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Strategies for Teaching Reading Comprehension

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Modified on September 28, 2023

As shared by the APM Research Lab, “About 130 million adults in the U.S. have low literacy skills according to a Gallup analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education. This means more than half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 (54%) read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level.” This means that at some point, somewhere, literacy instruction seemingly failed. Statistics like this put the importance of reading skills—like reading comprehension—at the forefront of early childhood education. Without good reading comprehension skills at a young age, more adults may continue to struggle with literacy skills in their everyday lives. 

Reading comprehension is a vital aspect of teaching reading. A student’s ability to understand and interpret the meaning of written text is essential for academic success as well as personal and professional development. However, many students struggle with reading comprehension, and it can be challenging for educators to effectively teach this skill. The combination of the challenges of both teaching and learning reading comprehension has the potential to create a cycle of below-proficiency readers. 

Using a variety of reading strategies can help educators successfully teach comprehension to students who may be struggling. For example, there is research that supports the role of explicit instruction, modeling, guided and independent practice, graphic organizers, vocabulary instruction, close reading, discussion and collaboration, text-based questions, and differentiated instruction in developing reading comprehension skills. Through a combination of these approaches, educators can help students become more proficient and confident readers.

What Is Reading Comprehension?

Reading comprehension refers to the ability to understand and interpret the meaning of written text. It involves not only being able to decode words and sentences but also being able to understand and retain the information and ideas presented in the text. Reading comprehension skills involve multiple elements, including the ability to make connections between the text and one’s prior knowledge, to identify the main ideas and supporting details and to infer and interpret the meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases. Therefore, reading comprehension instruction must involve all of these. 

Reading fluency, on the other hand, refers to the ability to read text smoothly and quickly. While fluency is an important aspect of reading, it is not the same as comprehension. It is possible to read text fluently without fully understanding it, and this can lead to difficulties in comprehending more complex texts in the future.

It is important to assess both fluency and comprehension to ensure early readers have a solid foundation in reading skills. According to the article “Reading Comprehension Research: Implications for Practice and Policy,” the research argued, “An early and sustained focus on developing background knowledge, vocabulary, inference, and comprehension monitoring skills across development will be necessary to improve comprehension.” 

Why Is Reading Comprehension Important?

Reading comprehension is a crucial reading skill for a number of reasons. We are constantly surrounded by written words in our daily lives, whether it’s in the form of books, newspapers, websites, or social media. Without the ability to comprehend written text, it would be difficult to understand and learn from these sources of information.

Reading comprehension is also important for academic success. In school, students are expected to read and understand a range of texts, from literature to science to history. Without strong reading comprehension skills, students may struggle to keep up with their coursework and may have difficulty achieving their academic goals. Additionally, reading comprehension is important in one’s personal and professional life. Being able to comprehend written text allows a person to better understand and engage with the world around them, whether it’s through following directions, understanding news articles, or reading emails at work.

As students move from understanding picture books in the early years to comprehending more complex texts in high school, students are learning how to make sense of the world around them. When students learn reading comprehension in a literature setting, they are learning evaluative and inferential strategies they are then able to apply in other content areas. The English language is everywhere, and reading comprehension skills do not just end with an independent reading assignment for a class. 

Why Do Young Readers Struggle with Reading Comprehension?

There are a variety of reasons why a student may struggle with reading comprehension. These issues can stem from behavioral, cognitive, or genetic factors. Behavioral issues, such as a lack of motivation or attention, can hinder a student’s ability to comprehend text. Cognitive issues, such as difficulty processing and storing information, can also impact reading comprehension.

Certain learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can also affect reading comprehension. Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder that affects the ability to read, write, and spell, while ADHD is a neurological disorder that affects attention and impulse control. Both of these conditions can make it more challenging for students to process and retain information from written texts. 

It’s important to note that reading comprehension is closely tied to the other essential components of reading, such as phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and fluency. A student who struggles with one of these components may also struggle with comprehension. For example, a student who has difficulty decoding words may have a hard time understanding the meaning of a text, even if they are able to read it fluently. It’s important to identify the specific factors that may be causing a student to struggle with reading comprehension and to provide targeted instruction and interventions to address these issues.

10 Reading Comprehension Strategies

There are a lot of different reading comprehension strategies to choose from, as well as some general practices that many educators implement into their routine classroom instruction. When teachers are making their lesson plans, they will usually include a variety of activities that incorporate different skills and strategies as well. From small groups to whole-class activities, many of these strategies involve activating prior knowledge, synthesizing new information, and asking comprehension questions along the way. Using these types of pre-reading, mid-reading, and post-reading activities can help show students that reading comprehension is a complex and involved thought process. 

