Teaching Comprehension Background Questions


What is reading comprehension and why is it important?

“Real reading has to do with thinking, learning, and expanding a reader’s knowledge and horizons. It has to do with building on past knowledge, mastering new information, and connecting with the minds of those you’ve never met.”

Zimmerman, S. and Hutchins, C. (2003) Seven keys to comprehension: How to help your kids read it and get it! New York: Three Rivers Press.

Reading comprehension is the ability to read text, process it and understand its meaning. It relies on two, interconnected abilities: word reading (being able to decode the symbols on the page) and language comprehension (being able to understand the meaning of the words and sentences).

When we make sense of a text, however, we don’t just remember the exact words and phrases we read. Rather, we form a mental model of what the text describes by integrating the sense of the words and sentences into a meaningful whole, like a film that plays in our head.

Good comprehension is vital if reading is to have a purpose, if a reader is to engage with and learn from a text and, ultimately, if a reader is to enjoy what they’re reading.

For more information about the nature of comprehension, an excellent introduction is provided by Understanding and Teaching Reading Comprehension: A handbook by Jane Oakhill, Kate Cain and Carsten Elbro (Routledge, 2014).