Reading comprehension KS1 and KS2 – Strategies and teaching ideas for primary literacy
Find out how to teach reading comprehension skills and what resources you can use to help children on their way...
Jump to a section...
- What is reading comprehension?
- Real Comprehension curriculum programme for KS1/2
- How to teach reading comprehension in KS2
- What comprehension strategies do effective readers use?
- How to teach reading comprehension skills
- How to improve reading comprehension
- What causes reading comprehension problems?
- Resources for teaching reading comprehension by age
What is reading comprehension?
The Oxford Owl website defines reading comprehension simply as the ability to read a text and understand its meaning.
Real Comprehension curriculum programme for Years 1-6
Real Comprehension is a unique, whole-school reading comprehension programme designed to develop sophisticated skills of inference and retrieval; build rich vocabularies; and encourage the identification of themes and comparison between texts from Years 1 to 6.
Access 54 original fiction, non-fiction and poetry texts by published children's authors – all age appropriate, thematically linked, and fully annotated for ease of teaching.
Build deeper understanding for children of all abilities through a variety of close-reading and guided reading techniques, plus fully resourced teaching sequences for every text.
Improve pupils' ability to make high-level inferences and links between texts, and extend their vocabulary with focused lessons.
Find out more about Real Comprehension here.
How to teach reading comprehension in KS2
Give your Key Stage 2 students the key skills they need to get the most out of any text with these ideas from Sue Drury.
They're designed to help you not just confirm that your pupils can read to the required standard, but also enjoy themselves along the way.
Next, the EEF has a handy reading comprehension tool kit as well as a guide to effective strategies that will help you with the 'dos' of teaching comprehension.
What comprehension strategies do effective readers use?
- Use their background knowledge and make links with the text
- Predict or ask questions and then read on to ‘find out’
- Visualise and use inference
- Notice meaning breakdown and use repair strategies to understand
- Notice very important words, phrases and ideas and put these together to build basic meaning
How to teach reading comprehension skills
Want to explicitly teach reading strategies? These ideas from Jo Gray and Laura Lodge offer you the strategies that children need to be successful.
- Identify their exact reading level
A diagnostic assessment and gap analysis will give you the information you need. Try to get a snapshot of each child’s reading attainment, including decoding, fluency and comprehension, by using key reading skills. Once your assessments are complete, look for patterns in your gap analysis and plan to address these through teaching and intervention.
- Build up cultural capital
Pupils who struggle to read sometimes need to build their background knowledge and vocabulary. A child with good cultural capital will often have more of the prerequisite knowledge and skill needed to understand what they are reading than a disadvantaged child.
- Explicitly teach critical thinking and cognitive processes
The most important skills of a reader are to retrieve information, define vocabulary in context and make inferences. A good reader will also sequence events, summarise content and predict what comes next. They will consider the effect of language, make comparisons and explore relationships. By breaking down the cognitive processes behind reading, you can show children what a good reader does and give them the strategies they need to create meaning, before they practise and apply them using a range of texts, questions and activities.
- Offer daily time to read
Children need daily time to read books they want to read, and they need to be immersed in reading opportunities and see reading role models. By encouraging children to read for pleasure, we help them read more, and the more they read, the better readers they become. For all children to achieve their full potential, schools must consider their whole-school reading curriculum and whether it teaches the skills needed to decode, understand, and enjoy books.
Why guided reading can be the perfect match for reading comprehension
Use guided reading to boost comprehension with this advice from James Clements.
His four-step process includes assessing and teaching ‘casual inference’, pre-teaching the context, modelling comprehension monitoring and, once again, giving children regular reading time.
Use thinking maps to update your reading comprehension lessons
If you’re still only using sheets of differentiated questions to develop reading comprehension, it’s time to update your practice with thinking maps, says Nikki Gamble.
Here she runs through how you can use circle maps, bubble maps, flow maps, tree maps and more to help children with their comprehension skills.
She also explains the benefits of doing so and runs through a teaching sequence for you to use.
How to improve reading comprehension
Ascertaining children’s understanding of a text shouldn’t feel like pulling teeth, nor should it require it. According to Nikki Gamble and Camilla Garafolo, you just get creative with effective questioning.
In this article on reading comprehension questions show you the steps you can take to make sure your questioning is effective.
They explain that you can help children formulate their own questions and give them opportunities to pursue the answers; use your questions to respond to pupils’ ideas to structure and scaffold their thinking so that they come to a deeper understanding of the text; and ask appropriate questions before, during and after reading, which develops comprehension more effectively than only asking questions afterwards.
Their first idea is to use question organisers, like this:
The second is encouraging pupils to question as they read by having a discussion entirely conducted through questions. This technique is called a ‘Quescussion’ and was developed by Paul Bidwell at the University of Saskatchewan. They offer an example using an extract from The Secret Garden.
