Using Instructional Strategies to Aid in Student Comprehension

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson we will examine some teaching strategies for teachers to use before, during, and after reading a selection to help students better comprehend new information.


How are science books different from other kinds of books? In addition to having higher Lexile levels than books of any other content area, making them more difficult for students to comprehend, the structure of science books is vastly different from other types of books. Although there is now a much bigger emphasis on reading nonfiction during early reading instruction than there was just a few years ago, students' experiences with science texts make up only a small part of their overall reading experience. It is up to the science teacher to offer students assistance with comprehension. Let's examine some strategies.

Pre-Reading Activities

What are some ways that you help students understand what they are about to read before they get started? One of the keys to helping students understand difficult information is through activities that create relationships between student experiences and the text. Activating prior knowledge with an anticipation guide or KWL chart will help prepare students to receive new material.

Anticipation guides include a few questions about the text that the student is not expected to know yet. Anticipation guides can be used as a diagnostic to see which students will need more challenging material, as a pretest/posttest to measure gains, to identify objectives for the unit, and/or to help students make connections to existing schema.

KWL charts ask students what they know (K) and what they want to know (W), before starting a unit. At the end of the unit, students revisit the charts and use them to document what they have learned (L). KWL charts may be done as a class discussion or by individual students.

Another method for preparing students to read is by having them make predictions about what they will learn. Probable passage is an activity that helps students anticipate the lesson; teachers list some of the key vocabulary from the unit as clues to help students brainstorm what they might learn about. Students connect what they know about the vocabulary words to the new information they will learn in the passage.

Don't forget to pre-teach new vocabulary words so that unfamiliar words do not interfere with comprehension. Simply having students look up the vocabulary words in a glossary or dictionary has been proven to be an ineffective way to teach new words. Instead, having students draw pictures to illustrate words, role-playing them, talking about them in context, and reading other material that introduces the words in context is much more effective.

During Reading

Good readers ask questions and visualize what they are reading throughout the reading process. Some students may not have the background knowledge to understand this metacognitive skill and will need to be explicitly taught questioning techniques. Reading guides provide questions for the students that help the student focus on important concepts that need to be learned.

Encouraging students to articulate their thoughts about the reading, whether through a response log, think-pair-share, or class discussion, will increase comprehension and help emphasize the most important information.

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