Developing Comprehension Skills

Developing reading comprehension skills is incredibly important for all readers, not only for passing tests or exams but for them to fully understand and engage in what they are reading. There is a lot you can do at home to enhance comprehension skills without your child even being aware that that is what you are doing with them. Here are some steps towards developing good comprehension skills: 

Read with your child 

Children love being read to. If you do not have time for anything else, reading is the key to developing your child’s comprehension (and writing skills).  You do not have to read whole books. You could simply choose an extract from a book to read together. You can then analyse the language and vocabulary in the piece – looking up all new and unfamiliar words and adding them to a notebook that your child can revise from. 

 Visualise the text

When your child is reading alone or when you are reading to him/her encourage them to visualise what they are reading using the descriptions in the text. If they have a mental picture of what they are reading it will help them ‘see’ the answers and give a clearer picture of what is happening. 

Discuss what you think might happen next in a story. 

This won’t only help with comprehension skills but will prepare them for the ‘continue the story’ element of the creative writing section in an 11-plus exam. Sometimes there be clues in a passage as to what is going to happen next, sometimes a character’s behaviour will lead you to a conclusion of what their reaction is going to be in the next passage. It’s a fun exercise – give it a try! 

Discuss the characters.  

Questions about character are very common in comprehensions. Discussing a character’s action (or inaction) and their overall behaviour, including speech, will help your child to understand the story on a deeper level.  For example you could ask your child why they thought a character behaves in a certain way? Why the character walks the way they walk? Why they reacted the way they did? etc. You can try discussing characters in films and in television programmes too. 

Summarise what you have read. 

When you have finished a paragraph or a chapter of the book you are reading together you could summarise it for your child. As their confidence grows, you can ask them to do the same. Ask them to aim to make the story coherent for someone who has not read the book. He/she should aim to cover the main stages in the story and the theme. You could also summarise the stories and books you are reading so that your child can learn from your example and share in what you are reading. 

It’s ok to not understand.  

Tell your child that as adults we don’t understand all the words that we read and have to stop and use a dictionary to find out or clarify the meaning of unfamiliar words. We also need to re-read passages for many reasons: to make sense of them, to remind ourselves of what is happening or to clarify in our minds that what we have read it correct. Encourage your child to not race through a book, no matter how much they are enjoying it, but to slow down and re-read passages to see if they can gain a deeper understanding of the story. 

Read and write poetry with your child. 

The Poetry Society says: Pupils who read and write poems become skilled in using language carefully…..The language skills they gain will benefit them in all areas of the curriculum and beyond.

If you are interested in reading some research from the University of Cambridge on why poetry for the young matters, click this link:

The Story Room’s creative writing sessions build on language and poetry skills in a a fun way. Your child will be having fun and learning too.

Comprehension skills are not improved overnight, nor are they improved by doing reams and reams of past papers. Reading widely, building vocabulary and discussing what you are reading are practical ways to develop these skills and your child does not have to do this alone.