Reading comprehension is the ability to understand, remember, and communicate meaning from what has been read.

While comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading, it is not the starting point for reading instruction.

When students are identified as not meeting adequate yearly progress in their reading, it is certain that there is a deficit in their reading foundational skills. However, oftentimes, when students struggle in reading, educators mistakenly concentrate all of their efforts on improving comprehension. But in many cases, it is a lack of foundational reading skills— phonemic awareness and phonics, which lead to poor decoding skills—which result in students’ poor understanding.

That is why developing foundational skills in phonemic awareness and phonics at the start of reading instruction is so important: it helps students develop automatic decoding skills so they can concentrate on the meaning of what they are reading. Other areas that may contribute include a lack of prior knowledge or limited strategies. Once students DO have a foundation of basic skills, there are various reading strategies you can teach to help them improve their reading aptitude. It is important to help students develop and own strategies to foster lifelong learners through reading.

If you're interested in learning more about early reading comprehension, check out our free early reading skills resources.

Strategies to Improve Comprehension

Reading strategies are crucial for any reader. Once students have adequate decoding and vocabulary skills to allow for fluent reading, their understanding can be improved by instructing students to develop a routine for reading which includes specific strategies that can be employed throughout the reading process (before, during, and after) that increase their awareness and understanding of text. These strategies include the following:

Before Reading

Preview the text

During Reading

Monitor their own reading, generate questions about the text; and identify and organize ideas based on text's structure

After Reading

Answer high-level questions and summarize the text

Previewing Text/Activating Prior Knowledge

When beginning reading, it is important for students to set a purpose for reading. This first step is crucial to increasing one’s understanding of the text. To set the stage for reading, students should preview the text. This helps them identify, decode, and define unfamiliar words before reading the full passage as well as activate their prior knowledge about the topic. During this time, students should also start making general predictions about the text. When students complete this step, reading the full text becomes a smoother process and understanding is enhanced.

Monitoring Reading

One way to help students improve their reading aptitude is by teaching them how to monitor their own understanding while reading text. This includes recognizing things that can happen while reading like encountering unknown word(s) or realizing after reading several sentences, or even paragraphs, that you do not remember or understand the text. Students can self-correct by constantly thinking and reflecting about the text with questions:

Am I following the text?

Do I understand?

Is this new information?

Young students can be taught to mark specific places in the text with the following key to keep them engaged and constantly thinking about what they read which will ultimately increase their understanding:







Funny Part

Important Part

Surprising Part

Favorite Part

Confusing Part

Engaging and Connecting with the Text

Once students have addressed unfamiliar words through previewing, they can really engage with the text as they read it by visualizing, focusing on the content, generating questions, and identifying and organizing text structure to improve understanding of the material.

The following are effective strategies that help students engage with a text:

Review and Summarize Material

Having students review and summarize material after reading gives you a simple way to ensure that they understood what they read. Retelling challenges them to retain what they read. Summarization allows them to discriminate between main ideas and minor details.

Teach students to use this simple 4-step process in generating a summary of text:

List the headings/subheadings on paper

Read and/or reread the text

Complete each heading with a main idea sentence

Add one to three sentences of supporting details to each main idea sentence

Rereading is the most effective strategy to increase one’s knowledge of the text. Students should be encouraged to do this especially when they encounter a difficult and challenging piece of text.

Effective Teaching of Comprehension Strategies

In order to effectively teach these strategies, teachers must employ direct teaching that includes modeling as well as guided, independent, and repeated practice so that students can develop and own their own routine. All strategies must be explicitly taught through direct instruction of the strategy itself (declarative knowledge). Students must then be taught how to use it (procedural knowledge), and then finally, students must understand why and when to use it (conditional knowledge).

An effective teaching strategy is to model by using think-alouds that portray a variety of challenges with the text so that students can be exposed to many fix-up strategies that good readers use in order to help them comprehend challenging text.