There are different overall instructional approaches one can take for teaching reading comprehension, including a text-driven instructional approach versus a strategy approach. Both text-driven and strategy approaches have their own advantages and disadvantages. A text-driven approach can be especially effective for helping students understand specific texts, but it may not be as effective at teaching students transferable skills that they can use with other texts. A strategy approach, on the other hand, can be more effective at teaching transferable skills, but it may not provide as much context-specific guidance for understanding individual texts.

It is generally recommended to use a combination of both approaches in reading instruction, as this can provide students with a more well-rounded and flexible set of comprehension skills.

Explicit Instruction

This involves directly teaching students strategies and skills for comprehending text, such as asking questions, making connections, and summarizing. Research continues to show a combination of explicit instruction of skills and opportunity to practice those skills yields the best results for learning.


Demonstrating how to use comprehension strategies while reading aloud can help students learn how to apply these strategies themselves. The read-aloud method is one that has been used before explicit instruction and formal education was around, taking place in homes as parents read to their children. 

Modeling can be especially useful for visual learners, as it allows students to see the strategies being used in action. This can make it easier for students to understand and remember how to use the strategies on their own. 

Also, modeling can be a low-stress way for students to practice comprehension strategies. By observing the teacher model the strategies, students can feel more confident and less anxious about trying them on their own.

Guided Practice

Providing students with support and guidance as they practice using comprehension strategies can help them develop these skills more effectively. This is often referred to as scaffolding, where the teacher may break up reading into smaller chunks and provide students with tools to help with understanding along the way. Some of these tools may include worksheets, context clues, or other printable aids students can reference while they read. 

Additionally, guided practice allows the teacher to observe and provide feedback to students as they practice the strategies. This can help students identify and correct any mistakes they may be making and ensure they are using the strategies effectively. It also allows students to receive immediate feedback and support from the teacher, which can help them learn and improve more quickly.

Independent Practice

Giving students opportunities to apply comprehension strategies on their own helps them become more proficient readers. A common example of this is the “I do, we do, you do” method. First, the teacher models the skill, then students practice the skill in a group activity, and then they attempt the skill on their own. Independent reading is a goal of reading achievement.

Graphic Organizers

Using visual aids, such as charts and diagrams, can help students organize and make sense of the information in a text. Different graphic organizers focus on different skills, such as a flow chart for cause and effect, a KWL chart for activating background knowledge, or a plot mountain for retelling. 

Vocabulary Instruction

Building a strong vocabulary is an important part of reading comprehension. Providing explicit instruction on new and challenging words can help students better understand texts. Give students a list of new vocabulary words to learn, but also let them make a list of their own words they don’t recognize as they read. This can foster independent learning that can help in other content areas. 

Close Reading

Engaging students in repeated, in-depth analysis of a single text can help them develop deeper comprehension skills. Close reading often involves rereading a text up to three times, each time focusing on different skills. The first round is for general understanding and main ideas. The second round is for new ideas or words, purpose, and perspective. Lastly, the third round is for deeper analysis and connections.

Text-Based Questions

Asking students questions about the text that go beyond basic recall can help them think critically and engage more deeply with the material. Moving from questions that start with “what” to questions that start with “why” can help students transition from visualizing the story to making inferences about the text.

Discussion and Collaboration

Encouraging students to discuss and collaborate with their peers as they read can help them better understand and process the material. Discussion and collaboration can be valuable in developing reading comprehension skills for a number of reasons. Discussing and collaborating with peers allows students to engage with the text at a deeper level. They can share their thoughts and ideas, ask questions, and clarify any misunderstandings they may have. This can help students further comprehend and process the material, as well as make connections between the text and their own prior knowledge. 

Discussion and collaboration can also help students develop critical thinking skills. By considering different perspectives and engaging in debate and discussion, students are exposed to diverse viewpoints and are challenged to consider and evaluate different ideas. This can help them develop their ability to analyze and interpret texts in a more sophisticated manner. 

Finally, discussion and collaboration can be motivating and engaging for students. By participating in a collaborative setting, students can feel more connected to the material and their peers, which can increase their motivation and enthusiasm for reading.

Differentiated Instruction

Providing students with materials and activities tailored to their individual needs and abilities can help them develop their comprehension skills more effectively. Some students may still be working on basic reading skills, while others are able to read with metacognition


Students practice reading skills every day, whether they realize it or not. Therefore, developing comprehension skills for reading text is important. Voyager Sopris Learning® solutions can help by offering guidance and support in teaching reading comprehension. Our reading-aligned supplemental literacy solutions cover a range of programs and interventions that focus on reading instruction to develop competent readers.