Description of comprehension

Comprehension - is a process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language.

It isn’t simply derived from decoding of text. Each reader must construct the mental models represented by an author in the text by the vocabulary, linguistic structures, and discourse style with the interplay of the reader’s knowledge.

A process which includes four elements:

  1. Text -  in any form,
  2. Reader - who has variable abilities, knowledge, experiences, and
  3. Context - the physical and mental settings where a reading activity takes place.
  4. Activity (usually called reading comprehension) with the intended purpose, processes, and result of understanding meaning (comprehension) encoded in the text by the author.


Text is written characters that make words in written or printed materials. The usual product of printed or written matter is a page. Pages for ways to communicate (genres) in different pieces of literature: articles, newspapers, magazines, stories, books, and electronic files, all recorded with different types of media.


The reader is the person who tries to understand the message encoded in the text by the author.

The reader's ability to understand the message is affected by abilities to focus attention, retain information (memory), think critically, solve problems, make inferences, visualize, self motivate, set goals (hopefully, to become self-sufficient, self-regulated, active readers who have a variety of strategies to use to comprehend), their self-efficacy, vocabulary, topic knowledge, linguistic ability, social skills, comprehension strategies, fluency (which is a prior requisite of and a consequence of comprehension), understanding of genre, understanding of story elements, and understanding of text within specific documents and understanding its use in different media.


The context includes the external situtations that affect the reader’s desires and purposes for reading, which have short and long term consequences on the reader's desire to read. These include classroom instructions, the curriculum, and other stake holders actions. How the teacher plans and implements activities based on resources, time allowances, philosophy, beliefs, goals, objectives, curriculum, culture, and academic freedom.

Professional educators recognize comprehension is the prime motivator for reading and to create life long readers requires the use of activities and strategies, within a positive context, to facilite the development of all the different kinds of comprehension to empower students ability and desire to read.

Types of comprehension


Activity (reading comprehension)

Comprehension has different purposes that changes while reading.

There are external messages (encoded by the author) and reader purpose's (set by the reader) which affect the construction of understanding. While reader purposes may be supported or conflicted by the context's mandated purposes (teacher, curriculum, culture) which affect comprehension.

The activity of comprehending includes:

  1. Activation of prior knowledge (social, emotional, text structure, genre, story elements, language, communication, media and more)
  2. Monitor comprehension (metacognition) and adjust as necessary. Proficient readers monitor their activity and understanding as they read and make decisions needed to comprehend, by rereading, reading ahead, use fix up strategies or seeking outside clarification. They can summarize and make predictions before during and after reading.
  3. Generate questions
  4. Answer questions
  5. Draw inferences from literal messages in a text and reflect how inferences are created from text, ways of communication, story elements, genre, and media.
  6. Create mental images (visualizations and sensory)
  7. Create summaries, both during and after reading, about what is read.

Strategies used for the activity of comprehension include the following.

Comprehension Strategies

Effective strategies

Use instructional procedure, methods, plan, to facilitate learning.

Make connections. Between and among texts, the world, and students' lives. (sometimes called text-to-text , text-to-world, and text-to-self connections). Readers bring their background knowledge and experiences of life (pervious schema) to a text.

Create mental and sensory images. Readers interpret the text visually and sensory in their mind's eye.

Fix up Stratgies

Use fix up strategies

Ask questions. Readers actively ask questions about the text as they read.

Determine importance. Readers make conscious and ongoing determinations of what they think is important in a text.

Make inferences. Readers make inferences on the basis of their life experiences and clues from the book.

Synthesize. Although this strategy is sometimes considered a retell, synthesizing is a way of spiraling deeper into meanings. Readers might explore the text through the perspective of different characters to come to new understandings about the character's life and world.

Suggestions to guide students through books

Use an instructional procedure, methods, plan, to facilitate literacy

Use Book Talk or Story Conference

Use before, during, and after reading strategies.

Have a set list of questions and strategies to select ideas to use to facilitate literacy.

Model fix-up strategies

Model where to read or look to answer questions.

Suggest different kinds of books to support different comprehension processes.

Encourage students to create mental pictures for what they read.

Encourage students to want to draw different representations from what they read. Encourage them to be specific and detailed. Remember they can only draw what they know so help them research new ideas to provide support for new images.

Ask students. What is the first time you realize understanding of a book is important? Tell. Readers who care about making sense of what they read don’t give up on stories where meaning eludes them. They use fix up strategies. Hard can be fun.

Have students make inferences through another person's eyes about perceptions other than their own. For example different characters and how their thinking would motivate their actions. Have them select a character in a book, have them think like that character, and act out what the character does or they think would do. Then, see if the class or their group can guess who the character is.

Ask. Did it actually happen in the book? If yes where, and if no, then was it an inference? And if so what in book supports it?

Reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal teaching includes dialogue with four steps where each person or groups of people take turns sharing their ideas for each of the steps, and may repeat the steps until their ideas are in agreement with what each other is saying or claiming (reciprocating understanding). Source

  1. Summarizing,
  2. Question asking,
  3. Clarifying, and
  4. Predicting.

Comprehsion Skills or Reading skills

Ineffective strategies

Tell students what to read. Curriculum provides sequence of stories or books. Usually with direct instruction. Need choices.

Make students read what they don’t know about and don’t care about. District curriculum and or the Teacher mandates what to read.

Begin reading before students know enough about the topic to actually become interested enough to want to read.

New information usually piques interest which can translate into motivation to read.

Make student read difficult books. This often happens when a book is assigned to a whole class to read or heterogenous groups.

Interrogate students about what they read. There is a difference between teaching comprehension skills and testing comprehension.

Buy a computer program and let it do all the work. Computers and web site may reinforce skills, they can’t provide the specific feedback that students require. Intervention programs need to increase, not decrease, teacher involvement and emotional enjoyment.

Ideas suggested by research to consider to facilitate reading comprehension.

Non fiction is essential for comprehension. The absence of informational books in primary grades is problematic for learning to read non fiction and to develop some types of reasoning.

Genre influences the types of interactions the reader or listener will have.  Three to four times as many different types of interactions were produced by nonfiction than fiction.

What comprehension strategies learners know and different strategies that might be optimal to facilitate comprehension. Strategies such as skimming, rereading, using context, planning, paraphrasing, and summarizing.

The fluency of the reader. A certain amount of fluency is required for comprehension. Readers must be fluent enough to capture the text and its ideas in their working memory in order to put it all together and comprehend it.

The ability to move from one dimensional thinking to multidimensional thinking. The ability to consider more than one variable simultaneously, which is a major hurdle in comprehension.

Instruction in decoding does not naturally produce spin-off benefits in vocabulary skills and general knowledge (Morrison, Griffith, and Frazier 1996) This study calls into question the assumption that a focus on decoding will lead to success in comprehension.

Comprehension acquisition begins with children about ages 5-7  when they learn to reason with others, which requires sufficient practice.

Social practice of comprehension in a variety of contexts creates more transfer.

If we want children to reason their ways through texts during a time when they cannot yet read, then the social context for comprehension acquisition must be reading aloud, an involvement in the analysis and logical reasoning through the discussions for a variety of texts read aloud.

Scaffolds, Models, Direct instruction is where the child is instructed in what to say tell or ask.

Interactive read alouds where teachers initiate ideas and students respond. Can use by modeling how a reader might think while reading, only think out loud. Examples:



Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
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