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Reading: The more you do it, the better you get, have some patience and you won’t regret.

Basic Reading Comprehension Strategies and Techniques

When we read, the overall goal is to monitor our understanding and make sure that we are getting meaning from the printed page. This comprehension monitoring is a process that is critical for students to develop, and it is one which students often overlook. Encouraging the student to monitor understanding and use strategies while reading is a critical gift that will provide benefits throughout life.


Chunking is a computer term that means "bundles of information." It refers to breaking information or a task into smaller manageable parts. There are many ways to use chunking in class or homework sessions.

  • Help the student divide the activity into manageable chunks. For example, determine how many days he/she has to complete the reading and divide the task into that many chunks.

  • If the chunks are still too large, divide each of those chunks into a smaller chunk or section to complete.

  • Have the student read only one chunk and then use a concrete strategy to summarize what he/she read.

  • Then have him/her read another chunk and summarize it.

  • After reading all of the chunks, have the student pull together each summary and use those to review the chapter.

Help your student appreciate these important aspects about the chunking process:

  • Students can store and organize information more efficiently in small chunks.

  • Everything begins with one small step.

  • It's the small steps that add up to a bigger accomplishment.

Visually organizing information

Many students who struggle with reading and writing, and even students who avoid such tasks for other reasons, tend to be visual in how they process information. Thus, utilizing those visual skills can be a great asset while reading to comprehend.


Visualization is a process where the student creates a visual picture mentally to correspond to the ideas he is listening to or reading. Visualization is a powerful tool that helps many students comprehend a passage. It increases active reading and helps the information "stick."

To encourage visualization, have the student close his/her eyes and imagine a common object. Then verbally describe or draw what is imagined. Once the student understands the process, you may move to the next step. You read a sentence and cue the student to develop visual images by asking detailed questions. For example, possible questions for the sentence, "The girl scurried down the street" include:

  • What does the street look like?

  • How do you think the girl is going down the street?

  • What size is the girl?

  • What is she wearing?

  • What colors are in her clothes?

  • What you think the girl is thinking or feeling as she is running?

  • Is it daytime or night? What in your picture in your head led you to that conclusion?

Reinforce that there are no right or wrong answers and each person creates a different visual picture. The important aspect is to be able to explain why you imagined your image (if the girl is small, for example). What cues did you use?

Another way to represent information visually is to have the student draw a picture that shows what has been read. Many students may find that representing words and/or stories in picture form creates a visual image that clarifies the meaning and the connection between people or events in what they read.

Visual organizers

Visual organizers are extremely valuable techniques, and there are many different types. It is useful to select a format that matches the type of information the student is reading. Three of many ways that organizers may be used are:

  • Before reading — before beginning, create an organizer of the primary sections. Then during the reading, add additional details.

  • While reading — create an organizer using information as it appears.

  • After reading — create an organizer to summarize what the information.

Following are some examples of common types of visual organizers.

Basic visual organizers

Format for a basic organizer:

A descriptive organizer focusing on attributes of a person, place, or thing.

Cause and effect organizers

In this example, many causes lead to an event.

In this example, one cause leads to many effects.

Organizers to identify the sequence or episode: episodic organizers

An event can be organized beginning with what happened first.

This organizer progresses from an introduction to a conclusion.

Vocabulary development

Accurately understanding the vocabulary is a very important aspect of both listening and reading comprehension. You can help the student enhance vocabulary through a variety of interactive, hands-on experiences. The more fun and involvement your student has, the more efficient will be the recall. It will also be easier to generalize knowledge to new situations.

Trigger recollection with a hook

Whenever possible, encourage the student to think of a "key" or a "hook" to help remember a given word. The student can then act out (or pantomime) the hook. This develops motor memory which is a very powerful way to help trigger the meaning, as in the following examples:


Learning the names of different angles causes confusion for many students. Let's use three common angles as an example of incorporating motor memory and "hooks." In this example, students learn the names of right angle, acute angle, and obtuse angle.

Right angle — have your student make a right angle with his first finger and thumb, with exaggerated movement, say "Right on! Right angle!"

Acute angle — have your student make an acute angle using his pointer and middle finger. Using exaggerated movement and voice, have your student say, "Oh, what a cute angle! Acute angle!"

Obtuse angle — have the student make an obtuse angle using the pinky and thumb. Then, with an exaggerated "high five" movement with the hand, the student says, "Hang loose, obtuse!"

When students learn vocabulary words by rote and mechanically, as when memorizing the definition, many quickly forget. Even if they happen to remember the definition, they may struggle to apply it and generalize their knowledge.

Multiple meaning words

The understanding of words with more than one meaning is a process that continues throughout a student's school career (and one's lifetime).

A visual organizer is very helpful to analyze a word with more than one meaning. The following examples show simple organizers for two meanings of the words bat and bill.

Two meanings for the word bill.

Two meanings for the word bat.

To enhance the activity and make it more fun, you can add a riddle that plays with the meanings of the word, as an example for the word bill. For example:

Question: What happened to the pelican who stuck his head in the light socket?

Answer: He now has an electric bill!

As another activity, a student may brainstorm all the different meanings he or she can think of for a given word. For example, how many meanings can you think of for the word run. Create a visual organizer, similar to the ones above but with more sections.

