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Reading comprehension – How to explicitly teach reading strategies

Boost pupils’ post-pandemic skills by considering how you explicitly teach the strategies that children need to be successful

Jo Gray Laura Lodge
by Jo Gray Laura Lodge
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Reading is the key to learning. However, if you’re a struggling reader, loving it can be a real challenge.

Right now this is even more important, given that according to the DfE, pupils are on average two months behind in their reading learning as a result of the pandemic. For individual children, learning loss may be even greater, so how can we reverse this trend and ensure every child becomes a good reader?

The first step in improving children’s reading comprehension is to identify the exact level at which they’re reading. A diagnostic assessment and gap analysis will give you the information you need. Try to get a snapshot of each child’s reading attainment, including decoding, fluency and comprehension, by using key reading skills.

Once your assessments are complete, look for patterns in your gap analysis and plan to address these through teaching and intervention.

Comprehension strategy – book choices

When teaching reading, choice of text is very important. Think about the complexity of decoding, vocabulary and content, and of course, engagement. Try not to just use familiar books, but instead focus on widening children’s reading repertoire by exposing them to different texts.

This is where your knowledge of children’s literature comes in. You could even explore paired texts, such as Beetle Boy and The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by MG Leonard so that children can make connections in their reading.

Cultural capital comprehension exercise

Pupils who struggle to read sometimes need to build their background knowledge and vocabulary. A child with good cultural capital will often have more of the prerequisite knowledge and skill needed to understand what they are reading than a disadvantaged child.

Try exploring key concepts and vocabulary before reading. For example, with Beetle Boy, you might discuss mystery stories, beetles, insects and museums first. Then you could teach children key vocabulary such as ‘specimen’ and ‘archaeologist’, giving them strategies to unpick unknown vocabulary.

With ‘archaeologist’, for instance, you could explain that ‘-ist’ means ‘somebody who does or makes’ and gather as many examples as you can which share this pattern, discussing their shared meaning.

Critical thinking and cognitive processes

Every good reader has a range of skills and strategies they use to make meaning. By explicitly teaching these, we can support all children to become resilient readers and give them the knowledge needed to comprehend any text they choose to read. But which skills and strategies need to be taught?

The most important skills of a reader are to retrieve information, define vocabulary in context and make inferences. A good reader will also sequence events, summarise content and predict what comes next. They will consider the effect of language, make comparisons and explore relationships.

These aspects of reading need to be taught progressively and regularly. Skills need to be explicitly taught and modelled, including the metacognitive processes we use when reading. For example, when teaching inference, you could introduce the idea of “‘What I read’ + ‘What I know’ + ‘What I think’ = my inference”.

By breaking down the cognitive processes behind reading, you can show children what a good reader does and give them the strategies they need to create meaning, before they practise and apply them using a range of texts, questions and activities.

Teaching reading skills and strategies is a complex process and can be daunting. Reflecting on your subject knowledge is really important and getting to grips with research such as the EEF Literacy Guidance Reports is a great start.

Reading journey

We know that reading for pleasure has a profound effect on children’s ability to understand what they read. We need to encourage a love of reading whenever we can: children need daily time to read books they want to read, and they need to be immersed in reading opportunities and see reading role models.

By encouraging children to read for pleasure, we help them read more, and the more they read, the better readers they become. For all children to achieve their full potential, schools must consider their whole-school reading curriculum and whether it teaches the skills needed to decode, understand, and enjoy books.

Supporting a child on their reading journey is about so much more than just academic success. The benefits of reading go far beyond this. When we support every child to be a good reader, the benefits will stretch throughout their lives.

Jo Gray and Laura Lodge are authors of Schofield & Sims’ Complete Comprehension and education consultants for One Education. Follow Jo on Twitter at @jo_c_gray and Laura at @lauralodge208.

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