Excerpts from Put Reading First: The
Research Building Blocks of Teaching Children to Read (published in the
public domain by The National Institute for Family Literacy (available online at
Comprehension is the reason for reading.
If readers can read the words but do not understand what they are reading, they
are not really reading.
As they read, good readers are both
purposeful and active.
Good readers are
purposeful. Good readers have a purpose for reading. They may read to
find out how to use a food processor, read a guidebook to gather information
about national parks, read a textbook to satisfy the requirements of a course,
read a magazine for entertainment, or read a classic novel to experience the
pleasures of great literature.
Good readers are active.
Good readers think actively as they read. To make sense of what they read, good
readers engage in a complicated process. Using their experiences and knowledge
of the world, their knowledge of vocabulary and language structure, and their
knowledge of reading strategies (or plans), good readers make sense of the text
and know how to get the most out of it. They know when they have problems with
understanding and how to resolve these problems as they occur.
Research over 30 years has shown that
instruction in comprehension can help students understand what they read,
remember what they read, and communicate with others about what they read.
The following strategies [are a few that] appear to have a firm scientific basis
for improving text comprehension.
Students who are good at monitoring their comprehension know when they
understand what they read and when they do not. They have strategies to “fix up”
problems in their understanding as the problems arise. Research shows that
instruction, even in the early grades, can help students become better at
monitoring their comprehension.
Comprehension monitoring instruction
teaches students to
- be aware of what they do
- identify what they do
not understand, and
- use appropriate “fix-up” strategies to
resolve problems in comprehension.
Using graphic and semantic
organizers. Graphic organizers illustrate concepts and
interrelationships among concepts in a text, using diagrams or other pictorial
devices. Graphic organizers are known by different names, such as maps, webs,
graphs, charts, frames, or clusters. Semantic organizers (also called semantic
maps or semantic webs) are graphic organizers that look somewhat like a spider
web. In a semantic organizer, lines connect a central concept to a variety of
related ideas and events.
Graphic organizers can:
- help students focus on text structure
as they read;
- provide students with tools they can
use to examine and visually represent relationships in a text; and
- help students write well-organized
summaries of a text.
Teachers have long used questions to guide and monitor students’ learning.
Research shows that teacher questioning strongly supports and advances students’
learning from reading. Questions appear to be effective for improving learning
from reading because they:
- give students a purpose for
- focus students’ attention on what they
are to learn;
- help students to think actively as
- encourage students to monitor their
- help students to review content and
relate what they have learned to what they already know.
Question-answering instruction encourages
students to learn to answer questions better and, therefore, to learn more as
they read. One type of question-answering instruction simply teaches students to
look back in the text to find answers to questions that they cannot answer after
the initial reading. Another type helps students understand question-answer
relationships–the relationships between questions and where the answers to
those questions are found. In this instruction, readers learn to answer
questions that require an understanding of information that is
- text explicit (stated explicitly in a
- text implicit (implied by information
presented in two or more sentences); or
- scriptal (not found in the text at
all, but part of the reader’s prior knowledge or experience).
Teaching students to ask their own questions improves their active processing of
text and their comprehension. By generating questions, students become aware of
whether they can answer the questions and if they understand what they are
reading. Students learn to ask themselves questions that require them to
integrate information from different segments of text. For example, students can
be taught to ask main idea questions that relate to important information in a
structure. Story structure refers to the way the content and events of a
story are organized into a plot. Students who can recognize story structure have
greater appreciation, understanding, and memory for stories. In story structure
instruction, students learn to identify the categories of content (setting,
initiating events, internal reactions, goals, attempts, and outcomes) and how
this content is organized into a plot. Often, students learn to recognize story
structure through the use of story maps. Story maps, a type of graphic
organizer, show the sequence of events in simple stories. Instruction in the
content and organization of stories improves students’ comprehension and memory
Summarizing. A summary is a
synthesis of the important ideas in a text. Summarizing requires students to
determine what is important in what they are reading, to condense this
information, and to put it into their own words. Instruction in summarizing
- identify or generate main
- connect the main or central
- eliminate redundant and unnecessary
- remember what they
Comprehension strategies are not ends in
themselves; they are means of helping your students understand what they are
reading. Help your students learn to use comprehension strategies in natural
learning situations–for example, as they read in the content areas. If your
students are struggling to identify and remember the main points in a chapter
they are reading in their social studies textbook, teach them how to write
summaries. Or, if students have read a chapter in their science textbook but are
unable to answer questions about the chapter, teach them question-answering
strategies. When your students find that using comprehension strategies can help
them to learn, they are more likely to be motivated and involved actively in
[Finally,]keep in mind that not all
comprehension strategies work for all types of text. Obviously, you can only
teach story structure when students are reading stories, not informational text