5 Ways to Teach Reading Comprehension

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5 ways to teach reading comprehension

The reality is, reading doesn’t equal understanding. Reading comprehension is a complex skill for children and it helps for us homeschoolers to have some strategies up our sleeves to teach our kids reading comprehension skills.

It can often be the case where our kids, who can confidently read, struggle to understand the underlying message.  We invest countless hours in teaching our kids how to read through phonics and sight words, helping them become proficient readers, only to realise that reading fluently was just the first step in this long journey of deciphering the written word!

Teaching reading comprehension requires as much dedication and creativity as teaching them to read in the first place. It is not just about decoding words; it is about nurturing our kids’ ability to think critically, empathise with characters, and understand the deeper meaning of the texts. 

We can help our kids master this essential skill. A skill that is necessary to accessing texts.

Before I go tell you the steps you can take to organically grow strong comprehension skills in your child, let me  briefly state what I mean by reading comprehension.

What is reading comprehension?

Reading comprehension refers to the ability to understand what you read. It is the reason that we read! To get meaning from the words on the page.

But reading comprehension doesn’t just mean to understand the words in the sentence.

Children who have good comprehension will be able to visualise what they are reading,  identify with the main character, follow the events in the story or text, and anticipate what happens next.

Strategies to teach comprehension skills in your child

In order for children to understand what they are reading, a key skill that needs to be in place is being able to read accurately and fluently. Being able to read the words quickly frees up mental space in children’s mind to think about the meaning of the text and the writer’s intentions.  

It is also essential that the reading material is appropriate to the reading level of your child.

Improving reading comprehension is one of those multifaceted skills that can’t be improved with a quick fix technique.

The most effective way to teach your child reading comprehension is to explicitly model the process and spend a lot of time practising the skills together.

It’s not complicated. It does however take time.

In the rest of the post I will explain how you can implement practices to organically grow strong comprehension skills in your child.

1. Read with your Child

Reading with our kids and having discussions about what we read is probably the most enjoyable and effective way to teach reading comprehension.

As homeschoolers we have the freedom to have a very hands-on approach with our children when it comes to their learning or largely leaving them to it.

Without going into a discussion of the various pros and cons to each way, research does show that that the quickest way to learn anything is when it is explicitly taught.

This is when a more experienced person directly instructs and models a skill and then they spend time practising the skill together before the student or novice practices it independently.

This makes sense. We wouldn’t give our kids column adding questions for maths and tell them to figure out how to do it if they’ve never seen it done before.

In the same way for reading comprehension, it is more effective to show our children how to implement good reading strategies. This is easily done by spending lots of time with your child reading.

If reading entire books with your kids is too much, as it does take time and often we have multiple aged kids, you can always have dedicated 20 minute slots two or three times in the week to pair read with your child.

You can take turns reading a paragraph each or a page. The additional benefit of reading together this way is that your child gets to hear how good reading sounds- which syllable to put the stress on, vocal intonations, and good pace of reading. Ideally reading aloud, should sound as close to possible to speech.

Reading together will give you the perfect opportunity to model what good readers do to get a good understanding of what they read. As you read, talk out aloud your though process so that your child can see how to think and question for understanding.

Good comprehension requires active reading,  it isn’t just about reading from beginning to end without.

Read on to find out how to use this reading together time together to get the maximum benefit.

2. Fill in gaps so there is sufficient Background Knowledge

Poor comprehension skills is often a result of a lack of relevant background knowledge. You can help fill any gaps in topic knowledge by discussing any unfamiliar contexts that may be in the reading material. This can include historical, geographical, or cultural information that will help your child put what they read in context.

As homeschoolers we have so much freedom in learning at the pace of our child. We have the freedom to pause what we are doing and dive a bit deeper into a topic, look something up on the internet, check out relevant books from the library or watch a documentary if we need to.

If you need to, do this.

Another way to put some context around what is being read is to ask some pre-reading questions before starting a book.

Some things you discuss are what the story might be about based in the tittle and cover illustration. Who the main characters might be. What information can you get about the characters based on the blurb. What you think the problems the character will encounter in the story. What genre the story is. If the story reminds you of anything else you have read or watched.

If it’s a non-fiction text or extract that you are reading with your child, you can still engage in some pre-reading discussion. You can discuss what you think the text will be about based on the title. Talk about what you already know about this topic. 

Ask you kids who they think the intended audience of this text is, and why it was written. If it is a short non-fiction piece, skim the text and talk about any unfamiliar words. 

Pre-reading discussions give children the chance to recall and activate their existing knowledge about the topic. When kids connect new information to what they already know, they form a foundation for understanding and processing information more effectively. 

Discussing the book or topic before reading also helps create a context for the text. These meaningful discussions spark curiosity and interest which is a great motivator for children to read actively, as they are keen and eager to see if their predictions and initial thoughts were correct.

