Reading Comprehension for Beginning Readers

I used to teach 3rd grade, for 8 years, and before that I taught 4th grade for 2 years.  I liked how independent the kids were.  I liked how I could joke with them and they actually got my jokes.  I especially loved how those years were such a huge turning point in a child's elementary life and I was the one to help them through it.  Students in those grades actually remember, for years, the things you do in the classroom....and come back to tell you ALL about it!  It really is a great age to teach!!

What I didn't love, however, were the state assessments.  Yuck!  They really sucked the fun out of teaching for so many weeks leading up to the tests.  Then when Common Core was adopted and the tests consequently changed to being so much harder, so much longer, and frankly - so much more unfair....I decided I needed a change too.  That was when I took the opportunity to move to 1st grade.  This was the best decision I could have ever made because 1st grade is just ME.

First grade and me go together like peanut butter and jelly.

I could go on and on about the things I love about my little firsties, but what I love the most of all is knowing where my students have to get to in a few short years and being confident that I can be the person to help them get there.  I feel effective!  And isn't that what all teachers want to feel?

You might be wondering why I went on and on about all that and how it has anything to do with reading comprehension.  Well I'll tell you.  When I watched my little third graders - and yes, they are still little in 3rd grade - struggle through a reading test for HOURS and feel defeated, it broke my heart.  I wanted to do anything I could to try to prepare them for the stamina they would need and the strategies to get through it.  Now that I'm in 1st grade I feel like I can help them on this journey by providing as many opportunities to practice strategies they will need but at their level and with my support.  It is my hope that I can give them the foundation that will help them down the road.

So this year I started creating some opportunities to guide my students through the process of reading comprehension.  It definitely is a PROCESS - am I right?  So besides being able to read (kinda important) - what DO children need to be able to do when answering reading comprehension questions?

Here are 5 things that I think young readers need to learn when it comes to reading comprehension:

One of the hardest things for students is just knowing what exactly a comprehension question is even asking.  I spend time teaching those question words: who, what, why, where, when, and how.  I teach them how to read those words, of course, and then also what kinds of questions they might see with each of them.

As with anything we teach, it's important to start out with some modeling and guided practice.  I use my whole group reading time to model using our read alouds.  I use my guided reading time to practice with texts at their level.  When it comes to practicing independently I wanted to give my students the opportunity to just work on the questions, so I made these Picture Comprehension pages with some basic questions like: Who is in the picture? What are they doing? Where are they?  And then also some inference questions like: Why do you think they are doing that?

These allow the students to practice reading those question words, but keeps it quick and simple for independent work.

The next skill that children need to learn is to read ALL of the choices when answering multiple choice questions.  They need to get used to being tricked by similar answers and not just pick the first one they read.  So again, I use the Picture Comprehension to practice this, but I also made these simple Sentence Comprehension pages for that as well.

Many of the choices are similar and students really need to pay close attention to the answer they choose.

It's important for us as teachers to understand that children don't naturally know how to answer comprehension questions.  We need to start out simple in order to help them practice and be successful from the get go.  When students get into reading longer passages they will need to pay close attention to detail and be able to search for important clues in the text.  Again, I like to provide the support of pictures to help students practice this.  Important clues can be found in the text and also in pictures.

These Picture Match Books have become a favorite in our classroom.  The kids cannot get enough of them!!!

I also use these CLOZE Comprehension pages for practice.  Children need to fill in the missing words and then answer a couple questions about a short passage.

One of the hardest parts of reading comprehension for beginning readers is the amount of time it takes to get through a reading passage and THEN they have to go back and find answers to the questions.  Teaching students to find the key words in questions and then skim through the text to search for the answer is one of the best skills they can have in their back pocket.   This takes TONS of modeling and guided practice.  When I am working on this with students I really like to have a short passage with questions to answer.

I teach them to read all the choices first, pick out key words to search for, and then skim to find those words.  In the Earth Day example shown I would have students read #1 and the choices.  Then we would skim for the numbers 2 or 22 in the passage since numbers are easy to skim for.  The next questions in this passage involve a little more inferring, but we would still search for key words to give us clues that help us answer the questions.

The final strategy I teach my first graders really goes along with #4.  When they are skimming for key words, they then need to underline where they find the proof for their answers.  We try to make this more interesting by using crayons or highlighters when we practice.  This also lets me see quickly if students are actually using this strategy and doing it correctly.

When we take the time with our beginning readers to model, model, model, then guide, guide, guide, and finally practice, practice, practice -- it gives them the time they need to internalize these strategies.  They do so with manageable texts and are able to build up their comprehension confidence.  I strongly believe that providing these opportunities for them early on is the key to helping them further develop these skills in later years.

So for a quick recap, here are the 5 strategies again:

You can find these reading comprehension pages in my seasonal Building Readers packs.

The ones pictured here are from the Spring Edition (March-May).  I also have Fall (September-November) and Winter (December-February).


I have plans to make more of these packs as well because I've seen such a difference in my students as readers this year.  These have become an important part of our reading routine and I think they could do the same for your class.