Table of Contents


Below there are two examples of texts that English-speaking adults can read, as far as sounding out words, but have a difficult time comprehending. The ability to comprehend text is a critical reading skill because only through comprehension can a person understand the author's communication. A lot of reading methods focus on decoding, or the ability to sound out words. This is a good skill, but it must be used in the interest of understanding text and not as an end unto itself. In music, we play scales and etudes as a way of preparing ourselves to play sonatas and concerti. You can think of comprehension as the sonatas and concerti--the real thing--and decoding as a support skill for the real thing.

This page is one of the more encyclopedic in this wiki. Have a look at the Table of Contents and you will see a huge range of activities you can do with students to increase their comprehension of all kinds of texts. As you work with students in your field placements and later as teachers, we hope you will revisit this page as needed in order to provide your students with the support they need to become excellent readers.

Guided Reading

Many of the strategies on this page can be used for "guided reading" which is a framework for reading instruction that was pioneered by Gay Su Pennell and Irene Fountas. (You might do some research exploring their work. It readable and quite good!) Guided reading is done with leveled books, that means the books have ordered and labeled by level of difficulty. Guide reading is done in groups. Guided reading involves a "walk through" prior to reading. Don't let the jargon surrounding any reading program through you for a loop! There are ever so many names and acronynms associated with reading instruction. But effecting instruction will always stress meaning!

Articles for Junior Block on Reading

Reading comprehension is a huge topic. Here are three articles that might be interesting to you. Whatever you pick, you'll learn something!

What is New About New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension?

Becoming a fluent and automatic reader in the early elementary school years

Reading Comprehension

This article is written by one of the major figures in reading research, P. David Pearson.

Discussion Post

Ed 371
Read from the top of this page down to Comprehension Strategies. Look through the strategies to see which appeal to you. How would you use these strategies in your classroom? How could you adapt a couple of these strategies to the teaching of music.

Ed 314/316
What are the implications of what you read for your own practice in teaching reading?

Comprehension Flow Chart

If you are troubleshooting a student's struggles (see Assessment Without Tears for a good troubleshooting process), use this chart to help you cover many possible areas to examine and address during instruction. The chart suggests avenues to explore for helping students take that next step in their reading abilities.

Comprehension vs. Decoding

Two texts that illustrate the importance of comprehension. You can read these texts, but comprehending them is a challenge. They do make sense--they are not random words--however, normal paths to comprehension, particularly of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, don't work.


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

You can decode all these words (sound them out), but can you understand what the poem is about?

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut

Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.

This passage is for you auditory learners. Try reading it out loud in order to get the meaning. The point is, that you can read all these words, but comprehending the story is difficult.

Characteristics of the Comprehension Process


We set a purpose for every text we read. Your purpose in reading this text is different from your purpose in reading a novel (remember reading for fun????). Your purpose for reading then changes how you comprehend the text. When you know you have a test, you tend to attend to the details of a text in a different way from when you are reading as entertainment.


Good readers construct meaning from text. When you read a novel, you pull from your experiences with other forms of fiction in order to understand it. When you read your music history text, you pull from your experiences reading about and playing music in order to understand the text.


This is related to setting a purpose. It also has to do with how people experience the process of reading. Some children are motivated to read by the pleasure the have in the process of reading. Other children dislike reading.

Skillful and Strategic

There are strategies that you use when you are comprehending a text. You may or may not be aware of these strategies. These days, children are being taught explicitly reading strategies (also called metacognitive strategies) and how to choose to use them.


We check constantly to see if a text makes sense to us.

Reading Comprehension and Individual Factors

Interest and other emotions

Your interest in a text has a lot to do with how well you comprehend it. This is one of the problems with reading tests, is that when they choose a low interest text, children’s comprehension will be misrepresented. Of course, there is no one text that will interest all children, so this is a problem inherent in assessing comprehension. I once designed a reading test, and I attempted to choose interesting texts. One text I chose was about a teacher who brought a snake into her first grade classroom in order to teach the children about snakes and reptiles. She described how the kids learned a lot more than they had by going to a snake show at a zoo. Then she described how the snake got loose in the classroom and how she got bit when she caught it. One person taking the test did very poorly on the questions related to this text. It turned out he had a deathly fear of snakes!


Some children have a high tolerance for working out a difficult text. Others get frustrated easily. Children who struggle with basic decoding issues (who are not sure of the letter-sound relationships) will have more of a struggle in comprehension and may appear to be less persistent in their dealings with text.

Knowledge and Experience

Think about how your knowledge and experience in music influences your reading of music-related texts. When we read texts in new-to-us areas, we have less comprehension because we bring less to the text. For many children, school-type texts are foreign and they bring little knowledge or experience to them.

Awareness/Confidence as a Reader

Children who feel confident as a reader are going to interpret text more easily than children who don’t.

