How to Improve Comprehension for Children in Middle School

September 10, 2021

How to Improve Comprehension for Children in Middle School

In some districts, fourth and fifth graders begin to prepare for middle school in sixth grade. Around sixth grade, however, children begin to read more complex books and the grade-level standards of comprehension could require more abstract critical thinking skills. Later elementary years could prepare them for this shift.

In late elementary, students may be assigned certain books for class assignments; they may be expected to write short essays related to content. Some children could struggle with more advanced comprehension expectations. Here’s how to improve comprehension for children in the years leading up to middle school.

In the middle school years and beyond, the basic knowledge of ‘wh’ questions for comprehension might not be enough to demonstrate full understanding of concepts and the book itself. Students may be expected to use quotes to support arguments and dissect text to further analyze character motivation, metaphorical symbolization and even to compare stories to events in the present day.

Older elementary school students, however, will likely dip a literary toe into these types of analyses. A fifth grader, for example, might not be expected to analyze text in the same way as a middle or high school student. Yet, parents might start to see assignments asking children to write about how a character feels and if their choices were correct or not.

Parents might not feel that their child has reached a level that allows them to dig deeper or maybe they notice that their child struggles to look further into the story in a critical sense. Improving comprehension for children as they are about to nearing those middle school years might be a bit of a challenge for parents. However, there are a few ways that parents can help their older child at home.

Reread Text

As stories become more complex with changing character dialogue or sometimes even alternating points of view (from different characters), students could become confused or lost as they read. Rereading a chapter or even flipping back to earlier points of the book could help better students to better understand what they’ve read.

Sometimes stories are complicated; even adults could get confused while reading a book. Rereading can be a great strategy to use throughout grade levels. Students also could be thinking of something else as they read or maybe they are just distracted. Rereading text can help refresh the mind.

Reading and Writing Haven describes a re-reading strategy for middle and high school students to help them with comprehension. The strategy also could be used for fifth graders, too (depending on grade-level expectations). It uses color-coded sticky notes (or colored pens), and students will need to re-read text three times. Each time, they are looking for different information. For example, the first read is about a basic understanding (think ‘wh’ questions). The second read is focused on details about the story or text (or maybe even the chapter). While the third re-read delves into the intricacies; this is all about how the text connects to broader details.

Reading and Writing Haven uses this strategy for four different comprehension areas: summarizing, elements of the story, vocabulary and text structure. Each of these comprehension areas has three different subtexts of questions. The above example is related to summarizing.

Students might not need to use every comprehension area for each book or story. Sometimes assignments focus on summarizing, other times teachers are focused on vocabulary comprehension, etc. Check out the site and the questions related to each comprehension area to help children during assignments.

How to Improve Comprehension

Listen to the Story

For books that are part of classroom assigned reading, teachers might also provide an audio book to children who struggle with reading or reading comprehension. Listening to the story as they follow along in the book may help some children to better understand what they are reading.

Audio books give children insight about characters’ feelings and the action of the book, because the narrator often invokes emotion as they read the story. Children may be able to better clue into anger, frustration or other emotions thanks to the narration of the book.

Thinking about the Story

By the time children are in fifth grade, parents likely won’t be reading aloud to them any longer. Students will read silently, or sometimes during class they may be asked to read aloud. While parents could sit and chat with their child about what they read, parents also might help their children find strategies to think about the story independently.

However, every child is different. Children with learning disorders might still depend on the support and help from parents during reading time. Parents should guide their child’s reading in a way that fits their child’s learning needs.

For children who don’t have special needs or who may just need a little more support with comprehension. There are many tools that parents can provide them that offer support and guidance during independent reading time.

The site Easy Teacher Worksheets offers many comprehension worksheets at all grade levels. There are comprehension worksheets designed specifically for fourth and fifth graders; there are even worksheets to help children when they enter middle school. These worksheets can be used to help students work on their reading comprehension skills and include a reading passage and questions related to the passage.

Even older elementary students might benefit from a reading comprehension bookmark. While these bookmarks for younger students might include comprehension-related questions, these bookmarks are blank for older students. Why? Each bookmark includes space for notes related to the topic at the top of the bookmark; these handy page-keepers were created by The Secondary English Coffee Shop.

Students can focus on writing facts as they read. The bookmarks will keep the notes and act as a visual reminder. When a child fills up the space of the bookmark, they might decide to print another one and take more notes for the next chapter. After they finish the book, they can review their bookmarks filled with notes.

How to Improve Comprehension

Writing Assignments Related to a Book or Story

In late elementary school, teachers might assign reports or writing assignments that focus on a book or reading passage. If children struggle with comprehension, writing these reports or essays could be a struggle. Not all teachers will let a student bring these assignments home.

However, some teachers might allow children to work on writing assignments at home. Parents also might want to ask if they can work with their child on the assignment. Perhaps they can read it over or help their child create an outline. Guiding children could help them better organize their thoughts about what they’ve read.

Again, though, some assignments must be completed without any parent involvement. If there is a question about if a parent can provide assistance, drop an email to the grade-level teacher.

What about Reading Apps and Programs?

Students who are reading below grade level and struggling with benchmark comprehension standards might need more focused help to guide their reading. Are reading apps or programs appropriate for students in late elementary school?

The answer really depends on the program that parents wish to use. Some programs—like Readability—are designed to be used through fifth grade. If a student is reading beyond this grade level, a different type of program might be necessary. However, children who are reading below grade level might use a program like Readability to guide their reading proficiency to a higher grade level.

Reading apps and programs can be beneficial for students struggling with reading comprehension, because they focus on a multimodal approach to reading. With Readability, students read the stories aloud. This helps them hear the story as they are reading it. The program also features a built-in AI tutor that is programmed to understand each user’s unique voice. When students read aloud, the AI tutor will understand when a child is stumbling or when they have mispronounced a word. The tutor will provide assistance when this occurs during a lesson.

The AI tutor also has another function during Readability lessons, though. After the child has finished a story, the tutor will ask questions about what the child read. This is how the program measures comprehension proficiency.

Children do not advance to the next reading level in the program until they have demonstrated mastery of both reading proficiency and reading comprehension. Some children might take longer to progress through to the next level…this is ok. Every child is unique, and some will need more time.

What Reading Program is the Best Choice for a Child in Fourth and Fifth Grade?

If parents want to use a reading program to help their child with reading comprehension, there are many options. Parents might want to zero in on programs that are designed to help their child’s struggles, though.

Some programs are designed to focus on reading proficiency or phonics. Other programs like Readability might focus on both comprehension and reading fluency. There are even programs that are designed to help children that need help with processing skills (this could dovetail on comprehension).

Parents also could decide to meet with their child’s language arts teacher to gain a bit of insight about their child’s unique struggles and to find recommendations on how to help at home. Perhaps the district has resources or programs available that can help.  However, in the latter elementary school years, teachers might not use the same programs that they did in earlier years. Students might focus on individualized reading assignments, instead. There may be less of a focus on computer programs designed for reading or literacy skills. However, it never hurts to reach out to the teacher.

Some programs—including Readability!—offer free trial periods that allow parents and their child to use the program and understand how it works. The trial period also can help parents determine if the program is a good fit for the child and their struggles. Readability provides an entire week of use for free!

Interested in using Readability at home? Sign up today to schedule a free trial.