Sarah Major, M.Ed. is passionate about working in harmony with a child's immaculate design to support their learning strengths. As a Title 1 Program Director and Designer, Sarah earned awards for creating her own multisensory educational resources that have now been sold in all 50 states and over 150 countries. Sarah has designed comprehensive strategies for children to successfully overcome reading comprehension challenges.
What is reading comprehension and why is it important? Reading comprehension is the ability to understand what is read and connect meaning to it. If you comprehend what you read, you will gain information about many things such as the events that happened, why they happened, where, who was involved, and many other details. Comprehension makes reading interesting and fun, as well as educational and informative. The Texas Education Agency states, “Without comprehension, reading is a frustrating, pointless exercise in word calling. It is no exaggeration to say that how well students develop the ability to comprehend what they read has a profound effect on their entire lives” (Reading Rockets). Many children struggle with reading comprehension, but you can help them succeed!
Issues Underlying a Lack of Comprehension
- The child might be working so hard on trying to sound out words that they cannot focus on what the words mean.
- The student might be fluently reading words, but still have no clue what they just read.
- They might have a vague general notion about what they read, but details are completely missing. For example, to your question, “What did you just read about?” their answer might be just, “A dog.”
- The child might have come to believe that “reading” means correctly calling out words or correctly sounding out words. They might need to be told exactly what reading is: that words carry meaning and tell us lots of things.
- Another “culprit” is the constant stream of media our children are exposed to. When children are watching TV, playing video games, or engaging in apps, much of the content is delivered to them in pictures with words playing a minor role in communication. Two things are happening here: pictures that convey meaning are made FOR them, so their brains don’t have to visualize, and they are losing the ability to visualize from lack of use. Over-exposure to media, such as TV, movies, videos, games, and apps can stunt the development of “language sense”. While media does have many benefits, it is important to help students learn how to visualize for reading comprehension.
Necessities for Reading Comprehension
Children need to be taught explicitly to make mental images as they are reading.
- They need to be able to read words instantly so they are not focusing on the work of sounding out.
- They need to practice seeing a mental image when they hear a word, then a phrase, and then a moveable mental video as they are reading a passage.
- They need practice with conversation, reasoning through situations, cause and effect, and prediction, among other thinking skills.
- Practice, practice, practice is needed to develop this mental skill. Thankfully, the brain is plastic, meaning it is changeable. What we practice and repeat becomes easier and more developed with time. So starting small is ok!
How to Solve Reading Comprehension Problems
- Engage the child in the process. Explain that words carry messages and that is why we read. They need to recognize words quickly (on sight) so they can really be paying attention to what the words are saying.
- Use fun activities that begin small. All of us in learning a new skill appreciate baby steps! Just remember that your daily practice will result in more and more neural pathways developing. What follows are ideas you can use to help with reading comprehension.
A Word and a Picture
Working with sight words (because sight words make up most of what children read):
- Show the child a word. For example, “TAKE.” Ask, “What does TAKE remind you of, or make you think of?” Let them tell you what TAKE makes them think of.
- Prompt the child to “see” TAKE in their head. They might see a child taking a picture, taking a bite of a donut, taking a nap, or taking a dog for a walk.
- Depending on the child’s preferences, ask them to act out what they see in their head or draw a picture of what they see.
- Ask your child to choose an object or animal for this game. Let’s use FROG for this example.
- Say FROG and prompt your child to “see” a frog in their head.
- Next, say GREEN FROG and ask your child if they can see a green frog in their imagination.
- Next, say GREEN FROG with WARTS and ask them to visualize that.
- Continue adding more details such as:
- A green frog with warts sitting on a rock.
- A green frog with warts sitting on a rock croaking.
- A green frog with warts decides to hop away to hide under some big leaves.
- A green frog with warts is hiding under some big leaves because he saw a dog running toward him around the corner of the house.
- Keep going until you feel it's time to start with another object or animal.
In this activity, you will say a phrase and your child will visualize it in their head. You can say the first part of the phrase and have them visualize that first, then add the second part for them to add to their mental picture. The dashes in the phrases divide between the first and second parts.
Ideas for phrases to use:
- A big yellow balloon – floating in the air.
- A girl in red shorts – rolling down a hill.
- A square kite – that is red with purple dots on it.
- A dog digging a hole – to bury the bone he’s got in his mouth.
- A sailboat with a bright orange sail – leaning into the wind.
- A huge bear standing on his hind legs – at the edge of the woods.
- A robin with a worm in its beak – leaning down to feed the baby birds.
- A snowman in the front yard – with a real carrot nose – and a black hat.
- A boy with a baseball mitt – reaching up to catch a fly ball.
- A tall, skinny man – in a purple suit – carrying a pot belly pig under his arm.
- A red pickup truck – with a load of goats in the back.
- A girl on a swing at the park – wearing a rabbit suit with long pink ears.
- A huge watermelon cut in half – sitting on a picnic table – at the park.
From Words to Image
Use The Complete Sight Words in Sentences for practice with visualization. Instead of just having the child read the sentences as practice for fluency, have them choose one page and turn it into a mini-story complete with illustrations. If the child is really young, let them just pick a sentence to write and then illustrate. Here are some examples.
In the first, the sentence is a question, "Are you in the big, blue one?" and the illustration shows the ladybug on the ground verifying that the larger ladybug is indeed in the big blue flower.
The next sentence simply says, “He has a yellow one.” It is left totally up to the child’s imagination to determine what “one” is. In this case, there appears to be a lollipop or a rather fuzzy balloon!
An older child might want to elaborate in writing before drawing the picture. At any rate, when they are ready to share the art with you, ask questions to encourage them to elaborate orally about what they were thinking as they drew.
Add a Sentence
- SnapWords® are cards with pictures embedded in the sight word that help a child not only remember how to read the word, but how to spell it, and also what it means.
- Show the child a SnapWords® card and ask them what is happening in the picture.
- Once they have talked about what is happening in the picture, encourage them to write a little sentence talking about it. Here are two examples:
Working With Passages and Comprehension
- Once you and your child have worked through some of these ideas for building visualization skills, move towards reading a story and stopping frequently to allow time for visualizing what is happening.
- Here is an example of a story that you might use. Notice the V that will serve as a prompt for the child to stop and visualize.
- The next step in this process is to begin to spread out the V prompts so that they appear after each paragraph.
Doing these comprehension-building activities is a really fun thing for you to do with your child. How great it would be for the child to hear your thoughts as you choose a sentence or SnapWords® card and talk about what you are drawing as you illustrate, or what you are writing as you look at the SnapWords® card. The more practice you take time to do with your child, the stronger their visualization “muscles” will become. Soon, visualizing will be a habit and one that will help tremendously with reading comprehension every time they pick up a book. Please contact us if you have any questions. We are here to help!