that parents can provide support while the student remains accountable for the key ideas and facts in the content.  In a “head start,” parents write out short phrases or sentences from the text, but key ideas, names, dates, vocabulary words are omitted.  The student is responsible for either listening and filling in the blanks (with or without a word bank**) or looking for the information in the text.  Parents are showing what is important and how to locate important comprehension content.

Write out the main events from the story in short sentences or phrases.  Ask the student to put the events in 1-2-3 order.  This may be done by having students place numbers alongside each phrase (if they have trouble with writing).  The events may be written on individual cards and the student arranges the cards in correct order.  The student may simply re-write the list in correct order.

Have the student retell the story.  To the student, say “Think of all the parts and put them together as if you were to tell another person about the story.  If you could only use a few sentences, what would you say?”

When you read aloud with a student, and your attention is drawn to something that brings back memories, stop to share that memory with the student.  The student will then notice that reading does not all happen with saying the words on the page.  If you think of a question, again stop your reading aloud and tell the student what you are thinking.  As the story or article brings the answer to your attention, show the student that answer as well.

Once you have been modeling good habits, you gradually transfer the responsibility to the student.  In guided practice, you are leading by example, but the student is asked to try to mimic what you have shown how to do.  For example, you might stop at the end of a paragraph and ask the student, “Does this remind you of something that happened to you?” Look for opportunities to involve the student orally in the story as you read.  For older students who struggle with history or science, seek ways to relate the content to present-day events or to student life experiences.

Have students take notes on vocabulary definitions using a lined page, folded so that left side is about 2″ wide, and the remaining 6″ is on right.  Have them use a ruler to mark the page with a vertical line.

Words        | Definitions___________
New Word | Definition gets written
                    here, not under
                    the word

To study, students

  • first cover word list
  • read one definition at a time
  • try to recall the correct word as an answer to the definition
  • repeat but this time cover the definitions – this requires student recall of definitions


As the weaker students work, it may be necessary to place a copy of the words in random order alongside the definitions.  After making a selection from the randomized list, these students can then uncover the correct word next to the definition to check.

When students make a wrong choice, they can “mark” themselves and return to that word later.

SENTENCE WRITING (for students with limited writing skills)
Select the key vocabulary words from the text.  Write them on a list.  Make up sentences that tell about the details from the reading selection –leave blanks in each sentence where the vocabulary word will be written.  Students are to fill in the blanks with the correct vocabulary term.  Always have more words than blanks!!!

SENTENCE ELABORATION (for students with stronger writing skills)
Option 1:  List three or four words (including a key vocabulary term) and ask students to compose a sentence, using all the words, that states a significant fact about what they have read.

Option 2:  Write a very brief sentence about the text material.  Students are to add details using facts from the text. For example, “Plants have cells.” Students must expand to tell more about the different kinds of cells, what the cells look like, cell contents or similar information that requires them to use what they have learned.

If students cannot automatically decode (figure out what a word-fragment or letter says from the print) —

1.  Teach them using a program that carefully sequences new skills, such as “Exploding the Code,” series available from Educator’s Publishing Services.

2.  Try to work with them using larger “chunks” of words, such as syllables or prefix/suffix units instead of working with individual sounds (as much as possible).

3.  Once they have basic rules for CVC syllables (consonant-vowel-consonant,using short vowels), introduce the three major rules for dividing words into syllables.  Remedia Publications has an excellent short workbook for this.

4.  Try to spend some regularly scheduled time each day teaching “real” life words that may become sight recognizable for the students.

5.  Choose vocabulary terms and spelling terms that support and reinforce the decoding strategy you are working on at the time.

6.  Give daily dictations to reinforce encoding.  When possible, have students softly say each sound unit as they are writing it.

7.  Encourage students to do “word searches” where they try to find the words they are studying in new material, such as newspapers, articles, or textbooks.