17 Fun Ways To Teach Reading Comprehension Strategies
The Classroom

17 Fun Ways To Teach Reading Comprehension Strategies

Tara Shanley
Apr 4, 2024

Reading comprehension strategies are frameworks readers use to understand text. When students learn comprehension strategies they become more active readers. Plus, they’re more likely to read with purpose and feel more in control of their reading abilities. In this article, we’ll show you 17 strategies your students can use to understand the texts they read and give tips on how to make teaching these skills more interactive and fun.

17 strategies for reading comprehension (and how to make them fun to learn)

Explore reading comprehension strategies you can teach your students and how you can take them from skill-and-drill memorization to fun, interactive experiences:

1. Using metacognition

Metacognition is a concept that means “thinking about thinking.” Students can use metacognition strategies before, during, and after reading to track their comprehension of a text:

  • Before reading they may set a purpose for reading and preview the text. Use a goal-setting journaling activity that can guide them as they try to understand the text.

  • During reading, students may adjust how they read to ensure they comprehend the main idea and details, such as rereading a sentence or reading more slowly. Having students complete a Write-Pair-Share activity can help them think more closely about the content they’re reading and what they’ll do with that information when they’re done.

  • After reading, students can check their understanding of what they read, usually with a teacher-recommended assignment or assessment. For example, have students write a letter to future students who will read this content. Have them summarize what the future students should expect to learn.

Metacognition strategies and thought processes appear in many of the other reading comprehension strategies students use, which you’ll discover below.

2. Activating prior knowledge

When a student activates prior knowledge, they use what they already know to make sense of a new text that they read. This includes both their own life experiences and things they’ve learned in the past as a framework for comprehending new information.

There are three types of connections students make to activate their prior knowledge. They include:

  • Text-to-self: The ways a text relates to a student or their personal experiences

  • Text-to-text: The ways a text relates to another text or piece of media students have encountered

  • Text-to-world: The way a text relates to the world around your students

With Newsela knowledge and skill-building products, you can use annotations and assign a color to each type of text connection. Then have students highlight details within a text that fit each category.

Try alphabet brainstorming to help students activate prior knowledge. Share the main text topic and brainstorm things that students know about it that match each letter of the alphabet. Some letters are trickier than others!

3. Building background knowledge

Activating prior knowledge is a great strategy for helping students with reading comprehension/ But what if they don’t have the life experience or past learning to relate to a new topic? Teachers can help make up for these gaps when they build background knowledge about a text and its topics before and during a lesson.

This strategy scaffolds students into the new material so they’re able to make sense of what they’re reading. With Newsela ELA, you can build background knowledge on any topic, as well as a variety of fiction and nonfiction books with our Novel and Book Studies collection. Use articles, videos, infographics, and interactive activities to make sure students have the context of a topic before diving into a new text.

4. Previewing a text

Using prior and background knowledge as a guide, students can preview a text before they read. Previewing allows students to get familiar with the structure and content of the piece before they do close reading.

Turn previewing a text into a scavenger hunt. Invite students to scan the material and look for words or phrases that match the information mentioned during the whole-class alphabet brainstorm. Have them journal the clues and matches they find.

5. Predicting

Making predictions about a text before students read helps them activate their background and prior knowledge and tap into metacognition. It encourages them to use what they already know and set up a framework for thinking about the text as they read. As they gain more knowledge, they may revise their predictions based on new evidence. That means predicting isn’t just a before-reading skill. Students can use it at any time during the reading process to stay actively engaged in a text.

Pair a predicting exercise with a preview scan of the text and use the information students find during the scavenger hunt to make a Clue-style prediction. Have them decide:

  • Who or what is the main character or main idea of the text?

  • Where does the story take place or why does this information matter?

  • What will be the outcome of the story or text?

6. Self-monitoring comprehension

Students who can monitor their comprehension know when they read something they understand and when they don’t. This can be a difficult skill for new readers because they’re less familiar with the process of exploring a text. The earlier they can learn this comprehension skill, the sooner they’ll be able to form a deeper understanding of texts and feel empowered to practice and read independently.

You can model and help students practice self-monitoring by adding time for reflection on what they’d read, asking them to use prior knowledge to make connections, and encouraging the use of “fix-up” strategies as they read. Adding polls on Newsela also helps students self-monitor their comprehension while previewing a text and predicting what could happen next.

7. Using “fix-ups”

When students are working to master self-monitoring their comprehension they also learn how to use “fix-up” strategies. When they read something they don’t understand, they use tools or strategies to help them fill the gaps on their own.

