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Teaching Reaching Comprehension Skills in Grades K-3

National Institute for Literacy (

  • What are some effective ways to teach comprehension skills in grades K-3?
The research on comprehension in the National Reading Panel Report was conducted primarily on students in grades four and higher. The research evidence indicates that teaching comprehension skills can improve comprehension for children in grades four and above. Put Reading First encourages teachers in the primary grades to incorporate direct instruction in comprehension strategies as well. The direct and explicit teaching of comprehension strategies helps K-3 students become active readers who are engaged in understanding written text. Teachers provide direct and explicit teaching of comprehension strategies through explanation, demonstration or modeling, guided practice, and opportunities for children to practice using comprehension strategies when reading grade-appropriate children’s text. The National Reading Panel identified six comprehension strategies that have potential value for K-3 reading instructional programs:

• Comprehension monitoring helps students know what they understand or do not understand when reading text. It also helps them use “fix-up” strategies such as re-reading for a particular purpose or adjusting reading speed as related to text difficulty. • Graphic and semantic organizers help students categorize or classify concepts in informational text using maps, webs, graphs, or charts. • Answering a variety of questions (including literal, inferential and critical/application types) during pre-reading, reading, and post-reading provides students with a purpose and focus for reading. • Asking different types of questions about text meaning during pre-reading, reading, and post-reading activities improves students’ active engagement with text. • Recognizing story structure helps students understand how characters, events, and settings contribute to plot. • Summarizing main ideas and key details is critical to demonstrating understanding of the author’s message.

In combination, these six strategies have been shown to be particularly beneficial when students work cooperatively to construct the meaning of text, as is the case with multiple strategy instruction, or reciprocal teaching. In reciprocal teaching, students combine multiple strategies by predicting and confirming text meaning, asking questions when reading, clarifying vocabulary or concepts that are poorly understood, and summarizing text meaning.
  • · Should all children be good readers by the end of third grade? Is that really the correct benchmark?
Learning to read fluently and with comprehension by the end of grade 3 marks the difference between the “learning to read” phase of reading development and the “reading to learn” phase that typically begins in grade 4. By the end of grade 3, students are expected to have developed the automaticity to recognize words quickly on the basis of their orthography or spelling. This ability to identify words rapidly facilitates comprehension of connected text, a critical element of middle school reading when students are expected to use their literacy skills to learn sophisticated content across the curriculum.
  • What are the best strategies for reading interventions for children in grades K-3 who are not benefiting from the reading program?
When K-3 students are not benefiting from the classroom reading instructional program, early interventions should be implemented to bolster students’ opportunities to succeed. Research has documented that early intervention based on screening and diagnostic assessment of skills will enhance students’ acquisition of early literacy competencies. Beginning in kindergarten, early interventions in small groups or, when warranted, one-on-one instruction should focus on the needs of individual students as determined by screening or diagnostic assessments. Early interventions may be provided by certified teachers, reading or teaming specialists, or trained aides or tutors within the classroom or in pull-out programs, depending upon available resources and the needs of children. Screening assessments can be used to identify students who are not making adequate progress toward achievement of grade-specific early reading competencies associated with phonemic awareness, phonics and other word recognition strategies, fluency, vocabulary development, and comprehension strategies. More detailed diagnostic assessment can help teachers group students who need similar instruction on particular skills.
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