Comprehension is...

  • the essence of reading
  • active and intentional thinking in which the meaning is constructed through interactions between the text and the reader (Durkin, 1973, see References).

Comprehension: the complex cognitive process involving the intentional interaction between reader and text to extract meaning.

Factors that Impact Reading Comprehension

Reader Based Factors Text Based Factors
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Alphabetic Understanding
  • Fluency with the Code
  • Vocabulary knowledge
  • Prior knowledge
  • Engagement and interest
  • Narrative v. Expository
  • Genre considerations
  • Quality of text
  • Density and difficulty of concepts

Comprehension Strategies for Proficient Readers Consist of:

  • an awareness and understanding of one's own cognitive processes
  • recognition of when one doesn't understand
  • coordination and shifting the use of strategies as needed

Go to top of page


Comprehension instruction should:

  • Begin in early childhood with storytelling and discussions
  • Consist of question answering and lessons on simple story structure in kindergarten and first grade with accessible texts
  • Include comprehension strategy instruction in second and third grade in narrative and expository texts

Teaching Comprehension Before, During, and After Reading

Before Reading

  1. Set comprehension objectives
    • Refer to instructional priorities on grade-level curriculum maps to set objectives
    • Examples:
      • Accurately answer literal and inferential questions
      • Identify the main character and setting
  2. Preteach difficult to read words
    • Identify words that will be barriers to students' independent reading.
    • Use familiar procedures to teach or review difficult-to-decode words:
      • Sounding Out
      • Structural Analysis
  3. Preview text and prime background knowledge
    • Teach students to preview the text and predict what the text is going to be about before reading a passage.
    • After previewing, teach students to think about what they already know and what they'd like to learn about the story or topic.
  4. Chunk text into manageable segments. Considerations include:
    • Appropriate stopping points for asking questions
    • Specific vocabulary that might need to be reviewed
    • Appropriate points for identifying text structure elements
    • Opportunities to summarize the main ideas in the passage

During Reading

  1. Identify text structure elements
    • Narrative Text
      • Texts that usually follow a familiar story structure and include the following structural elements:
        • Characters
        • Setting
        • Problems
        • Solutions
        • Theme
    • Expository Text
      • Informational books
      • Contain structures that can differ from one text to another and within a single passage (e.g., compare-contrast, description).
      • Help students understand content area textbooks.
  2. Answer literal, inferential, and evaluative questions
    • Literal questions have responses that are directly stated in the text.
    • Inferential questions have responses that are indirectly stated, induced, or require other information.
    • Evaluative questions require the reader to formulate a response based on their opinion.
    • Text Questions: Literal, Inferential, or Evaluative?
      Puppies are very small when they are born. They cannot see until they are about two weeks old. During this time, they stay very close to their mothers.
      • What are puppies like when they are born?
      • Are puppies born blind?
      • Why do they stay close to their mothers?
      • Would you like to have a puppy?
  3. Retell stories or main ideas of informational text
    • Proficient readers periodically summarize text as they read, monitoring their understanding of the passage.
    • Teaching children to retell occurrences in a story or the main ideas of informational text helps them become more accurate in summarizing and monitoring their understanding.

Informal Assessment: Monitoring Students' Progress After Reading

  • Have discussions and conversations about texts that include open-ended, more complex questions.
  • Observe students as they read and respond.
  • Have students retell stories and monitor for accuracy and completeness of responses.

Go to top of page


Comprehension skills can be assessed with four DIBELS measures:

Go to top of page

TIP: For more information about Comprehension, including additional teaching strategies, visit the Big Ideas in Beginning Reading website.