What are Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies?

Reading strategies and reading units are quite different. 

Often times the teaching of reading strategies gets lost in the mix of teaching reading units. While teaching reading units such as themes in literature and understanding character development are important, I have found that teaching students how to apply reading comprehension strategies is critical in helping them grow as independent and self-monitoring readers.

While reading strategy instruction can be overwhelming at first to plan and implement, it is important to teach reading strategies explicitly. This allows students to be exposed to multiple techniques to help themselves as readers and truly comprehend the text at hand. When students apply a variety of reading strategies as they read, it helps them become active readers. This is important because active reading keeps students be alert as they read. When students are active readers, alert, and applying multiple strategies as they read they are able to understand the text at a deeper level. By teaching reading strategies with explicit instruction, students are able to:

  • see a given reading strategy in action multiple times
  • learn how to apply it to their own independent reading
  • have the opportunity to practice the strategy in isolation
  • build their reading strategy repertoire 
  • learn how to apply more than one reading strategy when reading complex texts

I truly believe in the power of teaching reading strategies explicitly and am often asked many questions about reading comprehension strategies instruction in my classroom. I have compiled the questions I am most frequently asked to help you make decisions about how you want to approach the teaching of reading strategies in your upper elementary classroom.

how to teach Reading Comprehension Strategies

What are effective reading comprehension strategies?

Reading comprehension strategies help readers make sense of the material that they are reading. Proficient readers use multiple strategies as they read to make the most of the text. The most frequently used reading strategies upper elementary students utilize as they read are:

  1. Activate Background Knowledge
  2. Predict
  3. Visualize
  4. Monitor and Clarify {including use of context clues}
  5. Question
  6. Infer
  7. Summarize

What is the difference between reading strategies and reading units?

There is a big difference between reading strategies and reading units, both are important in the upper elementary reading classroom. Reading strategies are the techniques that readers use to understand the books that they are reading within different reading units. Reading units are focused units of study around a given reading topic or genre such as character understanding or learning about mysteries. To understand how reading strategies and reading units are connected, let's use a unit on character understanding. Within the reading unit of character understanding, readers will use all of the reading strategies previously taught to help them better understand the characters they meet. For example, they will predict what the character will do, visualize a character in action, infer how a character might be feeling, and question why a character did something. Without explicit instruction on how to use each of these reading strategies, students will not be able to dive deep in character understanding. We can NOT expect that students understand what it means to predict or infer, it must be modeled and taught.

Is there a specific order that you teach reading strategies?

upper elementary reading strategies lessonsYes!! Since reading strategies build upon each other, it makes sense to teach reading strategies in the order that allows students to build upon each other and begin to practice using multiple reading strategies at once. Here is the order that I teach reading strategies: activate prior knowledge, predict, visualize, question, summarizeinfer, and monitor and clarify. When I teach a new reading strategy I always use previously read books. This is a must in my classroom! By using books that students have already heard before, they can focus on applying the newly learned strategy instead of focusing on comprehending the book. The exception to this is when teaching predicting.  Students should practice making predictions with newly read material.

How do you come up with reading strategy mini lesson ideas?

The focus is always on how good readers use the reading strategies above as they read independently. The reading strategy mini lesson objectives that I use always begin with an introduction of each strategy where modeling takes place to allow students to see that reading strategy in action. Students describe what I am doing as a reader, and then we discuss what the strategy is, how it helps students as readers, and how they can put it into action independently. (Grab free strategy mini lesson ideas at the bottom of this post.) Once you introduce each reading strategy allow students time to try them out. Observe and confer with students so that you can teach any additional mini-lessons based on the needs of your students. Do not spend more than a few days teaching each reading strategy. Students will be able to have additional practice trying out each of the reading strategies as they learn new strategies and while you are knee deep in teaching reading units. (Grab free strategy mini lesson ideas at the bottom of this post.)

How do you differentiate reading strategy instruction?

What are Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies?
There are many ways to differentiate reading strategy instruction, the most effective is to make sure that students are reading books that are just right for them! This will ensure that students are able to practice the reading strategies appropriately instead of being hung up on comprehending a book too difficult or not being able to apply higher level comprehension strategies to a book that is too easy. Although I strive to have students practice reading strategy work in their own independent reading, sometimes it is necessary to provide students with a short text to practice the strategy. This is when I use task cards. It allows me to differentiate and work with each student individually, practice the strategy a few times, and then send them off to their independent reading book. I also differentiate reading strategy instruction by using a variety of graphic organizers that allow me to scaffold as needed to support students. Some students may be ready for open ended organizers right after instruction while some would benefit from a structured frame to help them organize their thoughts. By constantly assessing students, both formally and informally, I am able to differentiate reading strategy instruction for each student.

What are Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies?

Reading strategy instruction is a must for every upper elementary reading classroom. It builds student independence, encourages self monitoring while reading, and promotes critical thinking of the texts students are reading. The work that you do teaching students how to apply reading strategies will help students grow as readers as they dive deep into the reading units that you are going to teach later on in the year. Lay the groundwork now and watch them succeed all year long!

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