9 Reading Comprehension Strategies - How to Conquer Comprehension!
Only 9 Reading Comprehension Strategies You'll Ever Teach!

9 Reading Comprehension Strategies

These are the only 9 reading comprehension strategies you’ll ever need to teach! Seriously. All reading comprehension comes from these reading strategies.

Three of the reading comprehension strategies require thinking beyond the text, and six of the strategies involve thinking with the text.

In this post you’ll discover:

  • The 9 Reading Comprehension Strategies
  • Why Reading Comprehension Breaks Down
  • Where to Target Your Instruction, And When
  • The Difference Between Comprehension Strategies & Skills
  • Why Test Prep is Never Enough

Video Transcription

These are the nine comprehension strategies every reader must master. Six of them are thinking within the text. Establishing a purpose prior to reading. This allows the reader to set goals and decide which strategies will be used. Adjusting fluency to support meaning. This is when a reader uses word knowledge and decoding skills with great amounts of automaticity. Context of words and of the text itself allows the reader to pull meanings from the text and the words within the text. Background knowledge is primed and used during the reading. Words and images allow the reader to pull meaning from previous experiences. Asking questions about the text – both literal and inferential questions allow the reader to continually construct meaning during the reading. Monitoring meaning and making adjustments. Self-correcting when mistakes happen and meaning breaks down. This is when the reader is in control of meaning. There are three strategies that go beyond the text. Connections in the text to other texts and to the world. These connection form powerful links to previous experience. Thinking beyond what is literally stated. Making predictions and inferences and drawing conclusions beyond what the author states. Differentiating between major and minor events or ideas – summarizing during the reading. Regardless of age, these are the nine must have reading strategies. Together, we’re building stronger readers and writers!


When taught correctly, these reading comprehension strategies are like tools in a toolkit. Students can use them as needed to build comprehension.

Even more, these reading comprehension strategies empower readers because they know the tools, can use the tools, and actively experience the benefit of using these comprehension tools!

9 Reading Comprehension Strategies

A List of the Strategies

  1. Purpose
  2. Fluency
  3. Context
  4. Background Knowledge
  5. Questions
  6. Monitoring
  7. Connections
  8. Inferring
  9. Summarizing

Establishing Purpose

This is not telling students why they’re reading or asking them to figure out the author’s purpose for the text. This is helping students make informed choices about texts and being strategic about how to attack the text. Helping students set a purpose for reading purpose also helps them understand the value of tapping into their prior knowledge.

Adjusting Fluency

Using decoding skills with such a degree of automaticity that the reader can adjust as needed to maintain and enhance meaning.

Using Context

There are context clues, and there are also other types of context. Readers use context to make meaning when they consider the genre, the structure of the paragraph, the graphical features, the text features, and word context.

Background Knowledge

There are many ways to build background knowledge – some are in your control, some are not:

  • Field Trips
  • Life Experiences
  • Conversations with Adults
  • Academic Conversations with Peers
  • Video and Media Sources
  • Wide Reading Experiences
  • Vocabulary Instruction
  • Direct Instruction

An active reader actively thinks about prior knowledge to attach textual meanings to schema.

Asking Questions

Great readers constantly ask questions as they read. You can teach students this and give them examples of the questions good readers ask. For example, “I wonder why it says…” or “What is (the character) going to do to (another character) for revenge?”


The challenge of reading isn’t merely in the task decoding and meaning-making. This reading comprehension strategy carries importance because good readers actively monitor the meaning of the words they read. When meaning breaks down, they know it and adjust or self-correct.

Making Connections

Background knowledge isn’t enough. Readers must also actively connect the meaning in the text to their own understandings, their own experiences, and other texts. These connections beyond the text enrich their reading comprehension.

Making Inferences

We often think of “inferencing” as the reading skill, but it is a reading comprehension strategy. The act of inferring is a strategy that creates comprehension of a text. Inferring includes thinking such as:

  • Making Predictions
  • Drawing Conclusions
  • Using Evidence to Support Original Thoughts


A test can ask a student to bubble the “best summary” or write a summary. But this reading strategy is the ongoing act of pausing and thinking about the text. What was it about? What was this page about? What’s happening in this plot?

