How to Help Your Child Understand What She Reads

comprehension occurs as a little boy sees the light in a dark room

Q: My daughter is in third grade. She can read a story but afterwards she can’t answer any questions about it. She doesn’t understand what she’s read. What can I do to help her learn to comprehend?

A: There are many things you can try to improve her reading comprehension. One method really works well at home if the child is willing to work with her parent. If not, ask a relative, friend or tutor to work on her with this.

Does your daughter have a favorite book? It can be an easy one; it doesn’t have to be at third grade level.

Step 1

Tell her that you’re going to try an experiment. Ask her to imagine the book in her mind as a video, or a series of pictures, sentence by sentence. Read it to her, one sentence at a time, or one paragraph at a time, depending on her reading level and understanding.

Step 2

After each sentence (or paragraph), ask her what she sees in her video or picture. The reason for offering both is that different children picture or envision things in different ways. Some kids might even prefer to use real people, places, things and actions in their mind’s eye.

Step 3

Encourage her to describe what she sees. Ask for details, if she’s enjoying it. The longer and more clearly she “sees” the picture, and the longer she thinks about it and “decorates” it, the better her memory and understanding of what’s happened on the page will become.

Continue only until she begins to lose interest. Some kids can do this for a long time and feel fully engaged. Many think it’s quite fun! Others can only handle a few pages at a time.

Step 4  

Finish the book each time, even if it takes a few days.

The only exception is if the experience is upsetting for her. If so, we will need to find another way to solve the problem.

This is one way to begin the process for her to learn to understand what she reads. There are many other things to try after this, and I’ll include them here soon.


6 Responses to “How to Help Your Child Understand What She Reads”

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  1. This is such a great article on making those invisible thinking strategies become read. Reading is about understanding, so you have nailed it.

  2. Paula says:

    Welcome, Claudine! Good to see you here. Like you, I see everything vividly as I read, without even considering it. For the kids who don’t have this going on in their heads, we have to teach them how. That’s what the above technique can do.

    Take a simple sentence, and help them pad out the reality of it: What’s happened? What does it look like? Have them put it into words.

    The next sentence will either add some details or an action or explain something, but the story gets richer. Talk it over to update or change the picture they’ve developed.

    By doing this in a slow, sure, steady sequence, we help them build images in their mind. Over time, this becomes a habit, and with practice, it finally morphs into a natural occurrence that happens each time they read.

    It’s a thrill to watch it begin to sprout, grow and finally flower. This is the kind of thing a reading teacher lives for! 😀

    • It really is a thrill and a very worthy endeavour, too! I know coaching children to read takes a lot of patience. I shan’t rush it with my students, each of whom reads at their own pace.

      Thank you for this and the ‘Think-Aloud’ posts, Paula!

      • Paula says:

        You’re so right. They need time, and they need pushing at the right time, and it’s so very hard to judge! But together we work it out, and find the happy endings, right? Lordy, I love my work. 😀

  3. What a nice technique, Paula! I used to read and imagine the story in my head when I was a child (actually, I still do this), but I realize that the some kids I tutor nowadays have difficulty in imagining the story. They hardly use their imaginations, and it’s difficult getting details from them. For them, reading is merely letting their eyes run across the words. How do I get them to slow down and start creating pictures in their mind?

    With thanks,

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