Getting to know comprehension
Written by Rachel Clarke
Reading comprehension is about understanding what you've read. During reading sessions in school, children share their understanding through discussions and verbal questioning, and through written comprehension activities where they write answers to questions about what they've read. Many children find these written comprehension questions tricky and benefit from practising their comprehension skills at home.
When we speak to one another, we use facial expressions, the tone of our voice and hand gestures alongside words to communicate our thoughts. Writers have only words and so express their thoughts through precise vocabulary choices. This means that to understand what they read, children must grow rich vocabularies.
To help your child grow their vocabulary, consider asking them to give you alternative words for those they encounter in their reading e.g. Do you know another word that means chortle? (e.g. laugh).
An important aspect of comprehension is the ability to retrieve information from what's been read. Lots of children answer questions such as 'Where was the story set?' readily, but then struggle to locate the word or sentence giving them this information. This is where the index finger comes in handy.
When reading with your child, encourage them to show you the evidence for their answers by saying, 'Put your finger on the word/sentence that tells you that.'
If someone told me that the Earth is flat, there is a strong chance I would roll my eyes. From this, you might well infer (correctly) that I thought they were being a bit daft. Inference is about finding meaning that is implied rather than spelt out explicitly and it's an aspect of reading comprehension many children find tricky.
To help your children improve their understanding of inference, ask them to think carefully about how a character's feelings, motives and personality can be inferred from the way the writer describes their actions, words or thoughts. A good way to do this is to ask them to read speech the way it's been described e.g. Read this sentence the way Buster said it: 'I'll see you later',' threatened Buster in a quiet whisper. Asking them to explain why they read it that way will focus their mind on the words that create the inference.
When I read a story where the main character is warned against going through the woods; to the cliff-top; playing beside the canal, etc. I feel safe in assuming they'll almost certainly end up where they were warned to avoid and that something awful will happen whilst they're there. I know this because I've read lots of stories and I'm pretty good at spotting the clues left by writers.
To help your child make predictions, firstly encourage them to read as much as they can. The more they read, the better they'll become at spotting clues. Also, when you're reading, ask them to make predictions and combine this with the earlier tip of putting their finger on the word or sentence in the text that gave them the clue.
I wouldn't expect you to retell the story of Romeo and Juliet word-by-word as written by William Shakespeare but I'm fairly confident you could summarise the plot in your own words. Many children find it difficult to sum-up the gist of a text and need practise at identifying the main points that show what the text is about.
To help your child develop their summarising skills, consider asking them to tell you what they've read in their own words; maybe limiting them to no more than 50 words. Another technique is to ask them to give paragraphs or sections of a text sub-titles or headings that sum-up what they are about.
Rachel is the Director of Primary English Education Consultancy Limited. She has over 20 years' experience in primary education and is the author of several books published by Collins.
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