Securing comprehension in reading – 3 steps to success

Good reading comprehension is a critical skill, fundamental to learning across the curriculum, to reading for pleasure and for success in life. Helping children to develop this skill can feel like a challenging process. However, a strong body of research evidence, including a recently published report from the Education Endowment Foundation, reveals three identifiable aspects that underpin successful teaching and learning in this area.

Step 1: Focus on key comprehension strategies

There are many extensively researched comprehension strategies children need to use to develop a deep understanding of the text. There are simple strategies that you can introduce to your class immediately, such as re-reading extracts they are unsure of, or encouraging children to draw upon what they already know about a subject. There are also more complex strategies that need further explanation, such as searching for clues and making connections. It is incredibly important to introduce these strategies to children as early on as possible.

Step 2: Model your thought processes when reading

It can be difficult to find ways to introduce these more complex comprehension strategies to your class – children need to learn how to articulate strategies by focusing on the how of core aspects of ‘learning to learn’ skills (metacognition, self-regulation and feedback). Some of the most effective ways to do this include:

  • Modelling the use of strategies: this provides children with concrete examples which they can relate to and remember. This video example from Claire Eidam, Deputy Head at Bassetts Farm Primary School, clearly demonstrates how modelling can be used effectively in the classroom:

  • Providing opportunities for supported practice and application, using comprehension strategies
  • Offering time for children to work both independently and collaboratively within reading lessons and in other subject areas
  • Increasing your expectation of children taking personal responsibility for their own learning.

Step 3: Use appropriate texts

In general, pupils make progress in comprehension as they come to understand increasingly complex texts. They demonstrate this understanding through their thinking and discussion of the ideas they encounter in the texts. Hence, the level of the text, the challenge in terms of comprehension and the demands on the reader are critical to developing comprehension skills.

Try it for yourself!

Together with Gill Jordan and Tony Whatmuff, we have created a new series called Project X Comprehension Express that embodies all of these principles.

You can try a lesson from Stage 2 from Project X Comprehension Express and find best practice films on Oxford Owl.


Di Hatchett

 Di Hatchett, a former headteacher and national advisor on literacy, is an expert in the teaching and learning of reading, intervention and inclusion.

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