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How to Teach Reading Comprehension

Whether your child is in elementary school or high school, reading comprehension requires several basic skills:

Reading with Focus

Think about the difference between hearing and listening. This is very similar to the difference between reading and reading with focus. People at any age can read without focus. How often have you read a paragraph and then wondered, what did I just read?

A good listener is someone who can repeat, with new words, what the speaker just said. A focused reader is the same. If you child struggles with reading comprehension, have your child read aloud and then rephrase what was just read. Slowly, over time, have your child read longer and longer passages to build focus. Always have your child rephrase what was read. This builds the habit of focused reading. You can also have your child read silently and then ask your child several questions.

Overall, if you need to improve reading comprehension skills, find out how many sentences (or paragraphs) your child can read with focus. Once you know, you can slowly increase that amount.

Having a Good Vocabulary

This seems obvious, yet vocabulary is often given less time than it deserves by both students and instructors. The ability to fill in a blank with a vocabulary word is, in itself, reading comprehension. The child has to think about the sentence and look for cues in order to choose the correct vocabulary word.

Also, it's common for kids to assume they know a word's meaning from context. Over time, this can build up in a negative way. Before long, a child is reading and feeling very unsure of what message is being delivered. If there are ten words in a paragraph that are not understood, a lot of kids will pretend to know them rather than do the work of looking up each one. It's much easier, all around, to make vocabulary-building a constant process from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

Knowing Fact from Opinion (for younger readers)

This can be tricky!  Isn't the Grand Canyon beautiful? That seems like a fact. Isn't baseball great? To a baseball player, that's a fact.

Learning the difference between fact and opinion helps children understand the difference between common knowledge and individual perspectives. Remember, this can be subtle. Both facts and opinions can change. Facts change when new evidence or information arrives which alter the accepted idea. Opinions change from one person to another.

If your child struggles with this area, teach the difference between how facts change and how opinions change. Model your thinking process as you and your child read fact vs. opinion questions together. Aloud, say, "well, this sentence is about something that happened 20 years ago--so that seems to be a fact. But wait, this idea about how great it was--this could be an opinion because somebody else might not think it was great ... I bet your grandmother wouldn't think that was great ..." Then also encourage your child to think out loud. Sometimes (but not all the time), you can insert a few words to steer your child in the right direction.

Understanding Inference (for advancing readers)

Inference is the next level up from opinion, but it's far more subtle. It's a crucial part of critical thinking which is so necessary in higher education. For inference, you can teach your child to "read between the lines." What is being said, though not in a straightforward way? What can you interpret based on the reading? You can encourage your child to practice inference questions with reminders that we have to infer what people mean all the time: friends, relatives, teachers, news reporters and so on. You can apply it to everyday life, i.e. "so what do you think that sales person really meant?"

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