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Strategies that Promote Comprehension

Background Knowledge

Strategies that Promote Comprehension

Based on research and effective practice, these strategies help students learn how to coordinate and use a set of key comprehension techniques before, during, and after they read a variety of texts.

On this page:

General instructional activities

To correspond with a typical reading lesson, comprehension strategy instruction can be organized into a three-part framework, with specific activities used before, during, and after reading.

Providing instruction such as the following example allows students to see, learn, and use a variety of comprehension strategies as they read. Note, however, that the framework is a general one and represents an array of strategies. All of the strategies in this framework do not have to be used with every text or in every reading situation.

Before Reading

Before reading, the teacher may:

  • Motivate students through activities that may increase their interest (book talks, dramatic readings, or displays of art related to the text), making the text relevant to students in some way.
  • Activate students’ background knowledge important to the content of the text by discussing what students will read and what they already know about its topic and about the text organization.

Students, with some help from the teacher, may:

  • Establish a purpose for reading.
  • Identify and discuss difficult words, phrases, and concepts in the text.
  • Preview the text (by surveying the title, illustrations, and unusual text structures) to make predictions about its content.
  • Think, talk, and write about the topic of the text.

During Reading

During reading, the teacher may:

  • Remind students to use comprehension strategies as they read and to monitor their understanding.
  • Ask questions that keep students on track and focus their attention on main ideas and important points in the text.
  • Focus attention on parts in a text that require students to make inferences.
  • Call on students to summarize key sections or events.
  • Encourage students to return to any predictions they have made before reading to see if they are confirmed by the text.

Students, with some help from the teacher, may:

  • Determine and summarize important ideas and supportive details.
  • Make connections between and among important ideas in the text.
  • Integrate new ideas with existing background knowledge.
  • Ask themselves questions about the text.
  • Sequence events and ideas in the text.
  • Offer interpretations of and responses to the text.
  • Check understanding by paraphrasing or restating important and/or difficult sentences and paragraphs.
  • Visualize characters, settings, or events in a text.

After Reading

After reading, the teacher may:

  • Guide discussion of the reading.
  • Ask students to recall and tell in their own words important parts of the text.
  • Offer students opportunities to respond to the reading in various ways, including through writing, dramatic play, music, readers’ theatre, videos, debate, or pantomime.

Students, with some help from the teacher, may:

  • Evaluate and discuss the ideas encountered in the text.
  • Apply and extend these ideas to other texts and real life situations.
  • Summarize what was read by retelling the main ideas.
  • Discuss ideas for further reading.

Activities and procedures for use with narrative texts

The following are some examples of specific procedures that you can use to help students improve their comprehension of narrative texts.


Retelling involves having students orally reconstruct a story that they have read.

Retelling requires students to activate their knowledge of how stories work and apply it to the new reading. As part of retelling, students engage in ordering and summarizing information and in making inferences. The teacher can use retelling as a way to assess how well students comprehend a story, then use this information to help students develop a deeper understanding of what they have read.

The teacher uses explicit instruction, explaining why retelling is useful, modeling the procedure, giving students opportunities to practice, and providing feedback. As the following chart shows, students’ retellings should become more detailed as they become better readers.

Types of Retelling

Simple retelling 

The student can:

  • identify and retell the beginning, middle, and end of a story in order.
  • describe the setting.
  • identify the problem and the resolution of a problem.

More complete retelling 

The student can:

  • identify and retell events and facts in a sequence.
  • make inferences to fill in missing information.
  • identify and retell causes of actions or events and their effects.

Most complete retelling 

The student can:

  • identify and retell a sequence of actions or events.
  • make inferences to account for events or actions.
  • offer an evaluation of the story.

Story Maps

Story maps are visual representations of the elements that make up a narrative. The purpose of a story map is to help students focus on the important elements of narratives-theme, characters, settings, problems, plot events, and resolution-and on the relationship among those elements.

Story maps to be used with younger students can be very simple-like the one that follows. These maps focus on a single element, such as the sequence of a simple plot.

With older students, the maps can be more complicated, focusing on several elements. As with retellings, the teacher uses explicit instruction to introduce the procedure, explaining why story maps are useful, then modeling the procedure, giving students opportunities to practice, and providing feedback.

Simple Story Map

Story Title:
(The story starts when-) (After that-) (The story ends-)

Story Frames

Similar to story maps, story frames are visual representations that focus students’ attention on the structure of a story and on how the content of the story fits its structure.

Students use story frames as a way to activate their background knowledge of the elements of story structure and thus to organize and learn new information from a story. Simple story frames require students to provide basic information about the sequence of events in a story:

The problem in the story is ______. 
This is a problem because ______. 
The problem is solved when ______. 
In the end ______.

More complex frames might involve having students supply more detailed information by summarizing sequences of actions or events, or providing factual information to explain problems or motivations.

The procedure encourages students to interact with each other, asking questions, seeking clarifications, and sharing evaluations. Again, as with story maps, the procedure can be simplified for use with younger students — it has been used successfully with grade-one students *— or made more sophisticated for use with older students.

And again, as with the other procedures that have been described, the procedure is introduced through explicit instruction, with the teacher first explaining why story frames are useful, then modeling when and where to use them, guiding students through practice opportunities, and providing corrective feedback along the way.

Directed Reading and Thinking Activity (DRTA)

This procedure focuses on reading as a thinking process. Its intent is to teach children to make predictions throughout reading. Before reading, the teacher asks students to form a purpose for reading and to make predictions about the content of the story to be read.

