Reading comprehension is a key factor in English and Language Arts curricula from elementary school to the university level. Reading comprehension, as a skill, is the reader's ability to understanding and make meaning of a text. The main comprehension topics needed for effective comprehension include:

  • Making meaning of the text - Understanding what is being read
  • Drawing connections - Making an inference or reading between the lines
  • Summarizing - Understanding the main point of the passage
  • Vocabulary - Understanding a variety of words and their meanings
  • Fluency - The ability to read with appropriate speed and without errors

Understanding Meaning

Understanding the meaning of a text means figuring out what the passage is trying to tell you. This includes determining what is important in a passage by identifying ideas, actions, themes or lessons that are more important than others.

Sometimes meaning is implied, rather than explicitly stated. To infer meaning, students must use textual clues and background knowledge to draw conclusions, make predictions and interpret meaning.

Strategies to increase students' comprehension of meaning include: reading actively, taking notes, asking questions and looking up unfamiliar words. They can also use the title, subheadings and background information to help in the overall comprehension of meaning.

Drawing Connections

Drawing connections in reading comprehension means identifying relationships between two or more things in order to deepen the student's comprehension of the material. This includes relating elements in the text to real life and to the reader's personal experiences and perspectives.

For example, readers can ask themselves whether the text reminds them of other texts or films. They can reflect on how their own background specifically contributes to their understanding of the content. Drawing correlations like these enhances the overall meaning of the text by illuminating shared or contrasting aspects.

Summarizing and Synthesizing

An important skill in reading comprehension is being able to retell a story, essay or article in just a few sentences without looking at the original text. Summarizing includes being able to distinguish between major and minor points in a text and determining which details are crucial to the overall meaning and which are supplementary.

Synthesizing, or pulling together parts to form a whole and coherent meaning is also a crucial aspect of reading comprehension. For example, with a short story, the reader can examine the characters, conflicts, symbols and figurative language to gather main idea or central theme.

Students can summarize by restating the main idea of a passage. This can be done by writing the main idea and including a few supporting details. Additionally, to help with comprehension, a student can retell the story by stating the main idea and supporting details.

Building Vocabulary

Building vocabulary is a critical reading topic for students at all levels. In reading comprehension, students use contextual analysis to understand new terms. In cases when the context does not clearly define the unknown word, students should list, define and practice using new vocabulary words.

Students can build vocabulary in a variety of ways. The best way to expand vocabulary is through exposure of new words. Reading new and more challenging material is a good way to gain exposure of new words. Being intentional with new words will also help. Make a habit to practice and utilize new words in your daily vocabulary.

Over time, familiarizing students with new words allows them to avoid getting stuck when they are confronted with those words again. Building vocabulary also gives students a more precise understanding of the material's meaning.

Increase Reading Rate

In order to increase reading rate, students must improve their attention and concentration while reading. A key strategy for improving reading rate is to practice reading with and without a time constraint. Reading rate will only increase once the student is fluent. Fluency measures the speed of a reader and whether or not any errors are made.

The more a student reads, the more their pace of reading will increase. Reading out loud and listening to others read will help improve fluency and rate. In some cases, if the student only needs to identify main ideas and does not necessarily need to read every word, they can skim texts to read the ideas rather than the words.

Skimming may be a good idea to get the overall picture of a passage, however, it's not a good idea to rely on skimming when you need to answer comprehension questions. For example, if you are taking a reading test or a standardized test such as the ACT or SAT, skimming is not a sound approach.

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About the Author

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.