Seven Strategies to Teach Students Text Comprehension

Comprehension strategies are conscious plans — sets of steps that good readers use to make sense of text. Comprehension strategy instruction helps students become purposeful, active readers who are in control of their own reading comprehension. These seven strategies have research-based evidence for improving text comprehension.

1. Monitoring comprehension

Students who are good at monitoring their comprehension know when they understand what they read and when they do not. They have strategies to "fix" problems in their understanding as the problems arise. Research shows that instruction, even in the early grades, can help students become better at monitoring their comprehension.

Comprehension monitoring instruction teaches students to:

  • Be aware of what they do understand
  • Identify what they do not understand
  • Use appropriate strategies to resolve problems in comprehension

2. Metacognition

Metacognition can be defined as "thinking about thinking." Good readers use metacognitive strategies to think about and have control over their reading. Before reading, they might clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text. During reading, they might monitor their understanding, adjusting their reading speed to fit the difficulty of the text and "fixing" any comprehension problems they have. After reading, they check their understanding of what they read.

Students may use several comprehension monitoring strategies:

  • Identify where the difficulty occurs

    "I don't understand the second paragraph on page 76."

  • Identify what the difficulty is

    "I don't get what the author means when she says, 'Arriving in America was a milestone in my grandmother's life.'"

  • Restate the difficult sentence or passage in their own words

    "Oh, so the author means that coming to America was a very important event in her grandmother's life."

  • Look back through the text

    "The author talked about Mr. McBride in Chapter 2, but I don't remember much about him. Maybe if I reread that chapter, I can figure out why he's acting this way now."

  • Look forward in the text for information that might help them to resolve the difficulty

    "The text says, 'The groundwater may form a stream or pond or create a wetland. People can also bring groundwater to the surface.' Hmm, I don't understand how people can do that… Oh, the next section is called 'Wells.' I'll read this section to see if it tells how they do it."

3. Graphic and semantic organizers

Graphic organizers illustrate concepts and relationships between concepts in a text or using diagrams. Graphic organizers are known by different names, such as maps, webs, graphs, charts, frames, or clusters.

Regardless of the label, graphic organizers can help readers focus on concepts and how they are related to other concepts. Graphic organizers help students read and understand textbooks and picture books.

Graphic organizers can:

  • Help students focus on text structure differences between fiction and nonfiction as they read
  • Provide students with tools they can use to examine and show relationships in a text
  • Help students write well-organized summaries of a text

Here are some examples of graphic organizers:

4. Answering questions

Questions can be effective because they:

  • Give students a purpose for reading
  • Focus students' attention on what they are to learn
  • Help students to think actively as they read
  • Encourage students to monitor their comprehension
  • Help students to review content and relate what they have learned to what they already know

The Question-Answer Relationship strategy (QAR) encourages students to learn how to answer questions better. Students are asked to indicate whether the information they used to answer questions about the text was textually explicit information (information that was directly stated in the text), textually implicit information (information that was implied in the text), or information entirely from the student's own background knowledge.

There are four different types of questions:

  • "Right There"

    Questions found right in the text that ask students to find the one right answer located in one place as a word or a sentence in the passage.

    Example: Who is Frog's friend? Answer: Toad

  • "Think and Search"

    Questions based on the recall of facts that can be found directly in the text. Answers are typically found in more than one place, thus requiring students to "think" and "search" through the passage to find the answer.

    Example: Why was Frog sad? Answer: His friend was leaving.

  • "Author and You"

    Questions require students to use what they already know, with what they have learned from reading the text. Students must understand the text and relate it to their prior knowledge before answering the question.

    Example: How do think Frog felt when he found Toad? Answer: I think that Frog felt happy because he had not seen Toad in a long time. I feel happy when I get to see my friend who lives far away.

  • "On Your Own"

    Questions are answered based on a student's prior knowledge and experiences. Reading the text may not be helpful to them when answering this type of question.

    Example: How would you feel if your best friend moved away? Answer: I would feel very sad if my best friend moved away because I would miss her.

5. Generating questions

By generating questions, students become aware of whether they can answer the questions and if they understand what they are reading. Students learn to ask themselves questions that require them to combine information from different segments of text. For example, students can be taught to ask main idea questions that relate to important information in a text.

6. Recognizing story structure

In story structure instruction, students learn to identify the categories of content (characters, setting, events, problem, resolution). Often, students learn to recognize story structure through the use of story maps. Instruction in story structure improves students' comprehension.