Style of Interacting with Text

Students who are fluent readers have a different style of interacting with text than students who have difficulties with decoding or vocabulary (due to any number of problems: learning disabilities, English as a second language, etc.)

Style of Interacting with Others

Think of that intensely social period of life, middle to high school. Our social interactions can influence how we engage with text (or IF we engage with text).

Social Factors Related to Comprehension

How literacy is valued in a home determines how children will interact with literacy at school. Middle and upper class culture are aligned with school culture; children from these homes are usually well-prepared to take on school tasks.

Education has changed significantly in the past generation. Many children from lower class families have parents who suffered at the hand of insensitive teachers. These parents are going to be less able to support their children’s work at school.

Literacy is constructed differently at different schools. One such split is between urban and suburban schools. Expectations of how and what children will read differ across these settings, even though in Ohio all children take the same proficiency test.

Education plays different roles in different communities. For some, education replicates the existing social order, including the inequities. Some cultures and communities tend to see little of value in education.

Other communities view education as a means towards liberation. The African American community has historically had this perspective, and much of the Civil Rights struggle took place in and around schools.

In short, a child’s social world influences how much effort they put into reading and how they interpret what they read.

At Last!! The Answer!!
Ladle Rat Rotten Hut=Little Red Riding Hood. Here is what the text said: Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived with her mother in a little cottage, on the edge of a large, dark, forest. This little girl often wore a pretty little cloak with a little red hat and for this reason people called her Little Red Riding Hood.

Comprehension Strategies

The collection of strategies here have been assembled across a number of years by Tobie Sanders, Carolyn Osborne, and students in Education 314/316. They are listed in no particular order.

Word Strategies to Use with Young Students

Look at the other words around it in the sentence or paragraph.
Read on and come back to the word.
Think of another word that would make sense.
Break the word apart into syllables, base words, prefixes/suffixes.
Try to sound it out.
Re-read the word in the context of the sentence to see if it makes sense.

Comprehending Informational Texts

Tell students before they read: Scan titles, subtitles, bold-face words, pictures, captions, diagrams, charts, and maps.

Think: What do they know about the subject already?

Question: What would they like to learn?
Be sure students understand how the text is set up. Some double column formats are confusing for students—they might not read the print in the correct sequence.
As students read: They should ask themselves if they understand.
After they read: They should re-read the confusing parts. They should summarize what they have learned and decide whether their questions were answered.

Comprehending Fiction

Before they read: Think about the book—what do you know about the book’s subject. Predict what might happen. Predictions don’t have to be accurate. They just need to be reasonable based on the knowledge one already has about a situation.

As they read: They should be encouraged to visualize what they are reading. They should confirm or revise their predictions. They should question what is going on and why and then re-read the confusing parts.

After they read, they should summarize the story in their minds and make connections with other books they have read or events that have happened in their own lives.



Double Entry Journals


Categorization and Word Maps




Discussion Web


Directed Reading-Thinking Activity for Fiction


Directed Reading-Thinking Activity for Informational Texts


Interactive Notation System to Effective Reading and Thinking


Summarizing a story

Being able to summarize a story is a skill that some people pick up intuitively (think about how you might describe a movie to a friend) and that some people need to be directly taught (e.g., students from a culture where stories are told differently).

Here is a process for summarizing a story that you can teach to your students. This is part of teaching the “discourse” of learning—being able to use language structures that are expected to know and use by teachers. It is a good idea to practice this yourself and then help students learn to do this.

Somebody wanted…



And then…

For example:

Cinderella wanted to go to the ball…
But her step mother and step sisters kept her so busy that she couldn’t dress up right for the occasion.
So, the fairy godmother came and dressed her up appropriately, but warned her that she couldn’t stay past midnight.
And then she went and the prince fell in love with her. She left at midnight and he made a great effort to find her and they lived happily ever after.

Questions and Facts

Make two columns, one labeled questions and one labeled facts. As the child or group of children read, jot down questions that come to mind…when answers are found list them under facts. Add as you go…review…add any interesting facts.


Make predictions before they read by looking at pictures. Write them down. Then read . Pause periodically so children can change predictions based on new information in the reading. At the end compare with what actally happens.


Retell by words, drawing pictures. Act out what happened in a spontaious play or show.

Match text to Purpose

Ask students to read the information in one format (for example an encyclopaedia entry), but to write their own account using a different format, like a diagram, table, graph or map.

Flow Diagrams

A flow diagram links its subjects with lines or arrows to show a process that moves through time (such as a life cycle) or space (such as the water cycle). Children can use flow diagrams for showing change, growthor development,, or cause and effect. Make the needed pictures of symbols first. Then talk a lot about how the pictures need to be arranged to show the process. Don't paste any pictures down until agree that the flow is accuartely represented. arrange the picture to show the process.

The above two strategies can be found in a really neat book titled: I See What You Mean: Children at Work with Visual Information, by Steve Moline.


