Reading Tips

How to Help Your Child Build Reading Comprehension

A Wholistic Reading Approach

Let’s talk about how to help your child build reading comprehension. In a wholistic reading approach model, comprehension is just as important as the decoding of words. Overall understanding of the text is the goal of reading, therefore comprehension skills must be learned and practiced.

How to help your child build reading comprehension

What are we looking for?

As a parent helping your child to read, you might be wondering . . . what am I looking for when it comes to reading comprehension?

Reading comprehension is not an expectation that the reader remember every detail, both big and small, of the text that they just read. If that were the case, I know I would fail at reading comprehension.

What we are looking for is a child remembering the big details about the texts they read and be able to recount them to you in the order that they happened.

It is important that as the child is reading, they are picking up on the basic plot line of the story. If a child is struggling to remember the key details of the text, then comprehension may be an area that needs some work

How can I help?

We can help our children grow in their comprehension by asking questions while we read and after we read.

For example, you are reading a chapter book with your child, and you just completed Chapter 7. Before continuing, stop and say “Wow! There were a lot of exciting things that happened in that chapter! Can you tell me about what we just read?”

Listen to hear if your child picked up on the big details that are important to the entire storyline. For example, if the child remembers the clothes that the character was wearing, that’s great. However, what I really want to know is if they remember that the character just found out that he has to move and go to a new school in the middle of the school year. The character moving is an important detail to the overall storyline.

When you finish a book, whether its a picture book or a chapter book, generate discussion with these questions.

  • What happened at the beginning of the story?
  • What happened in the middle of the story?
  • How did the story end?
  • What did the main character struggle with?
  • What was the big problem of the story?
  • Who/what was working against the main character?
  • Have you ever experienced the same problem?
  • What did you do?
  • How did the author resolve the problem?
  • Do you agree with how the author ended the book?
  • What would you have done differently?

These questions challenge your child to think about the book as a whole and also try to relate to the main character.

If children can get in the habit of looking for ways to relate with the characters, they will remember the story more easily.

How to help your child build reading comprehension

At first, your child may have a hard time answering these questions, and that’s okay! Help them out by filling in some of the details. Here’s an example conversation.

Example Conversation

“Do you remember what happened next in the story?”

“I don’t really remember.”

“That’s okay! I remember that Susie found out she has to move and go to a new school. Do you remember how Susie felt about that?”

“I remember that she felt sad . . . sad to leave her friends at her old house and school.”

“That’s right! Have you ever experienced that kind of sadness? Tell me about it.”

“Well, one time a friend in my class had to move away, and it made me sad that I wouldn’t see her every day.”

“I remember that! What made you feel better?”

“Well since I couldn’t hang out with my friend anymore, I got to know some other people in my class, and I made new friends.”

“Wow, that’s great! What happened in the story that made Susie feel better too?”

This conversation example demonstrates a couple of things. First, it shows what to do when a child doesn’t remember a key detail. Simply help them out. Identifying and remembering key details is a skill that needs to be practiced. Modeling your own “remembering” can help.

Second, the adult helps the child personally relate to the character by thinking of a time in her life where she may have felt a similar sadness to the character. By personally relating to the character, the child has a better chance of remembering how the character felt and what happened next in the story.

And finally, the adult generated a legitimate discussion with the child rather than asking the rapid fire questions like it’s a quiz. It is important that a child feels safe to share what he remembers, even if he is missing some parts.

This discussion is helping the child by modeling how the child should be thinking when reading. “Is this an important event to the storyline? How can I relate to the character in this moment?”

A Tool that can Help

The cool thing about comprehension is that we don’t have to wait for children to learn how to read in order to practice comprehension. It is important for a child to also be able to listen to a story and demonstrate the same comprehension skills.

If you have a young child, and you would like to practice listening or reading comprehension, I have a fun tool for you!

I have created a series of seasonal file folder games for the “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed” books. If you have not read these books, you need to! These silly stories are about an old lady who swallows item after item and in the end, everything comes together to form something new like a backpack or a scarecrow.

These books are perfect for little ones who need to practice comprehension. In the game, there are a series of pictures that match the items that the old lady swallowed. The child’s task is to put the picture events in order.

The child can begin to ordering the events while you read. Then, challenge your child to wait until you are done reading, and then try to order the events. Your child can also practice language such as “First, she swallowed a book. Then, she swallowed a ruler. Next, she swallowed . . . “

These file folder games are simple, fun, and reusable! And there’s one for every season and holiday! You can continue practicing the same skill all year long, but change up the story. Your child will love it!

Happy reading!

Check out the seasonal file folder sequencing games here!

Looking for more? Check out the Wholistic Reading Approach series!

The Wholistic Reading Approach

Constructing Background Knowledge

The Decoding Detective

Why Fluency Matters

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