Ten Comprehension Strategies for Fiction and Nonfiction Texts

Reading comprehension is essential for student achievement and even more important in the workplace. This post includes strategies to help your students prepare for the future.
In today's workplace, now more than ever, employers are requiring employees to be tech savvy team players who can work well independently and with others. Communication skills are essential, and problem solving abilities are an added bonus. In order for today's students to be tomorrow's employees, we need to utilize tasks that simulate life on the job. In today's post, I'd to share with you ten comprehension strategies that can help your students on that path. 

Number One: I Wonder

We all wonder about things, so why not wonder about your reading too. Use this to record questions, thoughts, and opinions about your reading before, during, and after reading. I wonder is simply a thought bubble where students can record questions prior to reading, their thoughts during reading, quotes from the text and their opinions about them, or predictions for the future after reading. The I Wonder organizer provides a great opportunity for student discussions and scaffolds students who need a bit more thinking time before they feel comfortable to share. 

Number Two: Text Structure

Whether you are teaching fiction or nonfiction, kids do better when they understand the structure of the text. They need to know with fiction to read to find the setting, characters, problem, story events, and solution (story plot), and story themes/lessons. With nonfiction, the reader should look for the main ideas and supporting details, the frameworks associated with nonfiction (problem/solution, chronological,  cause/effect, compare/contrast, and detail structures), and information from the texts features. With text structures, teachers have found graphic organizers very helpful. To find the best options to match your texts, check out [THIS LINK]. You'll find a plethora of options.

Number Three: Questioning

In the workplace, asking and answering questions is essential for a number of reasons. If employees run into trouble, stopping and asking questions can prevent bigger issues. Likewise, answering questions can help an employee clarify confusions. Questioning helps students dig deeper into a text, but not all questions are equal. Recall questions help students get the basics of a text, but we know that higher level questioning leads to higher levels in Bloom's. For questioning skills, teachers can and should teach students to evaluate question types. In the primary grades, I use the terms thick and thin questions and explain the difference. We teach question words...who, what, where, when, why, and how. Students generate questions and read to answer them. Students might also trade papers to ask/answer questions with a partner too.

QAR is a great questioning strategy that you can use with any text. Teach students to analyze questions by type, and they will be better able to respond. In the upper grades, we can teach students about Question-Answer Relationships or QAR. Tanny McGregor came up with QAR some time ago. She identifies the four question types as below:

Right There: Recall questions found in one place 
(who, where, when)
Think and Search: Found in multiple places 

(sequencing, details)
Author and Me: Requires book info and schema 

(infer, cause/effect)
On My Own: Opinion questions 
(not found in book)

To introduce QAR to your students, the anchor chart to the left might be helpful. For my students, I provide question stems and have students create questions based on their reading. I have also shared question task cards for sorting by type prior to answer. With all questioning, I require students to find text evidence to support their thinking. This is especially important in the workplace as employees need to be thorough and correct versus fast.
SQ3R is a questioning strategy that you can use with nonfiction. This graphic organizer walks your students through the key components.
Another questioning strategy that I've used with my students is SQ3R. It's one that has been around a LONG time, but it works. SQ3R stands for survey, question, read, respond, review. If you think about the tried and true picture walk, then you are practically doing this strategy as a routine. We have our students preview and predict prior to reading regularly, and as we do this, the thing that's added is questioning based upon the picture walk. As students read, they respond to the questions they recorded. Finally, they review their notes in discussion with peers.

Number Four: Annotations

Several years ago, I learned about close reading, and from that moment, I realized the importance of annotating and its value in testing as well as studying. Students of the past (me included) were not prepared for how to study in school. I learned to outline and take notes from a lecture, but that is not the same as annotating during reading. I would say I was a word caller (and to some degree, I still am. Shocking right??). I struggle with maintaining attention, so if I really must understand something, the way I slow myself down is with sticky notes. I NEVER used them in college until my reading masters program, so when close reading came out, I instantly saw the value. Fast forward two years, and I credit close reading to the success my intervention students have had on our state testing. They learned how to study, what to record, and how to use the information to better answer the questions presented to them.

