Explicit Explanation | Guidelines for Questioning | Strategy Instruction

Reading First: A Guide to Comprehension Instruction

Reading is a dynamic process. The interpretation of text is influenced by the individual reader's experiences and is socially constructed as readers interact with text. Research shows that good readers also have a small repertoire of strategies that they may call upon as needed. For example, they question authors and relate their own experiences to what they read. Good readers also make efforts to resolve confusions that may arise while reading.

To begin our discussion, we must first define comprehension. Anne Sweet and Catherine Snow define comprehension as "the process of extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language." The RAND Reading Study Group report (2001) purports that comprehension involves three elements: the reader, the text, and the activity. All of these elements occur within the milieu of the sociocultural context. The reader brings a wide range of abilities and knowledge to the table while the text brings its own collection of influencing factors, such as text difficulty and text structure. Additionally, the activity, or the purpose, of reading is affected by many motivational factors like interest, preference, and prior knowledge. Through the activity of reading, these factors can, and most likely do, change. Lastly, all of these elements are influenced by the sociocultural context in that the interpretation of a specific cultural group will vary from that of another.

The goal of reading instruction is fluent reading with good comprehension. However, many things can influence the outcome of reading including word knowledge, vocabulary, and background knowledge. Word-level skills are essential. If a child cannot decode a word, then he or she will not be able to access the meaning of the text. Additionally, if a child cannot decode words fluently, then comprehension is compromised because too many cognitive resources are devoted to decoding rather than comprehension. Vocabulary also plays a role. Good readers have more extensive vocabularies when compared to weaker readers. A reader's knowledge of the world also affects comprehension. Readers need to relate ideas found in text to their own knowledge in order to understand what they read. They use their prior knowledge to make inferences that are required to understand the text.

This being said, how do we effectively teach comprehension so that our students are able to access a variety of texts? Explicit instruction in word knowledge, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies lays the foundation for developing strategic readers. Developing word recognition skills early in a child's academic life cannot be underscored. Children must also develop of a store of words that they can recognize automatically so that they can read fluently without the pressures of decoding. Explicit vocabulary instruction should accompany text reading in order to improve comprehension. Children should also be encouraged to participate in wide reading in order to enhance their knowledge of the world, as well as gain additional exposure to words to promote fluency and vocabulary growth. Lastly, you should engage your students in explicit comprehension strategy instruction so that they may have access to a repertoire of strategies from which to call upon while reading as needed.

Comprehension Instruction: Explicit Explanation

Explicit strategy instruction has been found to be beneficial to all students, especially our struggling readers. Additionally, many contend that effective teachers employ explicit teaching techniques. This section of the Comprehension Guide outlines explicit explanations in comprehension strategy instruction including specific guidelines on how teachers make explanations effective.

Comprehension Instruction: Guidelines for Questioning

Many studies have shown that questioning during reading is primarily evaluative rather than instructional. Students are not typically taught how to ask questions about the author or the text as they read; instead, they are taught to answer teacher-generated or pre-established questions. This section of the Comprehension Guide provides guidelines for questioning your students as well as for assisting your students in their own questioning of text using an activity developed by Taffy Raphael called Question-Answer Relationships (QARs).

Instructional Activities for Comprehension Development: Strategy Instruction

Despite the common support for the value of comprehension instruction, research has shown that it continues to receive inadequate time and attention in our classrooms. This section of the guide is devoted to how you can incorporate comprehension strategy instruction into your literacy instruction. Explicit comprehension strategy instruction has been proven to assist readers in their understanding of text. According to the National Reading Panel, the most effective strategies can be condensed to the following seven:

  • Activation of prior knowledge
  • Prioritizing information
  • Questioning the author and the text
  • Evoking sensory images
  • Drawing inferences
  • Retelling or synthesizing
  • Using fix-up strategies to repair comprehension

Each of these strategies are discussed in this section in a before, during, and after reading format.

Click here to see a list of resources that address comprehension instruction.

Pictorial Case Study: Comprehension

Please feel free to download and use any of the activities and information that we have provided. You may contact the Reading First office at the University of Virginia if you have any questions.

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