Comprehension Strategy Instruction Should be a Spiral

Comprehension is defined as making meaning from text.

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Thus, readers derive meaning from text when they engage in intentional, problem solving thinking processes while reading. Research shows that text comprehension is enhanced when readers actively relate the ideas represented in print to their own knowledge and experiences.

The rationale for the explicit teaching of comprehension skills is that comprehension can be improved by teaching students to use specific cognitive strategies. Readers gain these strategies informally to some extent, but explicit or formal instruction in the application of comprehension strategies has been shown to be highly effective in improving understanding. The teacher generally demonstrates such strategies for students until the students are able to carry them out independently.

Research shows that explicit teaching techniques are particularly effective for comprehension strategy instruction. In explicit instruction, teachers tell readers why and when they should use strategies, what strategies to use, and how to apply them. The steps of explicit instruction typically include direct explanation, teacher modeling ("thinking aloud"), guided practice, and application.

Direct explanation

The teacher explains to students why the strategy helps comprehension and when to apply the strategy.


The teacher models, or demonstrates, how to apply the strategy, usually by "thinking aloud" while reading the text that the students are using.

Guided Practice

The teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy.


The teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently.

Comprehension strategy instruction should be systematic in that it begins with simple concepts such as identifying story elements and progressively moves onto more complex concepts such as determining the author’s message. However, comprehension strategies need to be taught in a spiral fashion meaning that the essential strategies are reviewed and practiced each year in school. This is so important for our students as they grow, since their texts are changing and evolving with each grade level. For example, it is important that a student can understand what the main idea of a passage is in first grade. It is equally important that the same student can determine the main idea versus the details in order to establish theme in a fifth-grade text. Thus, the concept of the main idea must be circled back to, along with all comprehension strategies, as students grow and engage in more complex tasks.

We have created a list of comprehension strategies outlined by grade level for you to use. You can click here to grab this free download! This list follows the Common Core State Standards. Use this list of strategies as a suggested timeline for introducing key comprehension strategy concepts.

For more information on explicit instruction of comprehension strategies, check out this blog that guest blogger, Joan Sedita wrote!