Reading is hard. But there are seven skills that were correlated with the best reading comprehension of students in kindergarten to 3rd grade, according to the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES).
This will not help kids figure out the sounds of words (decode), but if you are reading aloud to them, or if they are reading a book independently, these are the active reading strategies that will help them become good readers:
1. Making Connections
Does this remind you of something else? Activating prior knowledge has been found to be one of the greatest predictors of reading success. Think of your brain like a filing cabinet. Kids need places to file new stories and information, and filing things with related ideas just makes sense. Not only does it help them comprehend information more easily, but it helps them recall the information better too (since it will have been “filed away” with relevant topics).
There are three main types of connections: text-to-self (“Can you remember when you fell off your bike?”), text-to-text (“Remember in 'Franklin’s First Day at School,' how he was nervous in the morning?”), and text-to-world (“Remember when we saw the toads at the pond by grandma’s house?”).
What does it look like? Making a “mental movie” or “play” helps children become more engaged with their reading, and it helps them remember things later. For older kids, it’s fun to pretend to cast a movie of the characters. This helps them keep track of characters, and it makes reading more fun.
Where does she live? Asking questions makes reading interesting, and it helps increase recall. When you ask an unknown question, it turns into a prediction, and it gives the reader something to read for (“Will he give back the bike?”). Even asking known questions, however, helps the brain retrieve answers faster in the future.
What happened first? Then? Last? Summarizing (or retelling what you have just read) can be tricky, so one way to help children summarize is by working on schema knowledge. Schema knowledge is closely linked to prior knowledge since previous stories will help children with general story structures. Most children’s stories are either a series of events (think "Where the Wild Things Are"), or a series of problems and attempts to solve that problem (like "The Three Little Pigs"). Once children know the basic structure of a story, it will help them retell it later.
What will happen next? Predicting also relies a lot on activating prior knowledge. If a child is reading about a character telling a lie, she can use that to predict that the child will feel nervous or get in trouble. Predictions can be based off of clues in the text, too (“It says the dog really likes to run away, so I think it will run away if Joey forgets to close the gate again.”). The point of predictions isn’t necessarily to be right — it’s more about creating goals in your reading, which can increase engagement and recall.
6. Fixing Up
I didn’t understand that ... One of the more difficult skills to teach is to have children recognize when they didn’t understand something. This can come in the form of a question (“Why did she do that?”), or simply a fix-up (“I thought he was older, but he’s the same age as the rest of them.”). These misconceptions can lead to interesting discussions. The important thing is to remind your kids to remain flexible.
Why did she do that? Making inferences is also known as “reading between the lines.” Even books for younger readers require students to make inferences. For example, in "Giggle, Giggle, Quack," the pictures give clues that the writing does not. Common inferences are feelings-based (“How do you think he feels?”) or cause-and-effect (“Why did that happen?” Why did she do that?”).
As you can see, many of the strategies overlap, and that’s okay! The IES actually recommends teaching and using multiple reading strategies when you read with children. Apply as many as you like.
Duchan, J.F. (2004). The Foundational role of schemas in children’s language and literacy learning. In Stone, C.A, Sillman, E.R., Ehren B.J., & Apel, K. (Eds.), Handbook of language and literacy. (pp. 380-397). New York: The Guilford Press.
Elbro, C. & Buch-Iversen, I. (2013). Activation of background knowledge for inference making: Effects on reading comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading, 17(6), 435-452.
Shanahan, T., Callison, K., Carriere, C., Duke, N.K., Pearson, P., Schatschneider, C., & Torgesen, J. (2010). Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade: A practice Guide (NCEE 2010-4038). Washington, DC: NAtional Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from: WhatWorks.ed.gov.
Texas Education Agency. Key Comprehension Strategies to Teach. Reading Rockets. Retrieved from: Reading Rockets.