6 Essential Skills for Reading Comprehension

At a Glance

  • Reading comprehension can be challenging for children.
  • To fully understand what they read, children must acquire several essential skills, such as decoding.
  • Fortunately, there are methods to help children having difficulty with reading comprehension develop these skills, both in the classroom and at home.

Many people perceive reading as a straightforward task that can be easily mastered. However, in reality, reading is a complex process that requires the utilization of various skills. These skills are essential for achieving the ultimate objective of reading, which is comprehension - the ability to understand the material that has been read.

Reading comprehension can be challenging for children due to various reasons. Identifying the underlying cause and determining which skills your child is struggling with can aid in providing appropriate assistance.

Outlined below are the six critical skills necessary for reading comprehension, along with recommendations for improving these abilities in children.

1. Decoding

The process of reading is often underestimated as a simple and easy task, but in reality, it requires various complex skills. The ultimate goal of reading is comprehension, which can be challenging due to several reasons. It is important to identify the specific skills involved and the areas where the child struggles to provide appropriate support.

One of the most crucial skills in the reading process is decoding, which involves sounding out words that a child has heard but not seen written before. Phonemic awareness, an early language skill, plays a crucial role in decoding. It helps children identify individual sounds, or phonemes, in words and manipulate them at the word and syllable level.

Decoding also relies on connecting sounds to letters. For instance, to read the word "sun," children must understand that the letter "s" makes the /s/ sound. Understanding the relationship between a letter or group of letters and their sounds is an important step in sounding out words.

To improve decoding skills, children require specific instruction and practice. While some children pick up phonological awareness naturally, others may require extra support. Parents can encourage phonological awareness at home by engaging children in word games and reading to them. Identifying difficulties in rhyming, counting syllables, or identifying the first sound in a word can be early signs of reading difficulties.

2. Fluency

Fluent reading requires the ability to quickly recognize words, even those that cannot be sounded out. This helps children to read and understand text at a faster pace. Recognizing irregular words, such as "of" and "the," is also important since they cannot be sounded out.

Decoding each word can be a strenuous task; hence word recognition plays a vital role. Word recognition is the capacity to recognize complete words instantly through sight, without having to sound them out.

Fluent readers read quickly and smoothly without making many errors. They can comprehend the text, group words together to facilitate meaning, and use the appropriate tone when reading aloud. Good reading comprehension relies on reading fluency.

Word recognition can be a significant challenge for children who struggle with reading. On average, it takes between four and 14 exposures to a word for it to become a sight word that is automatically recognized by most readers. However, children with dyslexia may require up to 40 exposures to a word.

Many children face difficulties with reading fluency, and they require specific instruction and practice to improve their word recognition abilities. Practicing reading books at an appropriate level of difficulty is the primary way to enhance fluency.

3. Vocabulary

Having a good understanding of the words in a text is essential to comprehend what you’re reading. A robust vocabulary plays a vital role in reading comprehension. Although students can learn vocabulary through instruction, they usually pick up the meaning of words through daily experience and reading.

What can be beneficial is exposing children to a variety of words, which can enhance their vocabulary. Engage in frequent conversations on a range of topics and introduce new words and concepts. Word games and jokes can also be a fun way to enhance their vocabulary skills.

Reading together every day is an effective way to improve vocabulary. When reading aloud, pause at unfamiliar words and provide their definitions. Encourage your child to read alone as well. They can use context to deduce the meaning of a new word even without hearing its definition.

Teachers also play an important role in developing students’ vocabulary. They can deliberately choose engaging words to teach and provide explicit instruction. Additionally, they can initiate conversations and make learning new words enjoyable by incorporating word games into their lessons.

If you’re looking for additional ideas, consider watching an expert explain how to assist struggling readers in enhancing their vocabulary.

4. Sentence Construction and Cohesion

Understanding how sentences are constructed and connecting ideas within and between sentences, known as cohesion, are crucial skills for both writing and reading comprehension.

By knowing how ideas link up at the sentence level, children can derive meaning from passages and entire texts, leading to coherence, or the ability to connect ideas to other ideas in a piece of writing.

To improve these skills, teachers can provide explicit instruction to teach children the basics of sentence construction. This can include working with students on connecting two or more thoughts through writing and reading activities.

5. Reasoning and Background Knowledge

Having background knowledge about the world is crucial for reading comprehension. When readers relate what they’ve read to what they know, they can draw inferences and make connections. Being able to infer meaning is especially important when the text doesn’t explicitly state it.

For example, if a child is reading a story about a poor family during the Great Depression, knowing about the historical context can help them understand what’s happening in the story.

To build background knowledge, children can engage in a variety of activities such as reading, watching TV shows and movies, and participating in hands-on experiences. Encourage your child to share what they learn and help them make connections between new knowledge and existing knowledge. Asking open-ended questions that require thinking and explanations can also help.

6. Working Memory and Attention

Both attention and working memory are important cognitive abilities that contribute to reading comprehension. Attention helps kids focus on the text and absorb the information presented, while working memory allows them to hold onto that information and use it to construct meaning.

Self-monitoring is also crucial for effective reading. It involves recognizing when something doesn’t make sense and taking steps to resolve the confusion, such as re-reading a section or looking up an unfamiliar word. These skills are all part of a broader set of abilities known as executive function.

Additionally, you can help your child develop self-monitoring skills by teaching them to ask questions as they read. Encourage them to pause periodically and ask themselves if they understand what they’re reading. If they don’t, help them practice strategies for clarifying their understanding, such as re-reading or looking up unfamiliar words. You can also model these strategies when you read with your child. Finally, make sure your child gets plenty of rest, exercise, and healthy food, as these can all support the development of executive function skills.

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