Have students create a dictionary or thesaurus journal with the words they look up. They can record the word, part of speech, definition, and synonyms. They can also include the text that prompted them to look up each word and any other notes they want to make. On Newsela ELA, our built-in Power Words support “fix-ups” by providing Tier III vocabulary and definitions right within a text.

8. Recognizing story or text structure

Students learn to start identifying parts of a story’s structure as early as preschool or kindergarten. As they advance in school, they learn more about other text structures found most often in expository nonfiction texts. If they can identify what type of text structure they’re reading, they have more clues about how the information is organized and where the main idea and key details could be within the text.

Read more: 9 Ways To Make Teaching Text Structure Fun for Students

9. Using graphic organizers

Graphic organizers help show concepts or relationships visually. There are a variety of different kinds of graphic organizers students can use to visualize concepts in text like maps, charts, webs, or graphs. In narrative texts, story maps are a great way to teach students story grammar. With expository texts, KWL charts, tree diagrams, tables, and flowcharts help organize ideas. With Newsela, students can use interactive graphic organizers embedded in articles and customize them with Formative, or download printable versions to teach specific text structures.

Download your printables: KWL chart and story map

10. Visualizing

Studies show that students who can visualize what they read have better comprehension and recall than those who can’t. This is why toddler books and picture books are full of images to help students understand how the words and the meaning of the story go together. This type of visualization doesn’t have to stop when students start reading more complex texts with fewer visuals.

Having students use all five senses when they read can help with visualization. Beyond just looking at images or describing the ones they see in their head, encourage students to think about what elements in a text may smell like, sound like, or feel like to touch. Ask students to storyboard or draw comic strips to illustrate what they see in their minds when they’re reading a text. Eventually, you can scaffold students to have these images appear only in their heads while they read without having to draw them out on paper or a tablet.

11. Answering questions

Question-Answer Relationship strategy (QAR) helps students learn how to answer questions better. It encourages students to share whether the information they used to answer a question came directly from the text, if it was implied in the text, or if they answered based on their own background knowledge.

There are four types of questions you can ask to help students build comprehension. They include:

  1. Right there: The answer appears explicitly in the text and students can locate it or point it out.

  2. Think and search: The answer appears explicitly and implicitly in the text in more than one place.

  3. Author and you: The answer requires students to share information based on what they already know and what they read.

  4. On your own: The answer requires students to reflect on how their background knowledge connects to a text.

Make answering questions more fun by creating a “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” game, turning the students into contestants who must answer questions about the text to win a fictional prize. Add lifelines to your game like 50/50, ask the audience, or phone a friend to encourage students to help each other learn and comprehend a text. Using the embedded quizzes in Newsela articles is also a way to prompt students to answer comprehension questions as they read.

12. Asking questions

After students learn how to answer certain types of questions, they can start asking their own. Rather than waiting for a teacher to ask guiding comprehension questions, students can ask themselves if they can find key details or the main idea of a passage. When students advance to asking questions, it also provides opportunities for students to talk together about what they read and check each other’s comprehension.

As students practice creating their own questions, have them think like journalists. Pair them in twos to interview each other about the topic. Add a writing component to encourage them to record their interviews with one another.

13. Determining key details

To understand a text, students should be able to determine what’s truly important in a story instead of just what’s interesting. For example, in a fiction story, plot points that lead to the conflict are important. The author might also describe in detail what the characters are wearing, but if their outfits don’t have anything to do with the plot, their clothes aren’t key details. Similarly, in expository or nonfiction texts, students should be able to separate facts from opinions and know how the two different categories of information relate to the main idea of the text.

A fun way to teach about key details vs. extraneous information is to get students to solve mysteries that have red herrings, or misleading clues. Game companies make age-appropriate card sets for this type of activity, but you can also create your own scenarios. When creating your mysteries, make sure all the information students need to “crack the case” appears in the text they read or that you read out loud. Also, include some details to try to throw them off.

You can have students work independently or in groups to try to solve the mystery. At the end of the activity, use a whole-class discussion to talk about what clues were important for solving the case and which ones were extraneous. This exercise, when you repeat it over time, should help students learn how to pick out key details in a text.

14. Making inferences

Authors don’t always explicitly state everything they want a reader to know in the text. We have to read between the lines to understand what they mean and make connections. During and after reading, students can make inferences about things the author doesn’t say outright. To do this, they must have the right background knowledge to understand the text and recognize clues in what’s written.

To help students practice learning how to make inferences, try playing word association games, like Password, in class. Word associations encourage students to think about what they know and draw conclusions about words that may describe or characterize a person, place, or thing.

