Helping Children with Reading Comprehension

Christine Woodcock, Ph.D.
Helping Children with Reading Comprehension

Unlike passive activities such as playing video games
or watching TV, reading is an active process in our brains.  Strategic
readers address their thinking in an inner conversation that helps them make
sense of what they read.  Help to foster these inner (and outer)
conversations with your children by discussing their texts with them. 

Readers take the written word and construct meaning
based on their own thoughts, knowledge, and experiences.  Provide structure
for your child to think when he/she reads.  Children must develop an
awareness of their own thinking, so that they can monitor themselves while they


Simply encourage your child to make personal
connections to the content of the book he/she is reading.  You could even
jot the connections on sticky notes in colorful magic markers and stick them in
the book, or make a cute chart of the connections.   

Text-to-self connections are
easiest.  We merely relate concepts in the book to aspects of our own
lives.  For example, “I love the lake in this book.  It reminds me of
our summer vacations when we always visited that lake in New

Text-to-text connections are also
fun and easy.  Obviously, you just relate the book you’re currently reading
to another book you’ve read.  Perhaps the characters in this book remind of
the characters in a book you read last week.  Also, don’t feel constricted
by the text-to-text label.  I always encourage my students to think of
movies and TV shows to which they can relate their books,

Text-to-world connections are
trickier.  With these connections, you want to relate what you’ve just read
to a larger, worldly phenomenon, and not just something specific to your own


Making inferences is similar to the text-to-world
connection strategy.  Gradually work with children on drawing conclusions
based on what information they know.  Likewise, show them how to make
educated guesses, and to look for hints to back up their reasoning.  You
could make lists and pictures together to help this strategy along.  As
always, model inferring for your child in an explicit way, so that he/she can
see how you derive conclusions. Do you openly empathize with others?  Do
you articulate how another may have a different perspective than you? 


An uncomplicated strategy to foster comprehension is
to simply ask your child to make frequent predictions.  Most parents and
teachers make the mistake of only asking children to make predictions at the
beginning of a book.  Instead, ask children to make predictions at the
onset of a book, as well as at strategic points throughout the book.  This
stimulates their thinking in a number of ways.  At the end of the book,
discuss with children whether or not they liked the ending.  Would they
have ended it differently?   


One of the best parts of reading is to picture the
story or the content in one’s head. Ask children to describe how they picture
the characters and the setting in the story. If it’s non-fiction, ask them to
draw their own pictures of the content.  Another fun activity is to compare
and contrast visualizations between book and movie versions of various


Asking children questions is the simplest and most
old-fashioned way to ensure they have understood material.  Don’t just ask
questions at the end of a given passage.  I would suggest stopping at
strategic points to see how they are doing throughout a passage. Furthermore,
the quality of the questions themselves can also determine the quality of
understanding.  Most people only ask concrete questions that only pertain
to memory.  For example, “what color shirt was he wearing?”  Instead,
I encourage people to ask implicit questions, which are open-ended, and to which
there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer, but by which you can still
determine how well the child understood.  For example, rather than asking
what color shirt the character wore, in its place ask “Why was it important that
the character wore a blue shirt?”  This causes the child to think in a
deeper manner, without having to memorize the color of the shirt, yet you still
yield rich insights pertaining to how well the child is comprehending.


Sometimes, whether it is a text, or some other aspect
of life, we have a hard time determining what is important.  It often has
to do with the difficulty level of the content, and how familiar we are with
it.  When a subject is overwhelming, confusing, and foreign, it is much
harder to determine what is important, than when we are dealing with familiar
territory, which is at a comfortable difficulty level for us. 

Practice determining importance with your
child.  Explicitly model how you determine what is important.  Show
your child how you might look in topic sentences, or at bullet points, titles,
or headings to make more sense of a passage.  Practice highlighting a
passage together.  Once children know how to extract important information,
they can study better, focus better, and provide adequate retellings and/or

This is a modified version of an article that has
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