Top Tips for Teaching Reading Comprehension

Teach the Concepts of Comprehension and build reading skills every time your class uses Weekly Reader!

Top Tips for Teaching Reading Comprehension | Weekly Reader: Curriculum-Rich Resources for Teachers

Teach the Concepts of Comprehension© and build reading skills every time your class uses Weekly Reader!

Ariel Skelly for Weekly Reader

The Concept of Comprehension is a framework of 21 Concepts developed by the not-for-profit educational organization Urban Education Exchange (UEE). The Concepts were developed to help educators teach reading comprehension skills explicitly, simply, and clearly. Research shows that doing so will improve reading comprehension.*

“As I observe skillful teachers work, it occurs to me that … direct instruction even takes on an interactive quality, involving teacher demonstrations, modeling, and rehearsing with what students will eventually be expected to do independently.” — Dorothy Strickland

Visit this page regularly. We plan to feature new teaching tips each month. We hope you find these tips helpful. Let us know your favorites, and please send us your own teaching tips. We’d love to include them on our page.

Explicit Information  |  Drawing Conclusions  |  Vocabulary in Context  |  Figurative Language  |  Genre  |  Sequence  |  Character  |  Setting  |  Plot Cause & Effect  |  Predicting  |  Main Idea  |  Text Features  |  Classify & Categorize  |  Fact & Opinion  |  Compare & Contrast  |  Pronoun Reference  |  Point of View  |  Voice  |  Author's Purpose  |  Theme

How do you teach each Concept of Comprehension so that your students get it? Here is a list of Concepts, definitions, and tips for making the Concepts clear and comprehensible:

Explicit Information is information that can be clearly found “right there” in the text. Explicit information questions enable you to assess students’ reading comprehension. After reading a story, ask students to answer questions based on information that can be found in the text. Invite them to look back to the text for the answers. Ask: Where can you find that answer in the story? Have students tell you (or highlight or point out) where they found the answer.

Genre is a type of text, such as fiction or nonfiction. Explain that stories can be fiction 
(make-believe) or nonfiction (real). Fiction stories are not true. The author made up those stories. Nonfiction stories are true. The author is giving us information. Ask: If the title of a book is How Does a Chick Grow? would it most likely be fiction or nonfiction? If the title of a book is A Little Chick That Learned How to Read, would it be fiction or nonfiction? Read a fiction and a nonfiction story. Ask: Which story was fiction? Which story was nonfiction? How do you know?

Predicting is deciding what will most likely happen next in what you are reading. Before reading a story, ask students to read the title. Ask them to predict what the story will be about. As you read the story aloud, stop at various sections and ask students to predict what will happen next. Ask: What do you think will happen next? What makes you think that? Continue reading, and discuss which predictions were correct.

Setting tells you where and when a story takes place. Read aloud a familiar book, and point to one of the pictures. Invite children to describe what they see when they look at the picture. Ask guiding questions, such as: What time of year is it? What time of day? How do you know? Where do you think the child or animal is?

Sequence is the order of events or steps in a text. As you read a story aloud, encourage students to think about the parts, or steps, in the story. Explain that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Point out that numbers sometimes appear in a story to let you know the order of the steps in the story (how an apple grows, how a frog grows). Read a story, and review its sequence. Use a sequence chart or graphic organizer, if needed. Ask: How do you know what happened first? What happened last?

Main idea is the big idea in a text. It tells you what the text is mostly about. After reading a passage, explain that the main idea can sometimes be found in the title or in the first or last sentence. Ask students to look for words that are repeated in a story. Invite them to write a summary sentence of no more than 15 words. Guide students by using a word web or ladder graphic organizer. If needed, write three or four sentences and ask students to identify which one is the main idea. For extra practice, select a cartoon from your local newspaper and ask students to identify the main idea.

Drawing Conclusions is when you figure out what a text means by using what you already know and information from the text. Point to a photo or an illustration of a wild animal in a book-for example, a scorpion. Guide students to look closely at the animal and its environment. Ask: In which kind of habitat, or home, might the animal live? What other animals might you find in that habitat?

Character refers to the looks, traits, thoughts, actions, and relationships of a person or an animal in a text. After reading a story, ask students to describe the actions and physical appearance of a person or an animal in a text. Then guide them in a more challenging discussion. Ask them to describe the personality traits of a person or an animal in a text. Explain that what a character does and how a character acts in a story helps you identify his or her traits. Provide some examples of traits, such as brave, shy, friendly, and creative.

Comparing is noticing how two or more things are alike. Contrasting is noticing how they are different. When asking students to compare two things, it may be helpful for them to focus first on similarities and then on differences. Design a graphic organizer with three boxes, one across the top of the page and two on the bottom. In the top box, write Similarities, Both, or Same. In the two boxes below, write each topic. Guide students in filling in things that are the same in the top box.  Then help them write the differences in each of the bottom boxes.

