Instruction & Curriculum

Building Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is the ability to read something, process what is saying, and understand what is saying. As an English teacher, I feel like teaching reading comprehension is one of the most important things that I teach my students.
While students can be strong readers, sometimes they struggle with understanding the deeper meaning behind the text. This is an important skill to learn, and it is part of my job to help them succeed. There are lots of ways for me, as their teacher, to guide them through this journey.
Strategies to Build Reading Comprehension
In his post, Strategies for Building Reading Comprehension, Justin Lim addresses this problem and highlights a series of seven questions that he uses in his classroom. These range from encouraging students to use their background knowledge to be teaching them to find the big picture. Lim outlines the questions that he asks his students in each category. These questions involve things like asking students what they picture or what they think might happen next.
These questions can be applied to my classroom and students from all walks of life and skill levels. From the students who are able to form conclusions about what they are reading to the students who are struggling to successfully read, these questions are applicable across the board.
Other articles remind me that it is important to be aware of when my students are not understanding the concepts we are discussing. This helps them learn something important. There is no shame in admitting that they might not be one hundred percent clear on what is happening. In turn, this encourages them to be aware and ask questions when they are confused.
There are many ways to help students outline the things that they are reading. Experts recommend things like storyboards and cause and effect worksheets. I like to pause frequently and ask my students what has happened. Then, I ask them what they think will happen next. I noticed that I use questions that are quite similar to those mentioned by Justin Lim in his post.
Other strategies that I love to use to help build reading comprehension in my students include helping students by examining the background knowledge that the students have. This allows them to tap into their body of existing knowledge and can help make the text come alive or at least be a bit more relevant to them.
Applications of These Strategies
Another way to help students is to tell them any confusing vocabulary that might pop up in the reading. When I was teaching The Sea Wolf to my Honors Freshman this year, I made sure to spend several days going over the sailing terms that I knew where everywhere in the novel with charts and pictures. This allowed my students to focus on the meaning behind the words, and not get as bogged down in the text.
To be fair and honest, Jack London’s novels can be a bit overwhelming at times. Still, I was proud of “my” kids and the levels of comprehension and critical thinking they showed me. These skills are only getting stronger as the year goes on.
While looking into this article, I was excited to see other strategies that I can use in my classroom. These include things like using a mixture of fiction and nonfiction and having activities for after reading. By mixing the style of text that is being read, students are introduced to a wide variety of styles. Plus, you read and analyze nonfiction and fiction in different ways. I’ve noticed that my nonfiction units are less popular than my fiction units. This is not because of the content; I have a fun nonfiction unit; but because it’s a different type of reading. My students think nonfiction is less fun in general.
Fun activities after finishing a text can help the concepts stick in student’s brains. At the end of each of my fiction units, I have an activity. This activity requires my students to be able to tell me what the theme of the book is. They also have to describe the character, setting, and other details.  These help students remember these concepts later in the year. So far, this has been working well.
Final Thoughts
One thing that I have to remind myself often is that even a strong reader doesn’t necessarily comprehend what they are reading. A student can be able to read the words on the page without understanding what they mean. Helping my students be able to understand what we are reading also helps them develop critical thinking skills, something that I believe is a major part of why English is an important subject to learn.
What are some ways that you help your students build reading comprehension? Do any of these strategies work in your classroom?

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