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5 Activities to Improve Comprehension Skills

April 26th, 2017

The fifth component of reading instruction is to improve comprehension skills. Reading comprehension is the ability to understand, analyze, synthesize, and use what you have read. Without comprehension, there is really no point to reading. Years ago I had a student that when she read aloud she sounded quite good. In fact, she sounded so good, I didn’t understand why I was seeing her. Then, I asked her questions about what she had read. She was unable to answer all but one of the questions. She is what we call a word caller rather than a reader. A reader understands what they have read. A reader comprehends what they read.

So, I had my work cut out for me. I had to teach my student how to comprehend what she read. Research shows that using graphic organizers to manipulate what you have read makes a huge difference. Graphic organizers allow you to easily take notes and turn what you read into a graphical display or story structure. It is much easier to summarize, answer questions, and generate questions with graphic organizers. These are all critical pieces of comprehension.

6 Key Strategies to Improve Comprehension

  • Monitoring comprehension
  • Using graphic and semantic organizers
  • Answering questions
  • Generating questions
  • Recognizing story structure (and other text structures)
  • Summarizing

5 Activities to Improve Reading Comprehension

1. Look for the 5 W’s (and How) when you read.

  • Who – The nouns or subjects: people and things.
  • What – The verbs or actions taking place.
  • Where – Places that the events are taking place.
  • When – Past, present, or future.
  • Why – What caused the events to occur.
  • How – In what way did the events occur?

2. Look for descriptors when you read.

These are the adjectives and adverbs. They help describe subjects and actions in what you read. They help you paint a mental image as you read. These could be colors, numbers, shapes, sizes, and directions.

3. Take notes with a graphic organizer and draw pictures as you read.

Graphic organizers can help you better organize your notes and thoughts about what you read by putting information into an easy to follow structure. We use our Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills. These graphic organizers can help you take notes on simple stories, paragraphs, textbooks, entire books, and more. By putting information down in a graphic structure, you can clearly organize the information and get a better level of understanding of the material.

Don’t forget to draw pictures as you take your notes. Research has shown that physically drawing can help you remember the material even more than just writing words down (Jeffrey D. Wammes, Melissa E. Meade, and Myra A. Fernandes).

4. Visualize what you read.

Books always seem to be better than movies, don’t they? The pictures that we are able to imagine in our mind as we read the author’s words can be so much more vivid and vibrant. The author lets the reader be the director of the story by filling in the missing details. By imagining an actual picture of what you read as you read it, helps tie your visual memory to your comprehension skills. When you try to remember a part of the story, you can go back to the picture in your mind that you created. 

5. Ask yourself questions as you read.

It is tremendously helpful to ask yourself questions as you read. This helps build and retain your comprehension by using active recall rather than just passively reading the text.

  • Did I make any predictions while I was reading?
  • Who was the main character?
  • What was the problem he/she encountered?
  • How was the problem resolved?
  • What might happen next?
  • What else would I like to know?
  • What would I like to change about the story?
  • If I changed the setting of the story, would everything stay the same, or would there be a different ending? What would the ending be?
  • What background knowledge helped me understand the selection?
  • What did you like or not like about the story? Try to find an emotional response to what you have read. When you have an emotion tied to what you’ve read, you are more likely to remember it, even if you didn’t like it!

Games Can Also Improve Comprehension Skills

Playing games helps kids improve a number of skills, including learning how to get along and interact with others. When you play games with others, you learn from watching others take their turns and they learn from you taking your turn. That is what is called reciprocal teaching and reciprocal learning.

Now, what if you were to play educational games that taught specific skills? You would get even more benefit. You would have the opportunity to have fun and improve your skills at the same time.

One of my favorite ways to help students learn reading comprehension skills in a fun way is to play The Comprehension Zone. The game has 3 different reading levels with short passages about the planets (2nd-3rd Grade), American historical figures (4th-6th Grade), and worldwide historical figures (7th-Adult). Each player reads a short passage and then will answer questions about the main idea and details. You can also play by working on listening comprehension by having someone else read the passage while the player answers the questions about the passage. If you answer the questions correctly, you get to move your player on the board towards the finish. Not only will you help your family improve their comprehension skills, but you will be spending quality time with your children.

What Raising Olives says about The Comprehension Zone:

“All of our children from 1st grade up were able to play together, which as you know is an important feature for our family.  Our older children (10, 11 and 13) were able to easily complete the comprehension activities on all levels of cards, but enjoyed working on the sequencing. Our 9-year old was happy to play with the 7th – 12th grade cards. The game was interesting enough to the kids that they wanted to play multiple times, even when some of the novelty had worn off.

The Comprehension Zone: Rocket Rap had amazing results for one of our children. We have been working with him on comprehension for years. I often have him draw pictures of what I’m reading, we act things out and we read just a few phrases at a time and ask him questions whenever we are dealing with auditory learning.  He simply struggles in this area. I was interested to see how he would do with The Comprehension Zone.

For 8 of our children this game would be a fun, helpful activity, but for one child, for these results, I would happily pay double.  We’ve tried things similar to this in the past, we’ve been focused on this problem for years, but The Comprehension Zone has been the first activity that has been successful.”

Read Full Review

For more direct instruction on improving reading skills by improving comprehension, check out our Awaken the Scholar Within Reading, Writing, and Study Skills Program. Here, Bonnie teaches these skills to you, step-by-step through audio and video lessons. The program includes Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills, Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills, The Sentence Zone, and the Writer’s Easy Reference Guide which integrates vocabulary with comprehension and writing skills.

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Are you interested in learning more about solutions to reading, writing, math, or spelling problems? What about solutions that also improve your auditory, visual, and tactile-kinesthetic systems? Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with Bonnie Terry M.Ed., BCET.

Blog Topics

Improve Reading Comprehension