What Reading Comprehension is and How to Improve it.

Updated: Feb 1


Comprehension means understanding. There is no reason to read something unless you understand it. But sometimes people have a hard time understanding what they read. Why? What can help them understand? Can your child understand things when you read to them but not so much when they read it to themselves? What can help your child have better comprehension of school subjects? In this blog, I will be addressing these questions.

I will address three things in this blog that can affect reading comprehension. The first is background knowledge and vocabulary. The second is low reading skills taking too much brainpower. The final topic I will address is different ways to approach different types of texts.

Do you understand everything you read? I don’t. Here is an example: Technology. When something is wrong with my computer I google it to find out what to do. I often find an article to read and even though I can read each word I don’t know what many of the words mean. I often have no idea what the article is telling me to do to solve my problem. I have to look up some of the words, but I still don't understand even though I can read the definition. Sometimes I even have to look up some of the words in the definition. Often I have to ask someone else for help. I have a reading comprehension problem. The reason for this problem is that I have a background knowledge deficiency. I also have an interest deficit. Reading about how to fix computer problems is not interesting to me.


A famous study has shown that prior knowledge about a topic helps reading comprehension. It is called the baseball study. In this study, there were 4 groups of children. The first group were good readers and they also knew a lot about baseball. Group two were poor readers but they knew a lot about baseball. The third group was good readers but they did not know much at all about baseball. And the final group were poor readers and also did not know much about baseball. In the study, all the children read a passage about baseball. Then they moved plastic characters around a miniature baseball diamond. They were to act out what they read. The study found that the first two groups both did well with this activity - even the ones who were poor readers. The two groups that did not know much about baseball did poorly on the activity. Even those who were good readers did poorly on the activity when they didn't know about baseball. This study shows how having knowledge about a subject will help you understand.



When you know a subject you also have vocabulary about that subject. Vocabulary and background knowledge is gained in a variety of ways. You can make learning easier for your children by helping them gain knowledge. The more things they know about the better. You can visit museums together. You can read or listen to books together. You can look up words that you don't know and discuss the meaning together. You can travel to new places in real life or in a book. The more your child learns the more connections they make and the more they can learn.

Now let's talk about the second problem that some readers have with comprehension. Sometimes they will understand what is read to them but not if they read it themselves. This shows a reading weakness, not a thinking weakness. The amount of brain energy they must use to decode words is too great. It is impossible to think about the meaning. This is why it is so important to make sure the other components of good reading are in place. Comprehension is the goal of reading but four other components are essential.

Phonemic awareness is the foundation. In houses, you do not see the foundation but if you don't have a good one your house will have major problems. The same is true for reading. If phonemic awareness is not good the reader will struggle. Read my blog about phonemic awareness here.




The second essential component of reading is phonics. You may read my blog about phonics here. Most people today learn some phonics in school. What if your child is struggling even though they have learned phonics? Here are some things that may be causing the problem. They may not have had solid phonemic awareness before learning the phonics. This would cause the phonics instruction to not make much sense to them. Or the instruction may have been too fast for them. People with dyslexia need more time to process what they have learned. Also, they may need more phonics. In most classrooms, the phonics basics are taught. Then most of the students notice patterns and memorize irregular words and they are fine. But a dyslexic student needs to know more. They need to learn about all the rules and irregularities and have time to practice them.


The third component essential to good reading instruction is vocabulary. We have already talked a little about vocabulary in the first section of this blog. If you would like to read more about it you may read my blog about vocabulary here.


The fourth essential component is fluency. Is your child so slow that he can't remember the beginning of the sentence by the time he is at the end? If so he will have a comprehension problem. All his energy is going to sound out words. He doesn't have any energy left for thinking about the meaning. Again, I must repeat, phonemic awareness and phonics come before fluency. But if you are ready to work on fluency you can read my blog about fluency here.

Comprehension is the final goal of reading. We must make sure all the components of good reading are in place to reach that goal.


Finally, let us look at the types of books your child may be expected to read. There are two types of books. Narrative and expository. Sometimes these two types of books are referred to as narrative and non-fiction.


Narrative can be fictional or true stories. They are written as stories and will likely include people talking. This type of book has a setting, characters, a problem, and a solution. It also has a beginning, middle, and end. It is a good idea to look at the book and think about what you think it will be about before reading. You can read the title and any description of the book on the back. While you are reading be sure to look up and discuss any vocabulary that is unfamiliar.

To show comprehension your child should be able to summarize the story. Here is a simple outline for summarizing a narrative story. First, talk about who the characters are, where the story took place, what the problem was, and how it was solved in the end, then have your child fill in blanks in this simple outline.


Expository books are designed to convey information or explain something. By reading these you will learn about all kinds of interesting topics. Here is something simple you can do to help comprehension of these types of books. First look at the book and think about what you already know about the topic. Read the title and any words that are in bold. Look at the pictures. Ask yourself what you think you will learn by reading this book. Think about what you would like to learn about this subject. Write your questions down. Then read the book, keeping these questions in mind. Be an active reader. A reader who is reading with a purpose. Looking for the answers to the questions you thought of. After reading write down the answers if you found them ( or other things you learned) and tell someone what you read and what answers you found. If you are going to tested to the book review your notes before the quiz or test.


One more thing I want to say about comprehension is if your child is struggling with reading you need to help them with their homework. There should be two things happening at once. One is getting the help they need with the mechanics of reading. This is separate from homework. They need to be learning how to read well. At a different time from doing homework from school, they need to be working on gaining reading skills. If you are ready to begin doing this sign up for a free assessment here.


While your child is working on learning to read well you will need to read the things they need to learn to them. Or you can get some type of technology that will read their books to them. This is not cheating. Even if they are in high school. They need to learn the content. If they do not learn the things all the other kids are learning they will fall behind in knowledge. Then they will be behind in two things. Knowledge and reading skills. You need to help them by reading to them so that they will know everything the other kids know. At a separate time, they need to be working on gaining reading skills. In this way they can understand all the information they are expected to learn even if they don't have good reading ability yet. This will also help with frustration and time constraints. People with dyslexia are really working way harder than other people. They take way longer to do homework than their friends. Do everything you can to level the field for them.

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