Reading comprehension is grasping and interpreting
text meaning. While reading entails a hierarchy of skills, comprehension
is the ultimate objective. Readers do not understand text if they cannot
read words fluently. The cognitive capacity of humans is limited. If students
must allocate excessive thought to word analysis, little is left for comprehension.
Thus, the first step toward developing comprehension skills is to teach
students to decode well. Additionally, fluency and comprehension are improved
when students have extensive vocabularies or if they receive direct vocabulary
instruction for the words in the selection prior to reading.
Research in cognitive science shows that
meaning is not inherent in text, but is constructed by readers. In order
to comprehend, two equally important competencies are needed. First, readers
must be able to decode the words. Next, the readers must comprehend the
spoken language that the words represent, forming interpretations and
inferences. Skilled readers take meaning analysis to an even higher level
with metacognition, or the thinking about and controlling of the reading
Due to the role of reader cognition in comprehension,
linking new information to prior knowledge and experiences of students
is vital. Yet, despite the abundant comprehension research findings that
have been amassed in the past 25 years, little has changed in how comprehension
is approached in most classrooms. Studies document that instruction is
generally text driven, with teachers posing fact-check questions to students
after selections are read. Also, textbooks are often poorly written, further
setting students up for failure.
All students, even those with solid reading
skills, benefit from being taught tactics for improving comprehension.
Cognitive strategy instruction prepares students for reading; activates
existing concepts; and helps them to predict, organize, and set goals
for reading. Whenever possible, establish relevance to increase student
Teachers who explain and model the processes
involved in comprehension are vital if these skills are to be imparted.
For this reason, teachers, as well as students, need to be taught text-comprehension
strategies. Instructional programs that teach reading as thinking take
time to develop. Staff members often have to adjust beliefs and refine
new practices. Staff development should provide practical assistance and
mentoring, and the school environment must support experimentation.
In this era of the World Wide Web and other
data sources, there is growing concern that elementary reading curriculum
has been and remains too focused on narrative text. From early ages, students
would benefit from greater exposure to expository text. With training,
students can begin to judge the value of the information that they are
being bombarded with.
Students today are far more aware of global
information due to instant communication and abundant media sources. As
a result of this widespread exposure to varied viewpoints, cultural theorists
are promoting awareness that any text might have a variety of valid interpretations
due to inherent cultural differences of readers. These changing demands
dictate that comprehension strategies be taught early, thoroughly, and
At the most elemental level, reading involves
a literal interpretation of an author's words. Since readers construct
meaning using their prior knowledge, even literal comprehension varies
from one reader to another. Still, students must have a strong foundation
in these fundamental comprehension skills before they can shift focus
to critical reading. For this reason, it is valuable to incorporate materials
into instructional programs that build the following skills while affording
students with reading opportunities.
CONTEXT – Readers use context to predict word meaning
or select missing words. The context may actually define words, relate
words to prior knowledge, or provide information to build concepts.
FACTS – As people read, they must attend to factual details.
Exercises that check whether students acquire the key information from
a selection are worthwhile. Text discussions, however, are often too focused
on facts. Questions should also target inference and analysis, which are
higher-level comprehension skills.
MAIN IDEA – It is important for readers to be able
to identify the main idea of each paragraph since this enables them to
find supporting details. These abilities lead to summary and synthesis
of what has been read.
SEQUENCE – If students grasp the entirety of what
they are reading, they can sequence the events. Manipulatives are an ideal
format for developing this skill.
Step 1 - Plan comprehension
activities that suit program and student needs
Language arts skills are interrelated. For instance, being able to identify
main ideas is equally helpful to readers and writers. Look for ways to
support all aspects of your program while building key reading skills.
Nonfiction reading selections can relate to other subject areas.
2 - Make or use materials that provide opportunities to read and teach
Reading Manipulatives comprehension products build skills and afford meaningful reading activities to students. The nonfiction topics interest students, so they actually enjoy reading the stories and working on the skills. An advantage of manipulatives is that multilevel sets can target the wide ability ranges in a classroom. The levels have a similar appearance, removing the stigma that is often attached to materials used with below-level students.
Step 3 - Incorporate these reading
activities into daily work
Worthwhile materials engage students and free teachers to work with groups and individuals as needed. Students are more successful when they are accountable for choices and progress. Additionally, classroom materials can be structured to improve test-taking skills by familiarizing students common formats used in standardized reading tests, such as cloze sentences and multiple choice.
Reading Manipulatives literal comprehension
Sequencing manipulatives require that students arrange seven sentences
according to order in which the events occurred. Level A includes many
fiction stories and is more suitable for younger students. Level B and
all other Reading Manipulatives comprehension products are based on actual
events or people.
Multiple literal comprehension skills are
targeted in the Paragraph
Sequencing stories. First, students must read and sequence the paragraphs.