This resource from Study All Knight provides a great example of doodle notes and how to use them. This teaching strategy is a great way to prepare for writing, but is also valuable as a comprehension strategy too.Since close reading, there have been other innovations on this idea. Doodle notes have been introduced as an option for busy hands and minds. I love the idea of stopping and jotting strategically too. We, as teachers, need to pause for reflections sometimes, and so do students. By pausing to record thoughts and notes, we take time to reflect on the author's perspective, main ideas, etc. Notes and/or drawings help cement thinking to memory or at least give us something to review later. If students and/or employees can use notetaking as a routine, then they have a record of what's been tried or what's important later too.
The freebie above is from Danielle Knight at Study All Knight. It provides a great example of doodle notes for the purpose of writing. You can hopefully see how this idea translates to reading if you have students sketch about what they've read. You can check out how Danielle's used this concept in her digital interactive notebook resources.

Number Five: Think Aloud

For struggling readers, think aloud has been proven effective in modeling how readers think. To use think aloud, you talk through your thinking as you are reading pointing out key things students should observe. You relate your schema to the text and why you have the opinions you do. Showing students the connections between prior knowledge and the new information gleened from the text helps students see how we infer meaning. 

Number Six: Determining Importance

If you're introducing determining importance to your students, check out this free anchor chart that you can use for modeling from Comprehension ConnectionI mentioned I would consider myself a word caller mainly because I struggled to maintain attention to my reading, but for some students, the struggle is more about where to place importance. Some children struggle to decide what they must remember and what is just added detail. Teaching children how to determine the importance of text information is an important skill you shouldn't overlook. To do this, I have used the anchor chart to the left as an introduction to the topic. The umbrella idea helps kids visualize that what's most valuable and the other information is just added fluff. 

This free resource from One Extra Degree provides a concrete example of determining importance. It's the perfect introduction lesson.

To make it more concrete, I loved this lesson from One Extra Degree. My students loved making their suitcase and let's just say that their packing lists really shortened as the lesson was completed. I highly recommend giving it a try.

Number Seven: Focus on Vocabulary

Students can't make meaning if they don't recognize or understand the meaning of words used. If/when kids meet words they're unfamiliar with, they can often use context to help fill in the missing information. However, if they can't make the connections between the unfamiliar words and the clues, there will be disconnect. By preteaching words using kid friendly language and including opportunities for students to use the words, we support reading comprehension. With vocabulary instruction, we want to teach context clues, synonyms and antonyms, prefixes, suffixes and roots, along with figurative language. 

Number Eight: Monitoring

This Click and Clunk Resource from C2Teaching is perfect for helping students monitor. Use the anchor chart for introduction and the remaining organizers for practice. FREE
Monitoring both reading level and understanding is important to reading comprehension. If we hand students texts that are beyond their range, we know the result will be frustration and poor comprehension. Likewise, if we give texts that are too easy, students lose interest. To ensure that you are targetting the correct range, you have to assess your students' reading levels often with running records. Challenging without frustrating is the key.
Teachers are not the only ones who need to monitor reading. Students need to know how to think about their thinking. They need to realize when things aren't making sense, when they have a miscue, or when they missed something. They need to practice fix up strategies when they realize they've missed something. I use the terms clicking and clunking. If my kids understand well, things are clicking, but when there is breakdown, there's a clunk. The anchor chart and practice pages from C2Teaching to the right are great for introduction. 

Number 9: Get Them Talking

This free checklist of instructional strategies will help increase student engagement and discussion in your classroom. Download, print, and keep with your planning notebook as a reminder.
Kids need to talk in the classroom. This is how they work out confusions and extend thinking about their reading. I wrote a post not long ago with 5 Ways to Improve Student Engagement with helpful tips you can use to get your students talking and doing the work. I highly recommend you check that out and download the freebie to the left. It is a checklist of engagement ideas you can put into your plans.

Number 10: Teach Reading Skills

Reading comprehension is essential for student achievement and even more important in the workplace. This post includes strategies to help your students prepare for the future.Of course, this last one is probably not a new revelation, but seriously, there is a difference between assessing a skill and modeling a skill. I've been amazed at the number of times I've heard discussions that students don't understand how to do a certain skill when their only instruction in the skill is reading a passage and answer questions. Explicit instruction with modeling and practice is the key to understanding and performance of a skill. Students need time to take in the process, to practice it, and master it before moving to something new. They also need instruction in the language associated with the skill. They often muddy things up when we throw too much at them at once. So, take the pace a little slower with explicit modeling, and then when you assess understanding, you'll be more pleased with the performance. 

Comprehension is the goal of reading. Keep the listening-speaking-reading-writing connections in mind. Use listening, speaking, and writing to extend learning, and always aim for deep understanding. 

Until next time...happy reading!


  1. This is a really helpful, comprehensive list! Thank you for sharing!


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