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Chapter 11 – Reading comprehension

Chapter Summary

Comprehension is the act of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning from the text. When teachers support the development of children’s comprehension they think about three factors: the reader, the text and the activity. Teaching comprehension involves building oral language and reading vocabulary, encouraging active reading and the explicit teaching of comprehension strategies. Different text types prompt children to read in different ways—fiction is read for characters and plot, and information books are read to find facts and to build concepts. 

Teachers can assess children’s comprehension by asking questions on the lines, between the lines and beyond the lines, and also by encouraging children to retell narrative and information texts. Comprehension activities need to encourage active reading with a consistent focus on strategies that involve children thinking about their thinking. Comprehension activities can provide ways for children to learn cooperatively in pairs, groups and whole classes to understand different types of texts.

Study Questions

Main ideas

What is the definition of reading comprehension?
How does the interaction between the reader, the text and the activity work if, for example, a child is reading how to cook pancakes, or reading a story such as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ in a picture book?
Select a child you know and explain how the interaction affects the child’s comprehension.
Explain the three main ways to teach comprehension in the early years of school.

Application to a developmental stage

In the beginning stages of learning to read, what strategies would you use before reading, during reading and after reading a book at the child’s instructional level?

Diverse learners

If you worked with a child who had a difficulty with writing, how could you modify comprehension questions that usually require a written response?


Look at the different forms of comprehension questions and select a picture book or a well-known folktale such as ‘The Three Little Pigs’. Develop questions based on Bloom’s taxonomy of levels of thinking for each of these: on the line, between the lines and beyond the lines.

Teaching plans

Select an activity for active reading and explain how you could use this with eight-year-olds of different reading abilities.