Over the years, parents have asked me what they can do at home to help their children become better at reading comprehension. Here are four ideas you can do at home that can help your children do better in reading comprehension.
It is important for children to be familiar with the topic they are reading. If they are reading fiction, an understanding of where or when the story takes place (especially if it is in the past or future), familiarity with the characters, and a general understanding of the topic will help them make sense of what they are reading. Just think if you were asked to read a book about a setting you knew nothing about, and characters that confused you, and they were all wound up together in a plot that was confusing to you. Would there be much comprehension and understanding happening as you read it? There would be very little. Now imagine if you understood these things first. You would have a much easier time understanding what you were reading. Every experience your children have – field trips, vacations, museums, meeting new people – help with building their background knowledge and eventually their reading comprehension.
Knowing the vocabulary that is used in the book is closely tied to background knowledge. If you read a paragraph and don’t understand three or four of the words you just read – you’re out of luck! If your children do not understand what a word means, encourage them to show you so you can explain it to them. Or, if you rather, they can tried to figure out what the word means through context clues. This means they look at the sentences before or after, and then try to figure out what would make sense for the meaning of the word. Vocabulary can be increased starting in babyhood and going all the way through childhood by continually naming and explaining what your children see.
Make Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, and Text to World)
Reading comprehension is not only recalling facts and details about what was read, but understanding what was read as well. One of my favorite reading comprehension books is Mosaic of Thoughtby Susan Zimmermann. In this book, the author defines three ways your children can make connections to what they are reading that will help them understand and remember what they are reading.
The first is text to self. The idea here is to help children relate the books they are reading to themselves. It could be something that happened in the books that also happened to them, or it could even be how the main character’s qualities remind them of themselves. For example, “Lucy was very honest when she told her mother she accidentally broke the lamp. That reminds me of the time I was honest when I told our neighbor I accidentally threw a ball threw their window.
The second is text to text. This means it’s important for your children to find similarities in the books they are reading to other books they have already read or heard. For example, “Junie B. Jones reminds me of Ramona Quimby because both of them are precocious and mean well, but usually end up getting themselves in a pickle”. Children will probably start off simple like there are kids and animals in both books, but help them move farther.
The third is text to world. The children find something that is happening in the book and relate it to what is happening (or has happened) in the world. For example, “Little House on the Prairie reminds me of what I learned about the pioneers on the Oregon trail.”
I use to make “Text To” journals for the students to write down the connections they were making while reading. These journals would be great for reading while at home as well. I’ve included a free text to journal printable that you can use. I would photocopy the paper, cut it in half, fold a piece of construction paper or the journal cover below over it, and then staple it together on top. You could also use a three ring binder and follow the same concept.
I also have added big posters made from butcher paper in my classroom. I have one that says, “Text To Self,” another that says “Text To Text,” and a third that says, “Text To World.” As students would find connections in their reading, they would go to the appropriate posters and add the connections that they found along with their names.
Building these connections will help them personalize what they are reading and make it purposeful. Personalizing helps children understand what they are reading better and will help them to remember what they read as well.
Story Elements and Higher Order Questions
It is good to encourage your children to think broader and deeper while reading. Not only will this help them understand what they are reading, but it will also help to prepare them for state tests such as Common Core (now in the majority of states). I have included a free printable download below with questions for each part of the story elements. These questions are great because they can be used with just about any fiction book. Help your children to think beyond a question such as, “What color was the boy’s shirt?” and up to a question such as, “If you were in the same position as the boy, would you have done the same thing? Why or why not?” The questions I provided below provide higher order questions like these. There is one for preschool through first grade children and another for second grade through sixth grade children. They will help your children to start seeing reading as understanding what they are reading as opposed to just memorizing and recalling details of what they are reading. Understanding is key in reading comprehension.
Use this story elements questions free printable for second through sixth grade children.
Use this story elements questions free printable for preschool through first grade children. These questions can be used for many of the books your children read including simple picture books. Starting reading comprehension elements early will help your children as they grow older.