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Tes Institute

Tips for developing pupil comprehension

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11 Nov 22

Let’s take for example reading. How did you learn to read? Very few will recall one approach that we can say helped us. Ask our young children today, and they will tell you, ‘phonics’. We have a clear strategy for decoding that works. But notice I asked about reading; decoding is only one side of the coin. What about comprehension?

A fundamental part of a teacher’s role is to develop comprehension of any text. Here I will share some of the key fundamentals to developing comprehension:

1. Background Knowledge

In order to comprehend, readers need to establish a connection to the text. This can be done by relating the text to the reader, the text to the world or the text to another text. If a reader is struggling to do this, you could introduce a connection for them.

2. Vocabulary

A reader needs to know 90% of the vocabulary in order to comprehend the text. If vocabulary is the barrier then the gist of the text is lost. However, go with caution here; do not dilute the vocabulary! Instead, teach ‘repair’ strategies e.g. what do I do if I don’t understand?

3. Linking Sentences and Parts of Text

Quite often weaker readers will read sentences in isolation. Watch out for them; they are often the ones that read with their finger acting as a pointer. Encourage pupils to link adjacent sentences and to then explain any inferences. This can then be extended to parts of the text.

4. Visualisation

As we read, we make pictures in our minds. It’s like when you read a book and then watch the film version… and hate it! It was nothing like the book. Weaker readers do not understand that as they read, they should make pictures in their minds. To help, ask pupils to sketch what they see. If they don’t see anything, you could model the process explaining what you see.

5. Monitoring Own Reading

Weaker readers or early readers don’t recognise when meaning breaks down. Remember as an efficient adult reader, we can read something and recognise that it makes no sense to us so we automatically re-read. We need to get pupils to recognise vocabulary or phrases that are not understood or where there is a lack of visualisation.

These are just a few strategies that will help your pupils to develop an understanding when reading. However, comprehension is not just about reading; it is also about listening comprehension. And for the very vast majority of your learners, they have been developing this skill since the day they were born.

Mia Sneyd - Inference Trainer, Educational Consultant, Straight to Teaching Pathway Tutor & Assessor

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