Specific comprehension strategies

One of the keys to comprehension is that the student must be actively involved. Students too often run their eyes over the lines of print and reach the end of the page thinking they have "read" the material. This passive process is not "reading." Reading comprehension is an active process that needs to engage the reader. As a reader, you grasp meaning by thinking during the act of reading. You also bring prior knowledge about the concepts and ideas to the reading activity.

Reading must be purposeful. Reading must be active. The reader can read a text to learn, to obtain information, or to be entertained. These different purposes each require a different set of strategies, but also have some commonalities:

  • The reader needs to understand the meaning of the words within the text.

  • The reader needs to have techniques to construct a memory of what he understood.

  • The reader needs to use his understanding.


The following mnemonics are generalized techniques that help a reader monitor his/her understanding as he/she reads, and help to organize the information. This organization will help the student construct a memory of what he/she understood. This tool will then be useful when he/she returns to the material to review and/or share the understanding, as it will help "hook" the information.

In the following strategies, each letter stands for a single step that the student performs. Be sure to help the student understand each step separately. Then show the student how the steps come together to form the mnemonic, explaining that he/she can then use the mnemonic as a memory hint or hook to trigger each of the steps.

An important aspect about these comprehension strategies is that students frequently require a great deal of explanation and modeling. You need to describe each step completely and show the student how to use the step (this is modeling). Some students need to be shown many times before they are able to do it on their own. Others, once they see the strategy a few times, are then able to use that step on their own. Some may require reminders, but others may not. There is no right or wrong way to learn a strategy: some students simply require more time.

When students begin to use these strategies consistently, they find they will more effectively monitor their own comprehension. Using these strategies helps the students continually think about questions such as,

  • Am I understanding what I read?

  • How can I remember?

  • Does it make sense?

Students can also combine strategies. For example, they may wish to use a mnemonic strategy combined with drawing or visual organizer strategies.

Mnemonics related to reading comprehension include:

Mnemonics for previewing text

  • TP


  • Mnemonics to use during reading

    • RCRC

    • SQ3R


This mnemonic is a reminder for students to use general previewing strategies to preview the structure of a textbook before beginning to read.

T stands for "Textbook structure".

The student looks at chapter headings, captions under pictures and graphs, the index, appendices, bold print and/or vocabulary definitions, and questions at the end of the chapter.

P stands for "Paragraph structure".

The student analyzes how paragraphs are organized within the chapter. He searches for the introductory or topic sentence in each paragraph to determine if they are generally at the beginning of the paragraph. He/she looks for keywords and for conclusions.

The conclusion of the TP strategy is for your student to try to guess the meaning of the passage using only the minimal cues derived from analyzing the structure. Be sure your student then reads to verify the accuracy of the guesses and that he/she systematically does verify or justify each guess.


This mnemonic strategy provides an organized way for students to preview the structure of stories, either fiction or nonfiction.

There are five steps in the TELLS mnemonic:

T stands for Title — have your student looks for clues about the story.

E stands for Examine — have your student examine the story for picture or word clues that will aid her understanding.

L stands for Look — have the student look at important words or pictures. You might wish to discuss these.

L stands for Look up — have the student look up hard words that he/she may not know and help him/her work with sounding out strategies.

S stands for Setting — have the student identify where and when the story occurred.

The student has now previewed the story and developed a basic framework to which he/she can attach the information gathered


This mnemonic strategy is extremely valuable in encouraging students to monitor their comprehension while reading. It encourages the student to question himself continually about his understanding as he moves through the text.

R stands for Read — the student reads a small part of the material one or two times.

C stands for Cover — the student child covers the material he just read.

R stands for Retell — the student retells what he just read. This creates a review and a monitoring. He may summarize the story to himself or to you.

C stands for Check — the student checks to see if he remembered the information correctly. He compares his recall to the actual material.

This strategy works more efficiently if the student works with only one small chunk at a time. Afterwards he may combine all of the chunks for an overall summary.


This strategy is similar to RCRC, but it is a bit more complicated. It is especially helpful for longer passages.

S stands for Survey — the student surveys the text.

Q stands for Question — the student creates questions by restating each heading and subheading.

3R stands for 3 steps, each beginning with R.

  • R stands for Read — the student reads to answer the questions he created.

  • R stands for Recite — the student recites the answers to his questions either silently or aloud.

  • R stands for Review — the student reviews the material to verify or correct his answers.

The Post-it™ Notes strategy

As your student reads a section, have him place a Post-it™ note on that section and record a key word or phrase that represents a significant fact or main idea. At the end of the paragraph (or section), the student then organizes the Post-it™ notes in order and creates a more specific visual organizer.

The last step to this strategy is for the student to review the information. Depending on the student’s age and inclinations, he may draw, recite to himself or someone else, or create an outline. This strategy is effective at all levels, even in college.

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body!"

In summary

These tips for reading comprehension toolbox are just a few of many that are available. Hopefully, they will be useful to the student. Here are some valuable reminders:

  • Remember to use chunking: go slowly and apply or use only one part at a time.

  • Use multisensory strategies.

  • Teach the student a strategy one step at a time.

  • And above all, make it an enjoyable activity!

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