3. Actively Expand Vocabulary 

I have written previously about the importance of vocabulary on good writing.

A strong vocabulary is essential for understanding the meanings of words used in the text. Children need to be familiar with a wide range of words to grasp the author’s intended message accurately.

The more words we know the more we incease our abilty to learn from texts.

But we cannot explicitly teach all the words! Because of this it is really important to have an active system of helping our kids understand new vocabulary as we go about our homeschool life. The more you talk with your child the richer and wider their vocabulary will become.

Helping our kids notice and record interesting vocabulary will be valuable in the long term. How great would it be if we could cultivate a word consciousness in our children, where they have  continual curiosity about what words mean and where they are from.

As your child comes across any unfamiliar words, get them to figure it out from context, or using a dictionary. While it is easy enough to use a standard dictionary, my kids were always reluctant to do this, so we bought an electronic dictionary specifically for this purpose.

Having this electronic dictionary around means that they are always happy to look up a word. Our version has a thesaurus, and word games on it as well which is a bonus. All three of my kids use it almost every week since we bought it 5 years ago so it has been well worth it.

You can keep a running list of unfamiliar words on a scrap of paper. Keep it handy (use a a bookmark?) so you can review some of the words periodically. Practice putting them into sentences. Using them in writing.

4. Summarise 

Teach reading comprehension skills by getting your child to summarise what has been read after every paragraph or a couple of pages or even every chapter if you don’t want to disrupt the flow of reading too much.

It will really help you identify if your child has understood what they’ve read.

Being able to mine the important details from texts and not get caught up in every little details is key for good comprehension.

This is also a difficult skill and needs lots of practice.

Summarising helps our children to recognise areas of confusion and prompts them to reread parts that they need to clarify further.

By summarising they are mentally organising and restructuring information in their own way. so this task forces them to create logical connections between different parts of the text, improving their ability to understand the relationships between ideas.

Summarising is also an absolute must to understand complex texts, so being able to use this skill well will set your child up for success at confidently tackling harder texts in the future.

5. Make use of Comprehension Workbooks

While I am the first to advocate reading rich literature and real books, I am not oblivious to the benefits of comprehension workbooks.

I personally use comprehension workbooks from CGP and Schofield & Sims to teach reading comprehension skills to my kids. I don’t use them for every year. I usually use them for a year when they are around 10 years old to really zoom in on comprehension skills so that they are better equipped to learn independently as they move into their ks3/ ks4 phase of learning.

KS2 English Year 5 Reading Comprehension Targeted Question Book – Book 1 (with Answers) (CGP Year 5 English)
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KS2 Comprehension Book 3: Year 5, Ages 9-10
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The are the year 5 books that I have used. You can also get the comprehension workbooks for other years.

Unfortunately, the answers are not included in the Schofield and Sims comprehension workbooks, but I’ve found it isn’t necessary as the answers are within the text. The CGP comprehension workbooks I have linked to, do now contain answers.

When I use comprehension workbooks with my kids, I don’t just give it to them and leave them to it. I use the strategies that I have mentioned in this post.

Most of the time, we read them together or my children read them to me. We have pre-reading discussions and I help fill in background knowledge so my kids can access the text; we exploring unknown vocabulary so that this doesn’t become a barrier to understanding the text; and I get my kids to summarise what they’ve read, before they even attempt the questions that come with the extract.

If they get stuck on a question, I don’t just give them the answer, I make a big show of searching for the relevant part in the extract and thinking aloud, how I come to an answer.

Using these comprehension workbooks in the way I have described was an easy way to teach reading comprehension to my kids. These are the reasons I believe they will help improve any child’s comprehension:

These workbooks provide a structured approach to practising comprehension skills. They include a wide range of texts and questions designed to target specific aspects of comprehension, such as understanding main ideas, making inferences, and identifying author’s purpose.

There is a huge variety of texts and genres that your kids will be exposed to by using these workbooks, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and informational passages. Exposure to diverse texts will help your children become familiar with different writing styles, genres, and topics, enhancing their overall comprehension abilities. The exercises also gradually increase in complexity. This gradual progression helps children build confidence as they advance through the texts. These workbooks include higher-order thinking questions that require critical thinking and deeper analysis. Engaging with such questions strengthens children’s ability to interpret texts and draw well-reasoned conclusions.

Teaching Comprehension Skills is a Gradual Process

To wrap up, keep in mind that helping to develop strong reading comprehension in our kids is a gradual process that requires time and consistent effort.

Just remember that when you teach reading comprehension you are giving your children a gift that will help them become proficient and active readers. By putting the time and effort into helping them successfully read and understand what they read now, will free up so much of your time later as they will have the skills that is necessary to become independent learner.

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