How Can I Help My Child with Reading Comprehension?

Christine Woodcock, Ph.D.

Unlike passive activities such as playing video games or watching TV, reading is an active process in our brains.  Strategic readers address their thinking in an inner conversation that helps them make sense of what they read.  Help to foster these inner (and outer) conversations with your children by discussing their texts with them. 

Readers take the written word and construct meaning based on their own thoughts, knowledge, and experiences.  Provide structure for your child to think when he/she reads.  Children must develop an awareness of their own thinking, so that they can monitor themselves while they read.

Make connections:
Simply encourage your child to make personal connections to the content of the book he is reading.  You could even jot the connections on sticky notes in colorful magic markers and stick them in the book, or make a cute chart of the connections. 

Text-to-self connections are easiest.  We merely relate concepts in the book to aspects of our own lives.  For example, “I love the lake in this ook.  It reminds me of our summer vacations when we always visited that lake in New York.”

Text-to-text connections are also fun and easy.  Obviously, you just relate the book you’re currently reading to another book you’ve read.  Perhaps the characters in this book remind you of the characters in a book you read last week.  Also, don’t feel constricted by the text-to-text label.  I always encourage my students to think of movies and TV shows to which they can relate their books, too!

Text-to-world connections are trickier.  With these connections, you want to relate what you’ve just read to a larger, worldly phenomenon, and not just something specific to your own life. 

Infer:
Making inferences is similar to the text-to-world connection strategy.  Gradually work with children on drawing conclusions based on what information they know.  Likewise, show them how to make educated guesses, and to look for hints to back up their reasoning.  You could make lists and pictures together to help this strategy along.  As always, model inferring for your child in an clear and direct way, so that she can see how you derive conclusions. Do you openly empathize with others? Can you talk about how someone else may have a different perspective your own? 

Predictions:
An uncomplicated strategy to foster comprehension is to simply ask your child to make frequent predictions.  What does he think will happen next?  Most parents and teachers make the mistake of only asking children to make predictions at the beginning of a book.  Instead, ask children to make predictions at the onset of a book, as well as at strategic points throughout the book.  This stimulates their thinking in a number of ways.  At the end of the book, discuss with children whether or not they liked the ending.  Would they have ended it differently? 

Visualize:
One of the best parts of reading is to picture the story or the content in one’s head. Ask children to describe how they picture the characters and the setting in the story. If it’s non-fiction, ask them to draw their own pictures of the content.  Another fun activity is to compare and contrast visualizations between book and movie versions of various stories.

Questions:
Asking children questions is the simplest and most old-fashioned way to ensure they have understood material.  Don’t just ask questions at the end of a given passage.  I would suggest stopping at strategic points to see how they are doing throughout a passage.  Furthermore, the quality of the questions themselves can also determine the quality of understanding.  Most people only ask concrete questions that only pertain to memory.  For example, “what color shirt was he wearing?”  Instead, I encourage people to ask implicit questions, which are open-ended, and to which there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer, but by which you can still determine how well the child understood.  For example, rather than asking what color shirt the character wore, in its place ask “Why was it important that the character wore a blue shirt?”  This causes the child to think in a deeper manner, without having to memorize the color of the shirt, yet you still yield rich insights pertaining to how well the child is comprehending.

Determine importance:
Sometimes, whether it is a text, or some other aspect of life, we have a hard time determining what is important.  It often has to do with the difficulty level of the content, and how familiar we are with it.  When a subject is overwhelming, confusing, and foreign, it is much harder to determine what is important, than when we are dealing with familiar territory, which is at a comfortable difficulty level for us. 

Practice determining importance with your child.  Explicitly model how you determine what is important.  Show your child how you might look in topic sentences, or at bullet points, titles, or headings to make more sense of a passage.  Practice highlighting a passage together.  Once children know how to extract important information, they can study better, focus better, and provide adequate retellings and/or summaries.

About the Author: 
Prior to becoming Associate Professor in the School of Education at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), Christine Woodcock, Ph.D. was Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and at Towson University. Prior to that, she taught special education in the Binghamton, NY area, as well as in southern Vermont. 
Having also been a children’s librarian, art teacher, dance instructor, and child day care provider, she brings over a decade of experience working in various educational settings to her position at SNHU.  This article is a modified version of an original piece featured on Qwowoi.com and originally from www.ChristineWoodcock.com.  Please visit the author’s website for more information.