Vocabulary in Context means figuring out the meaning of a word by looking at the words and sentences around it. Invite students to preview the text. Ask them to look at specific words that you selected beforehand. Guide students in figuring out the meanings of the words using the words and sentences around them. Have students write sentences using those words.

Figurative Language refers to words that mean something other than what they say. Explain that authors use different expressions to help readers understand a story. Use this example to demonstrate figurative language: The roller coaster had finally opened. It was going to be a blast. What does the author mean by the words "a blast"? Explain that authors also compare two things. The words like or as may be a clue. (The roller coaster was as high as a skyscraper. The car was like an oven. The sky turned as black as coal.) Guide students in writing one or two sentences that use figurative language.

Plot is the events that make up the main story of a text. Ask a student to tell about something interesting that he or she did over the weekend. On an easel pad, write down each event as he or she speaks. Ask the class to discuss the different events that made up the plot of the story. Invite each student to write the events of what he or she did over the weekend.

Cause is the reason why something happens. Effect is what happens as a result. Give students examples of everyday causes, and have them brainstorm possible effects. For example, Cause: My alarm did not go off this morning. Possible effects: I overslept. I was late for school. Cause: I forgot to tie my shoes. Possible effects: My laces got dirty. I tripped. I hurt my knee. 

Text Features are words and pictures that help organize and highlight information. Examples include headlines, photographs, and captions. Invite students to preview a passage or story. Ask them to focus on the headlines, photos, and other features on the page. Explain that those features help readers understand the text. Point to one of the photos in the story. Ask: How does the photo help you understand the text? Point to the headline. Ask: How does the headline help you understand the text?

Categorize is when you gather together information that is the same or almost the same. Classify is when you give that information a name. Cut out various shapes from different colored pieces of construction paper. Invite students to work together in small groups to sort the shapes.  After they have sorted the pieces by shape, ask them whether there are any other ways to sort the pieces. They may notice they can also sort by color. You may choose to make the shapes different sizes, which will add another layer to this activity. For upper grades, extend the challenge. Guide students in categorizing and classifying photos, words, or story titles.

Fact is information that someone can prove true or false. Opinion is what someone believes about a subject. Write the following sentences on an easel pad: We played soccer all afternoon. Exercise is fun. Wearing a bike helmet is very important. Healthy food is delicious. Julian ate an apple. Explain that some are facts and some are opinions. Guide students in identifying which sentences are facts and which are opinions. 

Pronoun Reference means connecting the pronouns in a sentence to the nouns to which they refer. Make or purchase felt-board pieces for each of the characters in a well-known fairy tale. Display the felt board as you read or tell the fairy tale aloud. Stop when you come to a pronoun. Invite children to point to the felt-board piece to which that pronoun is referring.

Point of View is the viewpoint from which a story is told to the reader. A story can be told in the first person. That means the narrator is a character in the story. Sentences written in the first person use pronouns such as I, me, my, and we. Stories can also be told in the third person. In those cases, the narrator is not a character in the story. Sentences written in the third person use pronouns such as he, she, and they. Choose two stories—one written in the first person and one written in the third person. Have students identify the point of view of each.

Voice is how an author expresses his or her personality or attitude through language. A writer’s voice can be silly, angry, amused, or sad, for example. Punctuation marks are clues about the writer’s voice. Ask: What feelings do exclamation points show? (strong emotion, a command, surprise) Ask students to find examples in the text. Have them describe the voice of each example. 

Author’s Purpose is the reason why an author has written a text for readers. Guide students in understanding why an author wrote something. Ask: Did the author give us information? (to inform) Did the author give an opinion? (to persuade or convince) Did the author make us laugh? (to entertain) On an easel pad, write the following sentences: Everyone should have a dog. Dogs are great pets. / Service dogs are trained to help people. Some service dogs help guide people who cannot see. / When Jen walked in the door, her dog jumped so high it did a somersault! That dog is talented!  Ask students to identify the author’s purpose for each pair of sentences.

Theme is the message that an author is trying to share with the reader. The message often includes universal values dealing with life, society, or human nature. (For example, treat others the way you would like to be treated, plan ahead, help your community.) After reading a story, explain to students that the story has a theme, and give them the definition above. Provide students with three choices of possible themes, and have them choose the best one. Ask each student to support his or her choice with evidence from the story.

*RAND Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for Understanding Toward an R & D Program in Reading Comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: Snow.

* Pardo, L. S. (2004). What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 58 (3), 272-280.

Concepts of Comprehension is a trademark of Urban Education Exchange. Used by permission.

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