Need some reading comprehension strategies for your struggling readers? Here are some teacher-tested, student-approved ideas that your kids will love!
One of the most important skills a child will ever learn is how to comprehend the written word. More than anything else, reading comprehension is likely to be the one academic skill that will be used on an everyday basis.
From reading blog posts or novels to reading instructions or legal correspondence, adults have to exercise their comprehension skills many times every day.
For struggling readers, decoding the words themselves is a task that requires a lot of mental effort. Unfortunately, that leaves very little room for actually comprehending a text.
But there is some good news! Helping your child with comprehension and fluency can actually be simple and fun when you employ the right strategies!
Below, I’ve compiled a list of actionable tips that you can start on right away with little to no prep work.
6 Strategies for Struggling Readers to Build Better Reading Comprehension Skills
#1 – Do Judge A Book By It’s Cover
Remember the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, when it comes to reading comprehension, you can toss that bit of advice out the window.
Teaching children to predict what might happen in a story is actually a great technique for building comprehension. By reading the title and looking at the cover graphic, kids should be able to make an educated guess about what might happen inside.
This is a great way to help them get engaged and invested in what’s happening in the storyline. It also helps to give them a jumping-off point for coming up with the main ideas.
#2 – Boost Confidence by Eliminating “Panic Mode”
Does the following situation sound familiar?
Your child gets stuck on a word that you feel he/she should already be capable of reading. You sit and wait. You prod. Perhaps you even do a little cheerleading. Still, there they sit, frozen in place, refusing to even try.
It’s common for anxiety to set in when a child is struggling with a new skill. For this reason, it’s important to shorten the length of time your child sits in panic mode.
Give your child about five seconds or less to try to recognize a word. Five seconds may not sound all that long, but I assure you that it feels like an eternity when you’re in panic mode.
If they haven’t managed to produce the correct word by then, simply supply the word they need and move on. Eventually, you’ll read that word enough times that your child will commit it to memory.
Remember, your ultimate goal is comprehension. Being able to read a single word is worth very little if it doesn’t result in comprehending the text as a whole!
#3 – Build Reading Comprehension by Listening to Audiobooks
Now let me be very clear here. When I say “listening to audiobooks” I don’t mean the educational software systems that read your child’s textbooks to them.
Unlike textbooks, audiobooks don’t simply define words for us and then expect us to understand what we are reading. Instead, they string those words together into complex sentences that hold meaning for us.
Audiobooks allow children to hear common phrases and sentence patterns over and over again which helps them build a library phraseology in their memories. This can be a huge step in building fluency.
Think about this: how many times have you read a sentence but you accidentally inputted a familiar phrase or sentence pattern instead of reading the sentence word by word?
We all do it! In fact, our brains do this automatically in an effort to read more fluently and with less effort. If you don’t believe me, try reading the sentence in this image.
Did you notice that it repeats the word “the” twice? Although some people may catch this little error, most of us breeze right over it because our brain reads common phrases on autopilot.
Since struggling readers are often visual or auditory learners, audiobooks are a great way for them to build their autopilot skills!
#4 – Help Them Connect With What They’re Reading
Research (and common sense) proves that we comprehend things best when we have background knowledge about the subject. As a mom, I understand this concept in a way I never could before.
You see, when my daughter tells a story, she gives me all the details. What they were doing, why they were doing it, who said what… etc, etc.
But when one of my boys tells me a story… I often have to investigate to get the details. I can’t tell you how many times one of my sons has come to me and said something like, “Mom, my batteries died and Sissy said I can’t have it anymore.”
Since I have no details about what they were playing with or why “Sissy“ is suddenly making the rules, I really can’t comprehend the problem. “Bud, could you be just a little more specific please?”
In the same way, kids who struggle with comprehension might miss really important details in a story. When that happens, they don’t have any meaningful anchor points to build on.
Fortunately, homeschoolers have a great advantage here because they are usually being taught by someone who knows them in a very intimate way. This means those connections are easy to build.
This is pretty simple if your text is fictional. It’s fun to think about what it might be like if you could really get “A Bad Case of the Stripes” but what if your assignment today is to read about another culture? How can you connect that information with your child’s current knowledge base?
Honestly, it’s as simple as comparing one culture to their own. For example, you may find yourself saying something like: “Wow! They sleep on the floor! That’s totally the opposite of where you sleep. I wonder if those kids might be afraid to sleep on your bunk bed.”
#5 – Re-read the Bumpy Bits
Once again, it’s important to keep in mind that your ultimate goal is comprehension. Fluency (speed and recognition) is enhanced by comprehension.
Making sure that your child understands each sentence is incredibly important to meeting your overall goal here.
As a general guideline, I re-read any page where my child struggled with more than 30% of the words. This is a loose recommendation and after you start doing this, you’ll likely develop your own sense for how often you’ll need to supplement for comprehension this way.
Also, if you’re working with a particularly long or difficult text, you may want to do this at the paragraph or sentence level.
Now let me be clear, you aren’t re-reading for correction purposes. You are re-reading for emphasis and understanding.
Be sure to give an encouraging word (i.e. Perfect!) and then do a quick re-read of the sentence or paragraph with a little flare. Make it sound as if you just wanted to hear that one again.
#6 – Read Them a Cliff-Hanger
I did my student teaching with an AMAZING 2nd-grade teacher who knew how to get her students engaged. In my first week in her class, she was reading the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to her second graders.
I remember thinking that it was an odd choice. She had exactly 15 minutes per day to do a read-aloud. Why would she choose a book that was going to take weeks to complete?
But as the days wore on, I started to see the logic in her choice. Every day, the kids would sit around in class discussing the book. Some of them were sure they knew what was coming next because they had seen the movie. Others said, “Sometimes, movies are different from books.”
Either way, these kids were dying to hear the next chapter. They needed to know what happened next and when it came time for read-aloud, they anxiously grabbed their pillow and plopped down in the reading circle for storytime.
This strategy combines the concept of building a phrase library and making predictions. It allows students to hear fluent reading, but at a controlled pace, which ultimately forces them to consider what happens next.
So What’s the Big Idea?
Reading comprehension is a complex topic that people have researched for decades. But rather than getting lost in all of the different “methods” and “techniques” out there, I would encourage you to keep one thing in mind.
The most important element in reading comprehension is how invested your child is in the process. If you focus your energy on making sure your child enjoys reading and get something meaningful out of each encounter, you’ll find that in time comprehension and fluency come more naturally.