Only 9 Reading Comprehension Strategies You'll Ever Teach!
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The Only 9 Reading Comprehension Strategies Your Students Will Ever Need!

9 Reading Comprehension Strategies

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

Reading Comprehension Strategies Video Transcript

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!

The 9 Comprehension Strategies

  • Purpose
  • Fluency
  • Context
  • Background Knowledge
  • Questions
  • Monitoring
  • Connections
  • Inferring
  • Summarizing
  • 1) 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.

    2) Adjusting Fluency

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

    3) 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.

    4)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. 

    5) 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?”

    6) Self-Monitoring

    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.

    7) 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.

    8) 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

    9) Summarizing

    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.

    Fluency and Reading Comprehension - Spiral Warm Ups
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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

    Three Components of Background Knowledge in Reading Comprehension. Journal of Research in Language Studies

    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.

    Teaching Comprehension Strategies

    There are many ways to teach reading comprehension strategies. It may be helpful to see how other reading experts list or description comprehension strategies.

    Some say 6. Others say 7 or 8. 

    We’ve included these below, so you can use the list that makes the most sense for you in your classroom.

    Seven Comprehension Strategies from NIFL

    The National Institute for Learning explains it this way, “Comprehension strategies are conscious plans — sets of steps that good readers use to make sense of text. Comprehension strategy instruction helps students become purposeful, active readers who are in control of their own reading comprehension. These seven strategies have research-based evidence for improving text comprehension.”

    Adler, C.R. (Ed). 2001. Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, pp. 49-54. National Institute for Literacy. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2007, from

    The Seven Strategies are:

    1) Monitoring Comprehension

    Students who are good at monitoring their comprehension know when they understand what they read and when they do not. They have strategies to “fix” problems in their understanding as the problems arise.

    2) Metacognition

    Good readers use metacognitive strategies to think about and have control over their reading. The understand and use specific reading behaviors before, during, and after reading to enhance their understanding of the text.

    3) Graphic Organizers

    Graphic organizers can:
    > Help students analyze text structures.
    > Provide students a non-text way to examine relationships in a text.
    > Scaffold students as they summarize text.

    4) Answering Questions

    Questions give purpose to reading and help students actively think about meaning and focus on key ideas.

    5) Generating Questions

    When students ask their own questions, they learn to actively tackle a text with a purpose in mind. Their comprehension is constantly checked by the questions they ask.

    6) Recognizing Story Structure

    Students should be taught to recognize patterns in characters, setting, events, problem, and resolution. Often different text use the same recurring patterns – understanding this aids in reading comprehension.

    7) Summarizing

    Abstracting key ideas and paraphrasing text is an essential aim of reading instruction. Students should be able to eliminate unnecessary information and focus an important details to better remember and understand what they read.

    Four Reading Comprehension Strategies from School Psychology Review

    There are four more reading comprehension strategies used by fluent readers:

    1. Prior Knowledge
      Using background knowledge prior to reading helps a reader to create context outside of the text.
    2. Making Predictions
      When students make predictions about the text they are about to read, it sets up expectations based on their prior knowledge about similar topics. As they read, they may mentally revise their prediction as they gain more information.
    3. Making Inferences
      Some will contend that predictions are a type of inference, but inferences also include the ability to generalize and draw conclusions from details presented within a text.
    4. Visualizing
      Students who visualize narrations and concept while reading generally experience deeper comprehension than students who do not (Pressley, 1977).

    Tierney, R. J. (1982). Essential considerations for developing basic reading comprehension skills. School Psychology Review 11(3), pp. 299–305.

    Pressley, M. (1977). Imagery and children’s learning: Putting the picture in developmental perspective. Review of Educational Research 47, pp. 586–622.

    Ideas for Teaching 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!





    10 responses to “The Only 9 Reading Comprehension Strategies Your Students Will Ever Need!”

    1. Kendra

      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

      1. Admin

        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.

    2. Jorge

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

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