Alphaboxes can be used as an all purpose handy-dandy way to capture thinking while reading. Use a box chart with a space for each letter of the alphabet. As children read they can jot down thoughts, feelings, charaters, events, whatever in the box that corresponds to the first letter in the phrase or word that came to mind as they read. Then you can use the completed charts to structure discussion of the text. The following is an Alpha Box template you can give to students. Take a look at the this site for ALPHABOX teaching idea. Alphabox is like multipurpose all utitiy tool box for you to use in reading and language arts.

Questioning Web

Here's a questioning web where the students can write in the middle of the circle what they wonder or think will happen in the story and then the lines can be for them to write actual facts from the story.

Story Pyramids

This is a file that has a form for a Story Pyramid. This helps children comprehend a story after they read it.

Another version:

Comprehension Strategies

Here is a chart that I thought would be good to add to our WIKI. I was thinking that the boxes that contain questions could be copied onto posters and hung around the room. This can help children if they are stuck on remembering certain parts of the story.You'll see what I mean when you open it!!

Think Alouds

Think Alouds: Model this strategy for your students: Read a portion of a text and pause to wonder out loud by verbalizing your thoughts, questions, and connnections as you read. Do this a lot!!! and invite children to Think Aloud also.

Conduct Individual Reading Strategy Interviews

Now here's an idea I never thought about before! As a means of assessment and getting to know your students existing comprehension stregths, how about conducting a reading interview? During the interview, ask children questions like: How do you chose a book to read? How do you know if you can read the boo? Once you have a book to read, do you do annything before you start to help you get the idea of what the book (chapter, story, whatever) is going to be about.
While you are reading along and you don't know what a word means, what do you do?
What do you do if you don't understand a paragraph or an entire page.
Once you finish reading, what do you do?

Meet privately with each child, chat a bit and explan that your collecting information about what your students do in their brains before, during and after reading because you are very interested in how people think. Explain that you'll be taking notes and that the child will be able to yread your notes and change anytthing. Be a good listener. Ask follow-up questions to encourage students to elaborate. Record what student say and use this information to build on their already existing comprehension strengths.

Know yourself and share what you know: How do you go about comprehending what you read: I usually skim a text before reading. I use sticky notes to mark important stuff. If I'm reading my own book, I make notes in margins, fold down pages and do other things to mark what matters to me. Sometimes I jot down questions as I read. Sometimes I look back to clarify my thinking. What do you do????? Figure it out and let your students in on comprehension secrets. Invite the children to do the same.

Before, During and After

It is often helpful to guide children to use specific comprehension strategies before, during, and after reading. Strategies used before reading activate whatlearners already know and have experienced. Strategies employed while reading emphasize understanding and recalling information. Post-reading strategies invite students to reason and think with textt information, make connections to other stiuations, enlarge vocabulary, gave new information, and question to learn more.

Read purposely

Help children clairfy their purpose for reading and encourage them to "read what they need" to accomplish the purpose. Remember, you wouldn't read a phone book without a purpose. But you would to find a number to call to order a pizza. Then you wouldn't begin at the beginning. You would use what you know to find what you need. Let children in on this secret about reading and comprehension.

Research on Comprehension

Classisic reasearch on prficient readers summmarized by Pearson, Dole, Duffy, and Rochler back in 1992, summarized the strategies that successful readers of all ages use routinely to construct meaning when they read. Please, please, please teach your students how to do these things and then provide abundant opportunities for them to practice along with celebrations of accomplishment. Model, scaffold, and celebrate these strategies. Be creative in how you provide opportunities for children to learn and practice the skills.
Activate relevant prior knowledge (schema) before, during and after reading text.Create visual and other sensor images from text during and after reading.Draw inferences from text to form conclusions, make critical judgments, and create unique interpretations.Ask questions of themselves, the authors, and the texts they read.Determine the most important ideas and themes in a text.Synthesize what the read.Talk about what they read without penalty or pressure.
You will find a terrific source of information about gradually releasing responsibility to children for understanding in the book Reading with Meaning: Teaching Coimprehension in the Primary Grades, by Debbie Miller. This book is full of the author's voice. She is a real teacher and the entire text is practical, playful, and purposeful. I highly recommend it!

KWL chart

Story Map

see also Classroom Drama

Reader’s Theater
see all Reader's Theater

Visual Learners

Links with tips for helping visual learners:

Learning Styles

Link with tips for determining a student’s learning style:

Constructing Meaning

Meaning making in reading (and any other semiotic activity--see Semiotics) involves a person actively constructing meaning. This page points you to resources on how to teach kids to construct meaning from the meaningful things around them.

Strategies for Constructing Meaning

Constructing Meaning Through Visual-Spatial Activities

(getting beyond just writing about what you read)

Constructing Meaning via Philosophy

Meaning Construction and Critical Reading
see also Critical Thinking