Summarizing allows a reader to keep track of meaning and adjust when meaning is missing.

Why Does Reading Comprehension Break Down?

When one or more of these reading comprehension strategies are missing, reading comprehension suffers. It’s easy to conclude that a reader is missing reading comprehension skills, but often that’s not the missing link.

When comprehension suffers it’s usually because of fluency. This is the first “bottleneck” in the chain of reading comprehension strategies.

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When students struggle in word decoding skills, fluency suffers. When fluency suffers, the words and letters seem like a jumbled “mess” and meaning-making breaks down. There’s no amount of context, background knowledge, or comprehension skills that can recover from this comprehension strategy bottleneck.

When students struggle in word decoding skills, fluency suffers. When fluency suffers, the words and letters seem like a jumbled mess.Click To Tweet

Where to Target Instruction, And When?

When reading comprehension breaks down. First, target reading fluency. It’s possible a little boost in fluency is all that is needed. You can do this with:

When fluency is not the issue, it’s time to move into other reading comprehension strategies that can cause bottlenecks in meaning-making.

Context and Purpose

Context and purpose allow the reader to step back from the print and make meaning from “what’s around the words”. The context within sentences, within graphical features, and that’s a part of the genre itself, are all important sources of information. 

Context and Purpose are Two Reading Comprehension Strategies

It’s important to explicitly teach these sources of information to readers, so they can use them to construct meaning.

When taught correctly, these strategies are like tools in a toolkit. Students can use them as needed to build comprehension.Click To Tweet

What’s After Context, Purpose, and Fluency?

When these bases are well-understood, it’s time to ensure readers understand the next three reading comprehension strategies that allow thinking within the text:

  1. Background Knowledge (And How to Use It)
  2. Monitoring Understanding & Self-Correcting
  3. Asking Questions
  • Background Knowledge
  • Monitoring
  • Questions

"Struggling readers tend not to ask questions of themselves or the text as they read. Teachers who model how to ask questions while reading help children to learn how to build interest with the text and become stronger readers." - Reading Horizons

Comprehension Strategy vs. Skill

A strategy is an overall approach to reaching a goal. In reading, the goal is comprehension. Reading comprehension strategies are the pathways or choices that readers make to reach that goal.

A skill is an ability someone has or can learn. In reading, skills help readers use strategies. Reading skills are small, discrete steps readers take when using a certain reading strategy.

What's Difference Between Comprehension Strategies and Skills

You can see, a reading comprehension strategy is intricate and involves many smaller pieces or skills. A comprehension skill can be learned in isolation in a fairly quick amount of time, but a comprehension strategy takes time, explicit instruction in an authentic setting, and practice within the full reading process.

A comprehension strategy takes time, explicit instruction, and practice within the full reading process.Click To Tweet

What’s the Problem With Test Prep?

Well, besides the fact that is can be boring and really drain the life out of authentic reading engagement, test prep also focuses on skills. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on skills, that’s we do here at Spiral WarmUps, but it is not enough!

Test prep doesn’t fully allow students to learn and practice reading comprehension strategies.

How to Teach Reading Comprehension Strategies

So what can we do?

How can comprehension strategies be effectively taught?

Those are big questions for another post. But I’d love to hear your favorite approaches for teaching reading comprehension strategies. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

  • Kendra says:

    Where do comprehension strategies like compare/contrast or cause/effect fall in your list? Other than a few things like that it looks like your list is pretty complete. Thanks

    • Admin says:

      Great question, Kendra. Those skills are absent from this list. We like to think of them as skills, not strategies. They fall into two categories actually.

      1) Comprehension Skill: When students are thinking about comparing two ideas in a text.
      2) Concept: The concept of organizing a paragraph using that text structure.

      In both cases, they are skills that fit into the comprehension strategies. They are used in the process of a specific strategy. For example, using text structures helps a reader determine context and summarize a text.

  • Jorge says:

    I’m on your email list, and these 9 reading comprehension strategies are the best email yet. Thanks!

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