Comprehension Skills & Strategies
Reading comprehension skills and strategies are a set of tools used by good readers to understand and assimilate what they are reading. Though good readers seemingly use these skills automatically, poor or beginning readers can learn these strategies as well. Making connections, visualizing, asking questions, making inferences, determining importance and synthesizing information are interconnected comprehension strategies. Successful readers use these techniques to monitor their own understanding of the text.
When you read, you make connections to a text by using your background knowledge, known as a "schema." Your personal history composes your schema and therefore the lens through which you view the world. When you are a good reader, you make connections from the text to your own life, to other texts or movies, songs or other media and even to events, other people or issues. To facilitate making connections, use starters such as "That reminds me of ... " or "I read another story that ... ."
Using your imagination to paint mental pictures while you read helps you comprehend the text. Visualizing, especially when using the five senses, enriches the images being conveyed by the text. When reading a text, draw a small illustration or note in the margin what you "see" in your mind. "I can picture ... " or "The movie in my head shows ... " are good starters for this process. Or try making an actual visual representation such as a model or a video.
Asking questions while you are reading makes you an active participant with the text. Before reading, ask, "What predictions do I have about this reading?" These predictions could be based on the title, the illustrations, the captions or just a quick preview of the text. Besides making predictions, ask questions before, during and after reading -- questions about the content, the author's intent, the plot, the issues and anything else that will help you gain a deeper understanding about the text. (See Reference 1) Use a wide variety of questions to help deepen your understanding of the text, such as "Who is the author's intended audience?" or "I think the ending of this story will...".
When you watch something happen, you are observing it. When you read between the lines of a text and make a guess based on your background knowledge and experience, you are making an inference. Adults and even children regularly make inferences without realizing it. Because much of a text's information is implied, purposefully consider the inferences you are making as you read a text. As you make inferences, you are drawing conclusions and continually readjusting your thinking as new information is gained. Consciously using these skills will enable you to better comprehend what you are reading.
Determine Important Information
Identifying the most important information in a text is a difficult task because it involves many skills. If you cannot determine the most important information in the first place, it will be difficult to comprehend the text you are reading. To facilitate identification of a text's relevant information, ask yourself questions like, "What's the main idea?" or "So what?" Review textual features such as pictures and captions, titles, headings, bold print, graphs and charts for clues to what is most important.
Synthesizing means taking what you have read, combining it with your background knowledge and then creating new ideas or interpretations. Mentally ask, "What do I think about this text? Why?" and "How can I use this information?" Jot down your opinions and insights in the margins as you read, then go back to see how or if your thoughts have changed once you have finished reading the text. Compare and contrast what you are reading with other sources of information such as a textbook or reliable website; ask yourself if connections you made throughout this text will help you form new ideas about other topics. For example, reading several different texts about the the Civil War will widen your understanding of more than history -- you will also learn about medicine, science, sociology and technology.
Amy Rognlie has been writing since 1994. A licensed elementary and middle school teacher, she divides her time between teaching and writing. Rognlie's work has been published by Barbour Books, "Women's Edition Magazine," Christianity Today Online, "Memory Maker's Magazine," and many other publishers. Rognlie has a secret aspiration to write the next blockbuster cozy mystery series.