During reading, the teacher stops students at strategic points in the story to ask students to make additional predictions and to verify, reject, or modify their purposes and predictions.

After reading, the teacher asks students to find and read aloud any part of the text that supports their predictions. Students must use the text to explain their reasoning and to prove the accuracy-or inaccuracy-of their predictions.

Often teachers have students use charts such as the following to record their predictions and information from the text that proves the prediction’s accuracy:

I PredictProof from theText

Activities and procedures for use with expository text

The following are some procedures teachers use to help students improve their comprehension of expository texts.


The purpose of the K-W-L procedures is to help students become good readers by learning to do the things that good readers do. Specifically it helps students learn to activate their background knowledge and to set purposes for reading.

KWL stands for determining What I Know, What I Want to Learn, and reviewing What I Have Learned. The following chart shows the steps in each part of the procedure:

What I KnowWhat I Want To LearnWhat I Learned
Students discuss what they already know about a topic in the text they will be reading. The teacher has students list ideas and concepts related to the topic, then has them organize their ideas into broad categories.Students discuss what they want to learn from reading the text and write down specific questions that they think may be answered in the text.After reading the text, students discuss what they learned from it. They next write what they learned and answer s t u d e n t - g e n e r a t e d questions about topics that were addressed in the text.

As they confirm the information in the Know column of the chart, students relate new information gained from their reading to knowledge they already have. As they generate questions for the Want column, they learn to set their own purposes for reading. Further, because they are reading to answer their own questions, students are more likely actively to monitor their comprehension. By putting information in their own words for the Learned column, students better understand what they know and what they do not know. Proceeding through these steps reinforces students’ learning from text, involves them in doing what good readers do, and teaches them about their own reading processes.

Questioning the Author

The Questioning the Author procedure involves discussion, strategy instruction, and self-explanation. It encourages students to reflect on what the author of a selection is trying to say so as to build a mental representation from that information. Teacher and students work collaboratively, reading to resolve confusion and to understand the meaning of the text.

Focusing on a segment of text, the students respond to teacher questions such as the following:

  • What is the author trying to say?
  • What does the author mean by this?
  • Why is the author saying this?
  • What is the author getting at?

Through modeling, the teacher helps students to understand that some parts of a text can cause confusion and hinder comprehension. The teacher then discusses with students what they can do when comprehension problems occur. Students learn to “grapple” with text by emulating the teacher’s questioning techniques.

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal Teaching is the name for a teaching procedure that is best described as a dialogue between the teacher and students. “Reciprocal” means simply that each person involved in the dialogue acts in response to the others. The dialogue focuses on a segment of a text the group is reading and is structured by the use of four comprehension strategies:

  • asking questions,
  • clarifying difficult words and ideas,
  • summarizing what has been read, and
  • predicting what might come next.

The teacher first models and explains how to apply a comprehension strategy, then gradually turns over the activity to the students. As the students become more competent, the teacher requires their participation at increasingly more challenging levels.

Reciprocal Teaching provides students with opportunities to observe the value of applying strategies in their “real” reading. In addition, it allows the teacher to identify problems individual students might have in using strategies and to provide instruction that is geared to individual needs.

Transactional Strategy Instruction

Transactional Strategy Instruction (TSI) is a procedure that involves teaching students to construct meaning as they read by emulating good readers’ use of comprehension strategies.

TSI helps students (1) set goals and plan for reading, (2) use background knowledge and text cues to construct meaning during reading, (3) monitor comprehension, (4) solve problems encountered during reading, and (5) evaluate progress. To accomplish these tasks, students are taught to use a set of reading strategies. The strategies typically include:

  • predicting based on prior-knowledge activation,
  • generating and asking questions,
  • clarifying,
  • visualizing,
  • relating background knowledge to text content, and
  • summarizing.

Instruction occurs in small-group settings, with the strategies used as vehicles to coordinate dialogue about text as students read aloud. In their groups, students are encouraged to relate a text to their background knowledge, to summarize text, to describe any mental images they make during reading, and to predict what might happen next in the text. As students read aloud, they engage in and exchange individual interpretations of and responses to the reading.

The I-Chart Procedure

The I-Chart Procedure is a technique that promotes critical thinking by encouraging students to apply reading strategies to learn from content-area texts.

The procedure is organized into three phases: Planning, Interacting, Integrating and Evaluating. Students begin the Planning phase by using content-area texts to identify a topic of study. They then generate questions they want to answer as they read. Next, they construct a large chart, similar to the following, on which to record information as they gather it. They complete the Planning phase by collecting materials about the topic.

Teacher Questions and Student Questions

 Topic1234Other Interesting Facts/FiguresOther Questions
SourcesWhat we know      

In the Interacting phase, students record their background knowledge of the topic, as well as other information they might gather. In addition, the teacher elicits and records relevant student questions. Finally, the students read and discuss, with teacher guidance, the sources of information.

In the final phase, Integrating and Evaluating, students make summaries for each question on the chart, incorporating information they have gathered. Next, they compare their summaries with background knowledge, clarify statements as necessary, and discuss new knowledge they have acquired. Finally, they locate new information to address any unanswered questions and report their findings to the group.

In this procedure, the teacher directs and models the phases of the procedure. Gradually, however, the teacher releases responsibility for managing the procedure to students. The goal is for the reader to satisfactorily apply these comprehension strategies independently.


Comprehension Instruction, 16-24. Retrieved from

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