Next, they must match the main idea to each paragraph.
Literal Comprehension Tips
The ultimate goal of reading is to comprehend, or glean meaning from text.
Once students become proficient decoders, they begin to focus on assessing
what the text says. They construct meaning by reading for facts and identifying
main ideas. As readers become more skilled, they begin to evaluate text.
They judge the quality, worth, accuracy, and reliability of what is being
read. Among the evaluation strategies are:
• identifying the theme or author’s purpose
• judging author’s tone
• using prior knowledge to comprehend and validate
• becoming aware of the author’s point of view
• recognizing persuasive elements employed by the author
• distinguishing fact from opinion
Particularly in nonfiction text, critical readers recognize that a selection
is one individual’s version of the subject matter. Readers need
to go beyond basic comprehension of text to evaluating and questioning
the information presented. In other words, readers must actively analyze
what is being read so they can assess meaning.
Program obstacles to critical reading
and/or teachers often present stumbling blocks to the goal of developing
critical readers. For starters, text discussions following reading sessions
are often too mired in literal comprehension questions. Teachers must
make a conscious effort to lead students toward dialogue that includes
application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Comprehension obstacles often result if a single textbook is utilized
for a subject. This creates a halo effect on the contents, portraying
them as factual, when in fact they reflect the perspective of the author(s).
If students are taught assessment techniques and encouraged to approach
reading critically, then the hazard of a single text is lessened. To further
demonstrate that all texts are subject to interpretation, teachers can
and should have students read selections that offer contrasting viewpoints
on subject matter.
Another issue in schools is the tendency to avoid controversial subjects
while advocating conformity. With the pressures that are coming down on
teachers from all sides, this problem is likely being exacerbated. Administrative
policies and fear of backlash or litigation, not to mention the requirements
just to get expected material covered, do not create environments that
encourage critical evaluation of text and beliefs.
Finally, all teachers bring their own prejudices and emotions into their
classrooms. Educators are products of their upbringings and experiences,
just as students are. To create a classroom atmosphere conducive to critical
thinking and reading, teachers must analyze their own beliefs and opinions
and encourage their students to do the same.
In the Reading Manipulatives True/False/Opinion
Sorts product, students read a story and then sort ten statements
related to the topic as either true, false, or opinion. This sorting activity
ingeniously builds both literal and critical comprehension skills because
on the back of each card is a reference to story facts or an explanation
of what type of opinion is being expressed. Explanations help students
to develop better evaluation strategies. Students learn various types
of opinions and how to distinguish their use in context.
In expressions of figurative language, meaning cannot be derived from
the conjoined meanings of the words. Rather, meaning is conveyed by suggesting
that something is like something else. Therefore, the expression must
be comprehended metaphorically. For instance, when someone says, “It’s
raining cats and dogs,” it has nothing to do with cats and dogs.
This idiom dating back to 17th century England means that it is raining
hard. The reader must use context or prior knowledge to infer what the
expression actually means.
The following are various types of figurative language:
IDIOM – A saying that carries meaning based on
its use in the language
My dad blew his stack when I broke the window.
SIMILE – A comparison of two objects linked by
the words “like” or “as”
Grandmother’s face turned white as snow when she heard the news.
METAPHOR – A comparison or analogy that does not
contain “like” or “as”
Our teacher has a mountain of papers on her desk.
PERSONIFICATION – Endowing inanimate objects or
ideas with life-like qualities
The wind roaring through the trees kept me awake.
HYPERBOLE – A gross exaggeration
The eerie noises in the haunted house scared the children to death.
SYNECDOCHE – A less inclusive word is used for
a more inclusive word or visa versa
Mary wouldn’t hurt a fly, so she couldn’t have done it. (anything)
Every language has its own unique figurative language usages. In this
fast-paced, media-dominated age, many communication skills, including
familiarity with figurative language, are waning. The high number and
frequency of use of idioms should make them an important component of
comprehension and language acquisition. Idioms often confuse native speakers,
and they are especially challenging for second-language students.
Teach idiomatic expressions
and model appropriate usage
instruction is necessary to assure that students develop familiarity with
commonly used idioms. Repeated and correct exposure to idioms can build
understanding and give students confidence to use the idioms themselves.
Instruction is more effective if idioms are grouped according to metaphorical
themes (i.e., colors: redneck, yellow belly, green with envy, blackball)
or usage (nouns, verbs, adjectives).
Match-Ups expose students to 180 idioms in the 18 sets. Each set has
10 sentences with a word or words underlined. Students use contextual
clues to decide which idiom can be substituted, then match the pairs.
The origin of each idiom is on the back of the idiom card. Finding out
how these colorful sayings became part of the English vernacular is interesting
and should aid comprehension.
This issue gives fun ways to share these colorful expressions. It includes a resource list containing 50 well-known idioms, along with their meanings and origins.
Idioms Resource List