Reading comprehension isn't instantaneous. It doesn't occur the moment a child learns to read. In fact, kindergarten through 3rd grade are the years children are learning to read. Fourth grade and up, students are reading to learn.

Read Gary's story.

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Not long ago, a teacher asked me this question: "What do I do with a student who can read very well but her comprehension level is 2-4 grades below her reading ability?

When asking this teacher more about this student, I determined that the student was missing several components needed for reading comprehension.

Read Courtney's story.


The first component necessary for reading comprehension is being able to decode a word.

The second component is being able to decode AN unfamiliar word effortlessly and quickly. This is called automaticity.

The third component is having a broad background knowledge. Background knowledge provides the student with enough information that she will be able to make inferences if needed.

Comprehension is hampered when reading is choppy with lots of starts and goes; and do overs. Meaning is often lost when the passage takes to long to read. So the fourth component is fluency. Using decodable books will help your child's reading fluency.

When children begin to read, they may not comprehend even the most simplest sentences. The fifth component of comprehension is being able to paraphrase. Paraphrasing is being able to retell what has just been read. Being able to paraphrase is a good indicator that comprehension is taking place.


Re-reading the passage for a context clue for an unfamiliar word is often used with struggling readers. However, this technique does not work.

In fact, it only serves to frustrate the student. Usually the student won't read it any faster or with any more comprehension than she did during the first reading.

When a student is having trouble reading a passage, using some proven reading strategies to help her understand the reading will of great benefit. These would include decoding any unfamiliar words, review meanings of unknown words and giving some background knowledge.

Once a student knows and masters several reading strategies, then reading becomes less of a chore and more fun. She may not become the fastest reader, but comprehending what she reads is more important than speed.

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Students who are auditory learners as well as visual learners can increase their comprehension from listening to books on tape while following along with the words in the book. The local library usually has a large selection of these kinds of books. If you want to purchase books on tape go to

There are also some storytelling websites that can be subscribed to. One of my favorite sites is Books from Oz. This site has very colorful and engaging illustrations. The author reads the story and the listener can also read the words as the story is being read. There are six stories to date. There are also colorful letter rhymes.

These stories are designed for 3 to 8 year olds. Even though the younger children can't read the words yet and the 8 year olds won't be able to read all of the words, the exposure to the written words can be of great benefit to the struggling reader.

The author has developed activities that correspond with each book. The activities can be downloaded and printed. A library membership is only $50/year. This includes any downloads of future books from this author in the coming year.

Go to Reading Strategies That Work

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Rene Armbruster, Basic Author