Intervention focus should be on a limited number of strategies that are intentional mental actions during reading that improve reading comprehension. They are deliberate efforts by a reader to better understand or remember what is being read and build knowledge. Teach students to question, visualize, monitor/clarify, infer, and summarize.
What is Reading Comprehension?
Reading comprehension is an outcome. Comprehension occurs when a student can read words accurately and fluently, understand the meaning of the words, have adequate background knowledge, and focus on critical content (Archer, 2020). Thus, comprehension is a series of language and cognitive processes engaged by readers to build meaning from a text. Extracting meaning from text is essential to students’ achieving literacy goals and learning content in other subject areas.
Who Needs Additional Instructional Support in Comprehension?
Students in grades 2 or above who are accurate and fluent readers but cannot understand grade-level text may require explicit comprehension instruction. However, before focusing intervention efforts on comprehension, it is critical to ascertain if students first need additional instruction in phonics, fluency, vocabulary, sentence structure, and text structure. Comprehension intervention on specific reading strategies cannot compensate for limited background knowledge or significant word reading, fluency, vocabulary, and syntax difficulties.
Explicit Instruction in Comprehension
Students with automatic word recognition skills and adequate language comprehension abilities who are still reading below grade level may require more teaching on a limited number of strategies. Watch the video and read below to learn how to improve comprehension through intentional instruction in mental actions that help students fully understand the text.
Preparing to Implement the Intervention
Select grade-level, rigorous texts aligned with Tier 1 instruction in topic or theme. These can be texts students see in the core instruction with their peers or text sets that build to a target text used in the classroom. After selecting the text(s), plan before-, during-, and after-reading activities, including text-dependent questions, guided by students’ needs and strengths. Decide how to explicitly model comprehension strategies to help students understand and learn from the text.
How to Teach:
Use Multiple Texts on a Topic
Use Multiple Strategies
Read, Write, and Discuss
Refrain from teaching reading strategies through disconnected, leveled texts. Instead, align text in intervention with core instruction topics. Be sure to use multiple texts, including videos, infographics, images, etc., as part of text sets that build to the most complex/target texts.
Strategy instruction is most effective when multiple strategies are taught together rather than one at a time. Model and then practice applying strategies to unpack the text's meaning, keeping the text (not the strategies) at the center of the lesson.
Plan discussions and writing activities focused on the grade-level complex text. Use graphic organizers to help students organize their thoughts for writing and discussions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Isn't matching students to "instructional level" texts best practice to teach comprehension?
Research does not support designing interventions around leveled texts where students read texts at their "instructional level." Students who are supported to read and comprehend grade-level, complex texts have more opportunities to learn how to deal with challenging language and text features, and they make greater reading progress.
Which comprehension strategy works best?
No single strategy produces superior outcomes; however, a recent meta-analysis confirms that teaching the main idea, text structure, and retelling together is best (Peng et al., 2023). Strategy instruction is even more effective when combined with background knowledge instruction (Willingham, 2006).
How will I know if students are improving their reading comprehension?
You might be surprised to learn that measures of oral reading fluency (number of words read correctly in a minute) are an accurate indicator of reading comprehension. Having students retell what they read is another way to monitor growth in comprehension.
Resources for Explicit Intervention in Comprehension
Additional Learning Opportunities
Complete a short course on K-5 Comprehension Instruction.
Watch Equity Through Rigorous Texts for All Students presented by Ohio’s Literacy leads.