But asking direct questions isn’t the only way to encourage pupil questioning. So their third activity involves making a statement, especially a declarative one, to reinvigorate a discussion.
When statements are posed, questions will naturally arise in the discussion that follows. Unlike with questions, where you look for the ‘right’ answer, with declaratives pupils start to question what the statement means, and try to find evidence to either prove or disprove it.
What reading comprehension strategies are helpful?
Use these eight ideas from Vocabulary Ninja Andrew Jennings to help primary pupils effectively skim, scan and retrieve information.
- Effective pre-reading
Prompt children to move their pencil across the page underneath each line as they read it to train them to underline key pieces of information as soon as they see them.
- Underline key information
But how do they know what information is key? Have them consider the following categories: names of people, places, companies, events, locations, etc; dates and times; statistics and numbers; words they don’t understand; headings, sub-headings, images and punctuation
- Spot key question words
These are words (or phrases) that will signpost the pupil where to look in the text to find the answer. For example in the question: ‘How did soldiers effectively use Morse code during the second world war?’, the key phrase is ‘Morse code’.
- Skim the text
This is like looking at the chapters of a DVD and deciding which section or chapter of the film to start at. We won’t necessarily find the answer, but we hope to locate the correct area of the text and, ideally, the correct paragraph or section.
- Scan for detail
This is when pupils look at the specific section they’ve identified while skimming with a greater level of scrutiny, possibly looking for a key word or phrase.
- Real-world examples
Introduce skimming and scanning by using images, timetables, TV schedules, poems, lists and visual instructions. Search online for ‘hidden word pictures’ and ask pupils to locate specific items, objects or information within them. Add a time limit to increase the fun factor.
- In, before and after
Once pupils have found a key word or phrase in a text, train them to read the sentence before, the one containing the key word and the sentence after. Doing this will give pupils a much greater chance of answering comprehension questions successfully.
- Simplify sequencing
Teach pupils to allocate a symbol (square, triangle, rectangle, star, cross, for example) to five different statements. Pupils should then find these statements in the text and draw on the corresponding symbol. Once they’ve done this, it is extremely easy to look at the text and see which symbol comes first, second, third and so on. This is a very effective strategy to help pupils effectively sequence information.
What sort of books and texts help with teaching reading comprehension?
When teaching reading, choice of text is very important. Think about the complexity of decoding, vocabulary and content, and of course, engagement. Try not to just use familiar books, but instead focus on widening children’s reading repertoire by exposing them to different texts.
This is where your knowledge of children’s literature comes in. You could even explore paired texts, such as Beetle Boy and The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by MG Leonard so that children can make connections in their reading.
How comics boost reading comprehension
If children are word-reading but not understanding, graphic texts will help make them masters of meaning and inference, as Christine Chen and Lindsay Pickton explain in this article.
They offer five tips for to using graphic novels in comprehension, as well as recommending some KS1 resources to help you on your way.
What sort of games can help with reading comprehension?
Teach reading comprehension using song lyrics. That's right, sing your way through SATs with Matt Dix's guide to using popular music to increase children's literacy skills.
As a teacher with a huge passion for music of all genres and ages, it occurred to Matt that that the lyrics to many famous songs work as both narratives and poems.
By carefully choosing 10 famous songs, he broke each one into four separate reading comprehensions: retrieval and recording, context clues, inference, independent assessment.
First, you read the words and annotate them; then listen to the song, learn and sing a chorus or two; and then crack on with the comprehension.
Check out his guide here, and also try Shareen Mayers' activity on using Adele's 'Hello' to teach reading comprehension.
How do you teach a struggling reader?
Some children may have excellent decoding skills but weak reading comprehension. And if these weaker comprehenders neglect key strategies in the moment of reading, they won’t build basic meaning, says Tony Whatmuff in this article.
Using this joke as an example: The worst job I ever had was drilling holes looking for water. It was well boring., Tony outlines why four different students might not comprehend its meaning.
If any parents want some advice for teaching their child at home, you can try this Oxford Owl advice for struggling readers.
What causes reading comprehension problems?
For effective reading comprehension, children need the following:
- Automatic decoding, fluency and reading miles
- Good vocabulary and oral language
- Active strategies in the moment of reading
- Effective after-text strategies to answer questions
A problem in any one of these areas will result in a problem with reading comprehension.
Resources for teaching reading comprehension by age
Looking for reading comprehension worksheets for your year group? These posts for have worksheets, lesson plans, activities and helpful advice for Year 1-6.
What are some reading comprehension resources for KS1?
What are some reading comprehension resources for KS2?
Reading comprehension for Year 6 SATs
Build confidence for SATs and beyond and with these resources and strategies for better text analysis from Sue Drury.