5 Core Components of Reading - Comprehension

Hey there friends!

5 core components-comprehension.png

So we are wrapping up the 5 Core Components of Literacy this week with the final component, arguably the most important component, comprehension!

The end goal of reading is obviously…

Reading Comprehension

The entire purpose of going through the process of learning to read is so that we can use reading as a way to gather information and learn new things.

And yet we have two major problems in the way many reading programs are teaching students to learn today. We are faced with one of the two of these problems in nearly all reading programs.

Problem 1 -

We are teaching all the foundational reading skills and assuming students will naturally know how to comprehend the materials once they can read the words.


Problem 2 -

We are focusing only on using background knowledge and prior information assuming that students will be able to fill in the gaps based on what they know about the world without explicitly teaching foundational reading skills.

The answer to having true reading comprehension is to focus on both:

Foundational Reading Skills + Explicit Reading Comprehension Instruction

So what exactly does this look like?

First, you want to make sure your reading instruction is systematically targetting foundational reading skills including:

Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary, and Reading Fluency

Next, you want to make sure you are aware of the specific reading comprehension skills your students need. There are several specific skills students must master but we have what we consider:

The Big 5 of Reading Comprehension

It’s important to recognize this isn’t exhaustive or all-inclusive but it’s a great place to start. So without further ado, let’s jump into the Big 5 of Reading Comprehension.

1 - Ability to Identify Main Idea & Key Details

Students need to be able to recognize the big picture in a passage. We target this skill by asking the simple question of “Why did the author write this passage? Why should we care? Did the author give us any details to further explain what they are talking about?” Students who struggle to identify the big picture may struggle with this concept.

How do I support struggling students?

You can work through category sorting activities to help students build this foundational skill. For example, you may give students a number of different foods including fruits, vegetables, desserts, etc. and ask them to create categories and then label each individual category with the big picture (in this case food).

2 - Ability to Sequence a Passage into an Ordinal Series

Students must be able to recognize first, then, last or beginning, middle, end and put those events into a sequence. As they get older it is important that they begin annotating each sentence or paragraph by providing a 2-3 word summary. This will help support the identification of the main idea and key details.

How do I support struggling students?

You can provide events or stories out of order and have students work independently or in groups to get the order back into a reasonable sequence. Start off small with first/last and then progress to longer sequences.

3 - Ability to Answer Direct Recall Questions

We need to teach students how to key into the specific information they need to hold onto. Think about those key “W-questions” specifically who, what, when, & where. These will often be the key pieces of information that students should be able to answer when they finish reading a passage.

How do I support struggling students?

You may want to consider highlighting or color-coding any who, what, when, where topics with different colors. We LOVE using highlighters and visual representations to clue into key information. So many of our students really need this visual and even better if you can be consistent with your colors. For example, always color a who in yellow, what in orange, where in green, and when in blue.

4 - Ability to Make Inferences and/or Predictions

So this is where we start to get into higher-level reading comprehension strategies. This is where things really start to get interesting because we need to step outside of what the passage has specifically told us. and start using background knowledge or life experiences to bring our understanding to a new level. We need to take what the passage has told us and start really thinking about. This can be difficult for students because many struggle with abstract reasoning and often inferences and predictions aren’t concrete.

How do I support struggling students?

Give LOTS of opportunities to work through passages that require inferences and making predictions. You can also play games with younger students to help them begin to process this information. For example, “I am wearing a coat, gloves, and a hat - where am I?” You can easily adapt these same games for older students “the year is 1912, I’m on a boat, I’m about to take over a previously established land - who am I”. Think 20 Questions type of games here which can really help build those inferencing skills in a fun and engaging way!

5 - Identify Unfamiliar Vocabulary

Okay, so this is kind of cheating as we jump back to one of the other core components of literacy…BUT, it’s so critical that we had to include it as part of our Big 5 of Comprehension. If students don’t recognize vocabulary that is unfamiliar they can lose so much of the meaning of a passage. Sometimes they don’t even realize how much of the overall message they have lost by simply not understanding specific words. It’s critical that students can begin to self-monitor their understanding of specific words within a passage.

How do I support struggling students?

Give students a framework for recognizing unknown vocabulary and self-assessing using a structured approach to defining words. You can go check out our Vocabulary instruction method over here!

So there you have it - the Big 5 of Reading Comprehension!

If you’re interested in learning more about how we teach reading comprehension and want to grab all of our tools and resources - come join us in the 5 Core Components of Literacy Membership Site!

Corey PollardComment