Reading Comprehension Strategies

Six Essential Reading Strategies

Researchers have identified six essential reading strategies for developing comprehension abilities. Each strategy and teaching/learning activities which help students learn the strategy will be described. The six strategies are:

  • Making Connections
  • Questioning
  • Visualizing
  • Inferring
  • Determining Importance
  • Synthesizing

Each of these strategies is integral to comprehension, and together they represent the active mindset children must assume in order to become effective learners as well as readers. The steps for teaching each strategy involve explicit instruction.

First, the teacher models the thinking behind the strategy. A think-aloud, which involves talking out loud about what you are thinking as you interact with a specific piece of text, is an excellent way to demonstrate how a proficient reader uses one of these comprehension strategies.

The second phase of instruction is guided practice. The teacher and students work together to use the comprehension strategy to understand a piece of text. During guided practice, the teacher assists students as they try to make meaning, by providing feedback and advice. The students are encouraged to verbalize how they are thinking, so that the use of the strategy is apparent, and the students are clear about what they are trying to accomplish.

The third phase of instruction is independent practice. The students try using the strategy on their own, and they track their efforts by recording their thinking in their journals, on sticky notes affixed to the text, or on note taking sheets. Students also share with each other as they learn through discussions and cooperative group work.

As students become more accomplished applying these strategies, they need to be given multiple opportunities to experiment using them as they read and learn from a range of materials, both fictional stories and nonfictional informational texts, including books, articles, textbooks, magazines, and newspapers. The goal of teaching reading comprehension strategies is to gradually cede increasing responsibility to students for independently applying each strategy. However, students need a great deal of practice, with guidance and feedback from the teacher, to gain personal control over their own thinking about their reading.

Several excellent sources are available to guide teachers as they work with students on developing reading strategies. Strategies That Work, by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, and Mosaic of Thought, by Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmermann guide teachers through the steps of teaching these reading comprehension strategies. In addition, I Read It, but I Don’t Get It, by Cris Tovani, outlines teaching these strategies to adolescent readers. Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning, by Doug Buehl, describes a wide range of popular activities that can be used by teachers and parents to help students become more effective readers and learners.