15. Summarizing

Summarizing requires students to decide what’s important when reading and share it in their own words. When summarizing expository texts, students should be able to share the main idea of a passage and the key details that support it. To help students practice summarizing, do an activity that’s a twist on “Blind Date With a Book.”

Have students write summaries for books, novels, or other texts that the entire class reads. After students have read three or more texts, share some of the summaries with the class and see if they can guess which text each one matches. Provide a list of the possible texts for reference. The more texts you add, the more challenging it is. Whether the class guesses correctly or not, ask students to name one additional detail they would add to the summary or one they would remove to make it even clearer.

16. Retelling

You and your students can think of retelling as the narrative version of summarizing. Having students retell a story in their own words forces them to analyze the content, decide what’s important, and share that information with others orally, in writing, or through another means of expression. To practice retelling, you can play a modified version of the game “Telephone.”

Split students into groups of 3-5 team members, depending on the size of your class. Give the first student in the chain the name of a book or text that everyone in the class has read. They must retell the story to the next person in the chain in four sentences or less. The second person must relay the retelling to the next person and so on until it gets to the end of the chain. The last person must pick the text that was retold to them. Repeat the exercise so students have a chance to be at the beginning, middle, and end of each chain.

For a challenging twist, instruct the students in the middle of the chain to guess which text the person before them is describing. They can then choose to either remove or replace a detail in the retelling or keep it the same before they share it with the next person in the chain.

17. Synthesizing

Synthesizing information during reading brings together many other comprehension skills students use to create something new with the information they’ve learned. It involves activating prior knowledge and background knowledge, making inferences from the text, making text connections, and summarizing or retelling the information learned in their own words. A fun synthesizing activity is to have students reimagine a text in a new way.

For a narrative fictional story, this might look like taking a fairy tale and reimagining one key element. What if Cinderella never lost her slipper? What if Sleeping Beauty was set in the 2020s? For expository or nonfiction texts, synthesizing might look like taking the opposing stance of the author in a pro/con debate. Creating a reimagining activity for students lets them show what they’ve learned in their own ways, either through writing, art, performance, or another medium.

Do certain reading comprehension strategies work better for different grade bands?

Reading comprehension strategies build on one another. When you’re teaching reading comprehension, it’s better to start with more basic strategies and work students up to more complex ones. Because you likely don’t teach reading comprehension to students during their entire academic careers, it’s helpful to know which strategies are most effective for each grade band:

Early elementary (Grades K-2)

Early elementary students are just starting their reading comprehension journey. It’s important to stress, practice, and reteach some of the most basic reading comprehension strategies with this grade band. Although you can teach other strategies to early elementary students, try starting with these:

  • Answering questions

  • Asking questions

  • Making predictions

  • Retelling stories

Mid- and upper-elementary (Grades 3-5)

Mid-elementary students have a foundation for reading comprehension but are still adding tools to their mental toolboxes. At this stage, teachers can start to scaffold up some of those foundational skills to make them more complex. You can teach any reading comprehension strategy for mid-elementary students, but these strategies are a good primary focus:

  • Practicing visualization

  • Activating prior knowledge

  • Building background knowledge

  • Summarizing

Middle school (Grades 6-8)

In middle school, readers are often more comfortable using their foundational comprehension skills independently. For this grade band, focusing on how to process and use a text to form their own thoughts and opinions can be helpful. Top strategies for middle schoolers include:

  • Making inferences

  • Previewing texts

  • Practicing self-monitoring comprehension

  • Determining key details in a text

High school (Grades 9-12)

Many high school students have a large toolbox of reading comprehension strategies and know how to apply them to increasingly complex texts. In this grade band, it’s important to stress the right time to use each strategy and how using one strategy or a combination of them can help students develop their own ideas based on a text. Top strategies for high schoolers include:

  • Asking questions

  • Building background knowledge

  • Practicing self-monitoring comprehension

  • Summarizing or retelling

  • Synthesizing information

Teach reading comprehension strategies with Newsela

With over 15,000 texts across 20+ genres, Newsela products let you teach reading comprehension strategies during your lessons or provide students choices to get them reading in their free time about topics that interest them. With Newsela ELA, you can practice other literacy skills along with reading comprehension strategies. With Newsela Social Studies and Newsela Science, you can use the same scaffolds and supports to encourage reading comprehension practice in subjects outside of ELA.

Not a Newsela customer yet? You can experience all the content and skill-building activities our products have to offer by signing up for Newsela Lite for your classroom today.

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