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Six Strategies for Boosting Reading Comprehension

by Emily Horn
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One big area of learning on most elementary educators’ minds? Reading comprehension. We all want our students to be strong readers who read for both information and enjoyment. Additionally, we want our students to become independent, autonomous readers who can support their own understanding of texts. Luckily, there are many fantastic strategies out there for improved reading comprehension. Let’s take a look at six big skills that students can build and some correlating strategies for advancing reading comprehension, increasing understanding, and building confidence when it comes to reading.

1. Visualizing

Have students close their eyes and create a movie in their minds as they listen to the story, then describe what they visualized in a class discussion or with a partner during a “turn and talk.” Students can also make drawings to represent their visualization and comprehension. For example, you can skip an illustration in a book you’re reading aloud and have students draw their own illustration as you read the coordinating page. You can do a gallery walk or have students “show and tell” with a partner, in small groups, or with the class. Then, show the students the illustration in the book you’re reading.

2. Using Context Clues

I found that teaching students to use context clues to help them understand a story better is invaluable. Reminding students that they don’t have to know every single word in a story is critical to making them comfortable with unfamiliar words and trying to find meaning on their own. Autonomy is so important! This a great post from The Stellar Teacher Company about teaching the five context clues: inference, definition, example, antonym, and synonym.

3. Making Inferences

This can be tough, especially in the lower grades of elementary when students are used to more straightforward texts! However, making inferences is a skill that students must be explicitly taught, and The Classroom Nook has some great ideas on how to teach students to infer. They suggest starting out using pictures, mystery bags, and modeling and then moving to “It says, I say, and so I infer.” They also offer a few suggested picture books for practicing making inferences with students.

4. Summarizing

Summarizing can often be difficult for students. They aren’t always quite sure how much detail, or what details, to include! I recommend teaching this skill using a text that students are already familiar with. Model summarizing yourself or review exemplars with students. You can also provide rubrics or an anchor chart to clarify the expectations for summaries. In the lower grades, this can be done orally. And in the upper grades, students can move into written summaries. Use graphic organizers or visual tools to help students understand the elements that should be included in a summary. Think, Grow, Giggle suggests three strategies to help students with summarizing:

  • The 5 Ws– Focus on answering these questions: Who, what, when, where, and why?
  • SWBSA– Using a graphic organizer, students outline information about the “somebody, wanted, but, so, and” parts of a story.
  • Story Maps– After reading, have students complete a story map outline and use it to write their full summary.

5. Monitoring Comprehension

According to Reading Rockets, monitoring comprehension teaches students to:

Be aware of what they do understand.

Identify what they do not understand.

Use appropriate strategies to resolve problems in comprehension.


In this article, C.R. Adler suggests five strategies for comprehension monitoring: 1) identifying where the difficulty occurs, 2) identifying what the difficulty is, 3) restating the difficult sentence/passage, 4) looking back through the text, and 5) looking forward in the text. Adler also offers clear examples for each of these five strategies.

6. Activating Prior Knowledge

A great way to start out with reading is by activating prior knowledge. You can do this by encouraging students to make connections between the text and their lives, the text and previously read texts, or the text and previously taught topics or concepts. Four strategies for activating prior knowledge are:

  • The KWL Chart– Have students brainstorm what they already know, what they want to know, and then what they learned.
  • The Power Preview– Students can preview a text, paying attention to titles, subtitles, words in bold, definitions, and any special images or text features. Students pay attention to and identify what they recognize and are familiar with already.
  • Turn and Talks– When introducing a new text, students can turn and talk to a peer about what they know about the story or topic already before discussing as a class.
  • The Brain Dump– Students dump everything they know about a text or topic on paper or using a digital tool. This can be done as a class, with a partner, in a small group, or individually.

Do you have any strategies you love to use with students for improved reading comprehension? Comment below so we can all add them to our list!

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PJ Youngblood April 4, 2023 - 7:42 am

I was surprised not to see “sounding out a word phonetically.” It has been proven that this is the number one method of improving comprehension. Kids are taught phonics, then it’s not utilized again for fear of making them “sound stupid” in front of their peers for sounding out words. This needs to be normalized. Sounding out words was the hallmark of previous generations that had little to no issues with reading or reading comprehension. It aids in vocabulary development, comprehension, more extensive personal vocabulary, as well as writing improvement and speaking clarity. This one is the hill to die on. Not these good secondary methods to enforce the sounding out of new or difficult words.

Emily Horn April 4, 2023 - 2:58 pm

Hi PJ! Great points, and thanks for sharing them. I definitely agree with you about normalizing phonics and decoding. At my former school, we taught explicit phonics and vocabulary from PreK up through grade 5 and encouraged sounding out words when reading aloud for the reasons you listed. This article is definitely not a comprehensive list! Perhaps there should be a part 2 that discusses the importance of phonics and intentional vocabulary instruction for reading comprehension? The two go hand in hand, I agree. If students don’t know the words they are sounding out, they won’t comprehend the text. And I also completely agree about transference between reading, writing, and speaking – I would also add listening comprehension as well! Thank you so much for commenting and for your passion for phonics!


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