What helps kids understand what they read? Being an active reader is key. That means focusing on the text, questioning it, and taking mental notes. You can work on these skills with your child at home. Use these seven tips to help improve your child’s reading comprehension.
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1. Make connections.
When kids connect what they already know to what they read, it helps them focus. Show your child how to make connections when you read aloud. If a book mentions places you’ve been to with your child, talk about those memories. Then have your child give it a try.
2. Ask questions.
Asking questions encourages kids to look for clues in the text. When you read together, ask questions to spark your child’s curiosity. Ask things like “What do you think will happen?” or “How is that character feeling?”
3. Make “mind movies.”
Visualizing helps bring a story to life. That’s where mind movies come in. When you read with your child, describe what the scene looks like in your head. Talk about how it makes you feel. You can use other senses, too. For example, if the scene takes place outside, what does it smell like?
Then invite your child to make a mind movie, too. Point out how your child’s movie is different from yours. If your child likes to draw or color, encourage your child to make a picture of the scene, too.
4. Look for clues.
When you combine what you already know with clues from a story, you can make guesses or predictions. These are inferences. And making them is a great way to build reading comprehension.
For example, when we read “Kim’s eyes were red and nose was runny,” we can infer that Kim has a cold or allergies. Help your child do this as you read. If a character is wearing gym clothes and sweating, ask your child what the character might have been doing before.
5. Figure out what’s important.
Ask your child: Who are the main characters? What’s the most important thing that has happened in the story so far? What problem are the characters trying to solve? When kids can point out what’s important, they’re more likely to understand what they read.
Your child can also use a tool called a graphic organizer to do this. A “story element” organizer keeps track of the main characters, where the story is taking place, and the problem and solution of the story.
6. Check understanding.
It helps to encourage kids to stop and ask themselves, “Is this making sense?” If your child gets stuck, suggest rereading the part that didn’t make sense. What about it was confusing? Were there specific words that tripped your child up?
7. Try new things.
The more kids know about the world, the more they can get meaning out of what they read. You don’t have to take an expensive trip or go to a museum to do this, though. You can expand kids’ background knowledge and vocabulary in lots of ways.
Shooting hoops or watching a baseball game can help your child connect more with books about sports. Riding the subway might make your child interested in books that take place in big cities.
Even with these tips, some kids still have a hard time understanding what they read. Learn more about how to help your child with reading. And get an expert’s take on why kids may have trouble understanding or remembering what they read.
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About the author
About the author
Ginny Osewalt is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with more than 15 years of experience in general education, inclusion, resource room, and self-contained settings.