All teachers need strategies for reading comprehension problems. No matter what subject you teach, you will encounter students with problems understanding a text.
The key to solving literacy problems is to correctly diagnose where a student is struggling in order to provide targeted interventions, whether the problem be with word meanings, comprehension, or decoding. Today I will discuss each of these issues and possible ways to help.
1. Strategies for teaching unknown vocabulary
Many reading comprehension problems stem from a lack of vocabulary knowledge. Teachers don’t have time to teach every vocabulary word a student will need to know. That is why it’s important to teach kids to identify words by using context clues.
I recommend explicitly teaching the types of context clues your students will see: inference context clues, contrast context clues, definition context clues, and synonym and antonym context clues. You can provide examples of each type and break down how the author is hinting at the word’s meaning. I break this down in a blog post all about context clues.
To increase vocabulary, teachers can teach words that are central to the main ideas and key themes of lessons and connect them to other words through semantic mapping. They can also use things like graphic organizers for key words and subtopics.
More ideas for teaching vocabulary
Keep a vocabulary journal: Encourage kids to maintain a vocabulary journal where they write down unfamiliar words along with their context and their own predicted meanings. This can serve as a helpful reference for review and reinforcement.
Encourage questions: Create an open environment where kids feel comfortable asking questions about unfamiliar words. Discussing word meanings and context openly can foster a deeper understanding.
Read widely: Expose kids to a variety of reading materials, including books, articles, and poems, to encounter diverse vocabulary. This exposure will expand their understanding of different words in various contexts.
Remember, the key to successful vocabulary comprehension is practice and patience. By integrating these practical tips into your teaching approach, you can help children develop strong language skills and become confident readers.
2. Strategies for teaching summarizing and main ideas
Many strategies for reading comprehension problems are beneficial in any content area. Before reading a challenging text, teachers can build background knowledge around a particular topic by showing pictures, videos, or other documents that activate the schema around a topic. Using prior knowledge builds a foundation that will increase reading comprehension.
You can also use these graphic organizers before, during and after reading any text.
Summarizing can be difficult because students tend to paraphrase content without picking out the most important ideas. This blog post describes ideas for improving summarizing skills.
Using think-alouds is one way to increase comprehension: teachers can talk students through the metacognitive processes they use when reading to model this kind of thinking for students who are unfamiliar with the cognitive work that good readers employ naturally. Some of these strategies include summarizing, pausing and rereading when something is confusing, asking questions, making predictions and so on.
More ideas for teaching summarizing and main idea
Use real-world examples: Show students how summarizing and identifying the main idea are essential skills in everyday life, such as when writing book reviews, preparing presentations, or giving quick explanations to others.
Start with shorter texts: Begin with shorter and simpler texts to practice summarizing and identifying the main idea. Gradually progress to longer and more complex texts as students become more proficient in these skills.
Summarize collaboratively: Engage students in group or partner activities where they discuss the main idea and summarize a text together. This collaborative approach fosters peer learning and allows students to share their thinking.
3. Strategies for helping students decode words
Direct instruction in phonics may be necessary for students who are struggling to read because of decoding problems. Phonics is not often taught in schools past the early elementary years. However, some students may still require interventions as they move up in grades, and should not be ignored.
To address reading comprehension problems that are related to decoding, one strategy teachers can use is audio books. Text to speech software is also now becoming more widely available as students spend more time working on computers.
Finally, remember to keep a student’s reading level in mind. Students should be working within their zone of proximal development as much as possible. When students are not ready to move at the same rate as their peers, they will become frustrated and begin to lose motivation and self-confidence, possible becoming defensive or exhibiting avoidance tactics. Differentiating is key to helping all of your students make progress.
More ideas for helping students decode words
Chunking: Encourage students to break words into smaller chunks or syllables. This strategy helps them tackle longer or more complex words by processing smaller units.
Sight words: Introduce and practice high-frequency sight words that don’t follow regular phonetic rules. Encourage students to memorize these words by sight to improve reading fluency. Even older students can benefit from this.
Developing strong reading comprehension skills is vital for all students. If we want our students to become lifelong learners, we have to set them up for success by building confidence and proficiency as early as possible.