Why Methods for Teaching Comprehension Strategies Change Throughout Grade Levels

May 12, 2023

Teaching Comprehension Strategies

Reading fluency and reading comprehension impact reading proficiency. While children could decode words easily, if they lack the ability to read between the lines, summarize the text or even make predictions, they might not be reading proficiently.

Phonics lessons can provide children with the fundamental skills for decoding and help children start the path to reading fluently. However, teaching comprehension strategies helps children build their analytical skills and helps them to learn to think about what they read. The methods for teaching comprehension strategies change throughout grade levels.

To read proficiently, children need to decode the word and understand the meaning of the word; each word becomes a part of a sentence, which is part of paragraph, and the paragraph is part of a page. Each page is one small piece of the book. Children are expected to grasp the meaning of the word, the sentence, the paragraph, the page and the book.

However, the comprehension abilities and expectations of a first grader are very different than the expectations of a fifth grader. Here’s why comprehension strategies evolve each year and what that means for parents who need to help their child with reading comprehension at home.

What is Reading Comprehension?

When children begin to learn how to read, teachers will focus on phonics lessons and work on helping them learn how to sound out words and decode them. Children in early elementary grades also will be required to memorize a list of sight words; these words are those that need to be identified quickly—on sight—and recognizing them allows children to increase their reading fluency.

As children start to read short and simple books and stories, teachers also need to assess if students understand what they read. Reading comprehension is the ability to understand and analyze the meaning and details of books and stories.

Young readers will be asked about the basic details related to a story; these details are typically denoted by w/h prompts or questions: who, what, where, when, why and how. Children who have a good grasp of these details should be able to summarize and provide a simple explanation for each prompt. When children struggle to apply details to these prompts, it could indicate that the child is lacking the necessary comprehension skills required to read proficiently.

Older children (those in higher elementary grades, middle school and beyond) will be required to answer more detailed questions about the book or story. Reading comprehension expectations will progress beyond the simple w/h questions and begin to focus on abstract concepts like inferring meaning from text, comparing/contrasting characters, making predictions and more. In high school, students will analyze books and stories at a deeper level; they may apply the metaphors of a story to modern events or analyze the text and compare it to another book or novel.

Reading comprehension ability evolves as children progress in their reading journey. Thus, the methods for teaching reading comprehension strategies must evolve with these increasing expectations. Use these grade-level strategies to help students master the comprehension expectations at their level.

Kindergarten through Second Grade

Young elementary readers might not be required to delve too deep into a book or story. Instead, teachers might encourage them to focus on the w/h questions and provide details about each of the prompts. How can parents help younger children who are struggling to answer the basic questions when they read?

Chunk the Text

Chunking the text is a great reading strategy that can help struggling readers feel less overwhelmed. To chunk stories, use a piece of opaque paper or a file folder to cover up the majority of a book page; leave only a small paragraph or section uncovered. The site Ms.JordanReads also shows that a file folder can be cut into three sections (see the site for a photo) to create flaps that can be opened for children to view other sections on the page.

The uncovered section is the ‘chunked’ text that requires the child’s attention. Encourage them to read this section. Then ask them to identify the basic details about this text. If children struggle to summarize the text and identify the basic information, encourage them to re-read it. Then discuss the section.

Move through the book by chunking a section at a time. Ask questions and encourage children to apply the w/h questions. At the end of the book, ask the child to summarize what happened. Again, focus on those key w/h questions.

Listen to the Story

Some children improve their comprehension by listening to a story. Auditory learners learn best through hearing; this could be why some children might benefit from listening to an audiobook.

If a child has difficulty summarizing details of the book, encourage them to listen to the book or story as they follow along. After they finish listening to the book, ask them to summarize the details. Again, focus on the w/h questions.

Use Visual Cues

Visual cues can help children remember what they need to think about as they read. Teachers might instruct students to create a graphic organizer for a book or story. These worksheets require the child to write details about the book using specific prompts; graphic organizers might focus on a specific literary element like theme, characters, etc.

Younger readers might find that creating a reading comprehension bookmark is a more beneficial visual cue to use at home. These bookmarks include prompts (like the standard w/h questions) and help children remember what they need to think about as they read. Children can create their own reading comprehension bookmark or parents can print one online for free.

Teaching Comprehension Strategies

Reading Comprehension Strategies for Older Children

As children move into the upper elementary grades, comprehension evolves from focusing on a more basic and general understanding of a book or story to requiring children to think deeper about what they read. In higher grade levels, children will need to make predictions and infer meaning from text.

Reading comprehension becomes more abstract, and children learn that a story isn’t just about what is printed on the page but what lies between those lines, too. When comprehension moves into a more abstract concept, some children might begin to struggle. Parents can help children at home using these strategies.

Teach Re-Reading

Sometimes it’s necessary to reread a section or an entire chapter of a book to fully understand it. Rereading can help students catch details they missed or better analyze the characters and their actions. The first time a child reads a section, encourage them to take notes about what they read. These notes can include questions the child might have about the character. The second time the child reads the section, they might try to answer these questions or even make predictions.

Encourage Note Taking

Sticky notes can be a great way for children of all ages to keep track of details as they read. Sticky notes can be color-coded for each chapter. As the child reads, they can write down important details about the plot or character. These notes also could help them think deeper about the story or book.  

Listen to the Book

Older students can benefit from listening to a book, especially if they are auditory learners. Encourage them to follow along as they listen; children might take notes, too.

Teaching Comprehension Strategies

A Child Might Struggle with Comprehension for This Simple Reason

Parents who are concerned that their child is struggling with understanding a book or a story might focus on one major detail about that book: the reading level. Children could struggle to understand a book because it might be at a reading level beyond their ability.

Always make sure that a child is reading books that are at the appropriate reading level. While the child’s friend could be reading more difficult books, reading isn’t a competition. Children won’t become more proficient if they are reading a book that is too difficult. Check the reading level and always help children find books that are the best level for their ability. Parents who are unsure about their child’s reading level can use Readability’s free reading level assessment to determine their child’s most appropriate reading level.