How to Improve Reading Comprehension

When I was a kid, you would have hated to sit by me in the library. With my books splayed everywhere and my feet tapping at a hundred miles a minute, I mouthed every word of the book I was reading out loud. When I finished my reading, I would literally talk to myself about the ideas, themes, or characters of that particular assignment. Why did I do this? I didn't realize it as a kid, but I was trying to integrate something called verbal processing into the act of reading. Verbal processing simply means talking about information in order to retain and understand it.

Verbally engaging your child before and after reading will greatly increase her comprehension, enabling her to become a more competent reader. In order to help you get the conversation (and the thoughts) flowing, here are some questions you can ask your child, regardless of whether or not you are familiar with the reading yourself. However, the ultimate goal is to empower your child to have these conversations directly with her teacher or peers. Moreover, when it comes to pre-reading questions, it's reasonable for you or your child to ask the teacher for some questions or an outline of the reading to serve as a conceptual framework.

Before Reading

Pre-reading questions empower your child to think critically about the assignment at hand. These questions will help her think about what she already knows, how the reading might relate to the class as a whole, and what she might be looking forward to -- or more likely, not looking forward to -- in the assignment.

It's fine if your child is guessing at this point -- the idea is just to get her thinking and talking about the reading. If you are working with a teenager, be prepared to hear "nothing" or "I don't care." Work through these stock responses by telling your child that the reading may not be that interesting, but you'll work through it together. This might not remove all her resistance, but at least it will let her know you're on her side.

1. What do you know about this reading assignment? Has your teacher told you to look out for anything, or given you any information about this book or chapter?
2. How do you think this reading may relate to what you are currently studying in class?
3. How does the reading relate to the class as a whole?
4. What other books have you read that reminds you of this reading?
5. What questions do you have about this book that I might be able to answer for you?
6. What are you excited about in this reading?
7. What are you not excited about?

After Reading

The post-reading questions are designed to give kids the opportunity to talk about what they've just read. Many students don't fully understand or retain information until they talk it out. In your conversation with your child, focus on getting the broad concepts down, like the themes of the reading, the structure that developed those themes, and how those themes are related to the rest of the class. Taking the time to do this will improve your child's retention of what she read. Here are some ideas:

1. What were the three major themes of what you read?
2. How did the story develop those themes?
3. What other readings from this class had similar themes?
4. How was this reading different or the same?
5. What did you like about this reading?
6. What did you dislike about this reading?
7. How might this reading be tested in class?
8. Can you summarize what you read in a few sentences?

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