The ultimate goal of any reading teacher is for students to have strong reading comprehension! Although reading comprehension encompasses lots of different reading skills, basically we want students to understand what they’ve read. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
In a typical class though, you’ll have a variety of types of readers. There’ll usually be a handful of students who are skilled readers. These kids read actively, using their own set of reading comprehension techniques which are succesful for them (Yay! Love it when this happens!).
You’ll also have a good number of kids who have some reading comprehension skills, but they don’t have enough strategies, or they don’t use them consistently. They may seem to read well and they can handle the vocabulary (at first glance), but when you ask them what they read, their answers might be spotty.
The last group of kids are also in most upper elementary classrooms, and those are the struggling readers. They may be struggling for a number of reasons, but if a student can’t read a passage well, of course this will create reading comprehension difficulties. I’ll be writing a post soon about how to help struggling readers.
Let’s take a look at six of the most important reading comprehension strategies for upper elementary kids.
1. Activate and Use Background Knowledge
When approaching a new book or a new passage, kids benefit from making relevant connections from their prior knowledge (personal experiences and information) to the text. If kids have the necessary schema and are able to activate it, they’re better able to make new connections and to comprehend the material at a higher level.
2. Make Inferences
Making inferences is probably the most CRUCIAL reading comprehension strategy! To make an inference, students use clues found in the text combined with their schema, to figure out something that’s not explicitly explained in the text.
Making inferences means reading between the lines to make predictions and interpret the text. This kind of thinking is exactly what we want our students to be doing! If they are making informed inferences (and not just wild guesses), this means that they are actively reading, which is what we want.
Visualizing means that a student is able to visualize what’s going on in the text. It’s like a movie playing in your head! With narrative text, the reader is imagining the characters, the setting, and all of the events that are taking place.
If a student doesn’t understand the passage, there’s no way he/she could visualize it well. Visualizing is also part of nonfiction reading, although it’s somewhat different and sometimes more difficult, depending upon the reader’s background knowledge.
4. Generate and Ask Questions
The idea is that students develop their own questions and seek to find the answers to these questions while reading. This happens before, during, and after reading, although it may only be done mentally.
Students may ask themselves thin or thick questions. Thin questions require right there information that can be found in the text. These are generally lower level, fact-based types of questions. Thick questions aren’t found in the text directly, but take a bit of higher-level thinking skills to figure out.
5. Comprehension Monitoring
If I had to choose another absolutely vital part of the reading process, I would say that comprehension monitoring is key. Comprehension monitoring happens when kids are metacognitive, when they are thinking about their thinking…in this case, thinking about their reading-thinking processes. This is the mark of a skilled reader.
Kids who are simply word calling are not truly interacting with the text mentally. Words are coming in and going out, but nothing is being processed.
Comprehension monitoring means that while reading, students are aware of what they understand, what they don’t understand, and what to do to improve their comprehension when they need to.
When kids don’t understand part of the text, they can use fix-up strategies to help them pause, think, and hopefully get back up to speed towards understanding what they’re reading.
Some fix-up strategies which should be taught (or reviewed) with upper elementary students include the following:
1. Going back and re-reading (many readers want to skip this strategy, but it’s an excellent technique)
2. Reading aloud (It may help to hear the information if the reader was scanning mindlessly)
3. Slowing down (reading too quickly may make the information unclear)
4. Using context clues (read around the unknown word and think about what makes sense)
5. Clarifying key vocabulary words that are blocking meaning (using a dictionary or glossary)
6. Determine Importance and Summarize
In order to summarize the text, kids have to be able to synthesize the information and pull it all together to make sense of it. To synthesize well, they’ll need to be able to determine what’s important in the passage. Tiny details, while interesting, are never part of the big picture ideas.
Kids who want to improve their reading comprehension will need to keep their eyes on things like the story’s problem, the solution, and its theme (message), or for expository text, the main idea.
When we directly teach these strategies in quick, repeated mini-lessons, we are helping students understand a variety of strategies that they can use as needed.
My favorite way to teach these reading comprehension strategies is to do mini-lessons. These can be done in either in Reader’s Workshop or in Guided Reading groups. Using the think-aloud approach, where we read out loud and explain our thinking, to model what good readers do, is an effective way to teach these.
After we present a think-aloud lesson, we want to make sure to allow kids time to practice using the comprehension strategies. I usually scaffold lessons, where I model thinking, then have kids use reading worksheets to practice the skill in a short time frame, before using stories and ultimately longer books.
To create readers who truly comprehend what they’re reading, the majority of a student’s reading time should be spent reading actual books, preferably which they have self-selected.
Want to read more about ways to encourage your students to read more and to enjoy it? If so, you might like this blog post:
Want more reading comprehension strategies for upper elementary kids? You might like these posts:
Finally, if you’d like some time-saving reading practice materials, I have created quite a few reading resources for upper elementary students.
Thanks so much for stopping by!