7. Summarizing

Summarizing requires students to determine what is important in what they are reading and to put it into their own words. Instruction in summarizing helps students:

  • Identify or generate main ideas
  • Connect the main or central ideas
  • Eliminate unnecessary information
  • Remember what they read

Effective comprehension strategy instruction is explicit

Research shows that explicit teaching techniques are particularly effective for comprehension strategy instruction. In explicit instruction, teachers tell readers why and when they should use strategies, what strategies to use, and how to apply them. The steps of explicit instruction typically include direct explanation, teacher modeling ("thinking aloud"), guided practice, and application.

  • Direct explanation

    The teacher explains to students why the strategy helps comprehension and when to apply the strategy.

  • Modeling

    The teacher models, or demonstrates, how to apply the strategy, usually by "thinking aloud" while reading the text that the students are using.

  • Guided practice

    The teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy.

  • Application

    The teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently.

Effective comprehension strategy instruction can be accomplished through cooperative learning, which involves students working together as partners or in small groups on clearly defined tasks. Cooperative learning instruction has been used successfully to teach comprehension strategies. Students work together to understand texts, helping each other learn and apply comprehension strategies. Teachers help students learn to work in groups. Teachers also provide modeling of the comprehension strategies.


Adapted from Adler, C.R. (Ed). 2001. Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, pp. 49-54. National Institute for Literacy. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2007, from


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Thank you very much for detailed information. I think it is very useful. Some strategies are familiar to me. I found more strategies, which I am going to use with my students.

As a future teacher, this information really help me to know more about the strategies to teach students

QAR is an excellent strategy backed by plenty of research! I use it for struggling readers all of the time. Google "QAR visuals" for examples of visuals to use when you teach QAR to your students. Use of this strategy has helped my 4th-6th grade students understand "how" to answer reading comprehension test questions. They have so much more confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Thanks for the organizers. I find that asking questions at the right time really helps students understand the story a lot better. They don't even have to be hard questions - usually I ask, "What just happened in the story?" and have them keep their answers to 10-20 words or less, and once someone gives the right answer we go on right away. One problem that still needs to be addressed is how to get students to read out loud expressively and effectively. Nothing drains a class's attention span like having a slow reader struggling to get through a paragraph.

The information you share is extremely useful to those of us who are deeply involved in finding instructional ideas that truly help to educate those who struggle to become educated.

Thank you so much, this is a great help to me for most of our students in rural have low surfing this morning and luckily i found this page. thanks a lot really.

That' s really great an article. I use both skim scan deep read and these reading comprehension strategies to help foreign intermediate llearners understand faster than ever titles, topic sentences, main/ideas, source to footnotes coherent relationship. Teach as simple and clear as possible, that's a source of motivation !

Great article. It has given me ideas how I might be able to teach reading to my struggling learners. Hope it will reduce my struggle in teaching reading.

Love that the article stated that we must explicitly teach these strategies. I think educators sometimes assume too much about our young readers - especially the strugglers.

Thank you for the article. Sometimes the same idea has to be expressed in many ways before the magic of comprehension sparks. However, once the fire starts there will be no returning to the darkness.

I am very disappointed in this article. Of the seven steps all but one pre-suppose the student understands the text. You fail to define any overt behavior that is relevant to comprehension other than "Summarizing requires students to determine what is important in what they are reading and to put it into their own words."

It may all sound good to inexperienced teachers grasping for some way to help their students read better but when they actually try to put this into practice it is not going to work very well.

Thank you for this is excellent resource. This will be very useful for my teachers and students.

Very good suggestions.I hope to use them in my classes.Thank you very much.

i am to give a talk on different strategies of teaching in our in-service training, and i find it very helpful for me to give them a variety of strat... thank you very much

Very helpful but are these strategies suitable for 11+ or grammar school comprehension based difficulties

Hi, It was really an amazing article, honestly it made me to teach reading comprehension strategies to my sudents effectively; the map orgainizers also are very nice

I have found your guide to be very clear and it gives me much help in answering comprehension questions especially the "On your Own" Thank you,

Awesome info. Spot on, put in a easy to understand format. thank you!!!!

at last i found some tips on how to deal with reading comprehension thanks......

I found this website to be a wonderful resource. I am currently writing a research paper and it has provided me with a lot of information and given clarity in several instances. Thank you!

Great article, this is very helpful for me in the near future when i become a teacher. thanks for he tips, really enjoyed going through this for my reflection paper.


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