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Home > News > Classroom Strategies for Building Reading Comprehension Skills

Classroom Strategies for Building Reading Comprehension Skills

Date: Monday, November 20, 2006Author: Rosie Simms

Classroom Strategies for Building Reading Comprehension Skills

Reading Comprehension impacts our life every day; therefore, we cannot underestimate the importance of understanding the written word. A recipe includes directions for what, where, and when. A bus schedule tells where and when. Movie ads answer who, what, when, where (and sometimes, why). Even interpreting a cereal box requires you to exercise reading comprehension skills. The applications are endless.

Understanding text and making meaning out of it is the essence of reading comprehension. Teachers give students a valuable tool by helping them discover strategies to unlock reading comprehension. Some of what students understand depends on their ability to recall prior learning. However, students can learn strategies to help bridge the gap between what they already know and what they can understand by reading.

The Set Up
Start in small doses concentrating on one WH question at a time. One early strategy is to pre-teach the skill. Tell the students what you will be reading and which WH question you’ll be asking them to listen for. For example:

TEACHER: I’m going to read a short passage about the world’s highest mountain. I’m going to ask WHERE is the world’s highest mountain? I want you to listen for WHERE is the world’s highest mountain? What question are you going to be listening for?

STUDENTS: WHERE is the world’s highest mountain?

TEACHER: Jared, the class said I’m going to ask you WHERE is the world’s highest mountain? Is that correct?


TEACHER: The world’s highest mountain is Mount Everest. It’s on the border of Nepal and China. WHERE is the world’s highest mountain?

You may repeat this process with WHERE questions for other passages or continue the original passage, adding more information for other WH questions. (see below)

Setting Up Multiple Questions
Once your students have mastered the WH questions (add WHY and HOW for students who are performing higher cognitive skill levels), you can read a longer passage with or without setting up the following questions.

TEACHER: I’m going to read a passage and then ask you WHAT is the name of the highest mountain in the world. (You may continue to ask students what the question they are listening for is, as needed.)

TEACHER: Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. It is in the Himalayan mountain range on the border of Nepal and China. It’s 29,000 feet above sea level. The top of a mountain is called the summit. The summit was first reached in 1953. WHAT is the name of the highest mountain in the world?

STUDENTS: Mount Everest

You can choose to re-read the passage between each question, cueing students each time for a different WH question, or simply ask all the WH questions after reading the passage through one time.

TEACHER: I’m going to read the passage again, and this time I am going to ask you WHAT is the top of a mountain called?

Other Strategies for Building Reading Comprehension
Here are some other general strategies to help build reading comprehension.


• Brainstorming: use diagrams to flesh out story elements, details, and context clues.

• Pyramids: create for story elements, sequencing, and predicting outcomes and summarizing.

• Visualization: draw pictures for cause and effect, inference, and drawing conclusions.

• Movement: act out the story to use movement and tactile/kinesthetic feedback.

• Auditory Feedback: have students create a song (rap, rock, etc.) or a poem about the passage or the story.

Different Methods to Reinforce Reading Comprehension Skills
Use different methods of reinforcement when teaching reading comprehension. These might include:

1. Cloze method: Filling in the missing word.

2. Match-ups: Using list A and list B to match up words by definition, antonyms, synonyms, etc.

3. Word Banks: Using the answers in a word bank to select the correct one.

4. Scaffolding: Listing story elements in order. Scaffolding involves focusing on the WH elements.

• The beginning: usually involves characters and setting (WHO and WHERE).
• The problem/conflict: what happens in the story that needs to be resolved (WHAT).
• The plan: what the character is going to do (WHAT, WHEN, WHY, and maybe HOW).
• The story events: what happens as the plan unfolds (WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE).
• The outcome: what happens as a result of the character’s plan (WHAT, WHEN, WHY, and HOW).
• The end: how the story is wrapped up (All WH elements).

5. Sentence Formation: Using vocabulary words in a sentence to show understanding in context; using multiple meaning words in two different ways to show flexibility in word usage.

6. Listing: Using the WH questions, WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY.

7. Creative writing: Telling about the story through writing an email, a newspaper article, or journal writing; or creating a poster, a movie ad, a storybook cover, a sign, etc.

Reading To Students for Comprehension
For students who struggle with the reading process, word decoding can become the main focus and the meaning can become lost in translation. Therefore, don’t rule out reading to your students to help them practice skills in reading and listening comprehension. As you read aloud, discuss the title (main idea), any illustrations (discovering details and predicting outcomes), and stop to summarize events (summarizing). You should also ask students “What do you think might /could happen next” (prediction/cause and effect) and discuss new vocabulary words (context cues).

After all, (listening) comprehension has an impact on our daily lives. The music students listen to has a message and a meaning. Television shows, movies, and even directions for computers and video games can come in an auditory package.

A final example is an explicit direction such as:

  • Clean up your room if you want to go to the movies tonight!
    (WHAT: clean up your room) (WHO: you) (WHERE: the movies) (WHEN: tonight)

Students can fill in WHY!

These activities will help struggling readers improve their reading comprehension skills along with their confidence. For more ideas, check out Read, Think, and Write About It, Comprehension Station, and Sentence Factory published by PCI.

These and other engaging products are available online and through PCI’s catalog.

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