8 Ways To Help Kids Understand What They Read

by Melissa Taylor

Photo credit: Blend Images - Jade, Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Now that your child is a reader, you can share your best reading comprehension strategies (that you probably don’t even know you use) to help them understand what they read.

But how?

Think about teaching a child to tie a shoe or ride a bike. You break down what you do unconsciously into teachable steps. The same goes in reading. I’m breaking down eight reading comprehension strategies that you can use at home.

1. Does This Make Sense?
The MOST important thing you can teach your child is to realize when he does and doesn’t understand what he’s reading. Help him stop frequently and ask himself, “Do I understand what’s going on?” This can be hard for some kids. To be sure he’s understanding, ask him to retell you what he just read. Teach him that if he doesn’t understand, it’s best to stop.

1) Reread.
2) Pick a book at an easier reading level.
3) Ask for professional help — if it’s consistent issue.

2. Can I Get a Picture in My Head?
Encourage your child to get a mental picture of what she’s reading. You automatically do this as a reader. Beginning readers are just getting the hang of it. So while you’re reading, show your child how to use the descriptions to make a movie in her mind. If she can’t get a picture in her head, it might be because she isn’t understanding or needs more practice with this strategy.

3. I Think That ______ Is Going to Happen Next.
Does your child know how to predict? Help him use the story information to make reasonable predictions about what will happen next. Stop after a short passage and talk about it — share your predictions, too. (You may need to define “reasonable” with some examples — for example, predicting that the wolf gets into a spaceship in the “Three Little Pigs” isn’t a reasonable prediction.)

4. What Is That Word?
Prepare for word battle. Kids need word attack strategies. Can your child decode words she doesn’t know? Show her your strategies beyond “sound it out.” Look for smaller words in bigger words, use the pictures as clues, figure out the beginning and ending sounds, or skip it and keep reading. Learn more word attack strategies in this article.

5. What Does It Mean?
Help your child stop when he comes to a word he doesn’t know and ask, “What do you think that word means?” Tell him that sometimes you can use the context of the sentence to make a good guess at the meaning (also called inference). Show him how to do this and practice together.

6. What Happened Before?
Readers need to remember what they read before — the day before, even five minutes before. Remind kids to think back to what already happened before they continue reading a new chapter.

7. I Can Relate (Connect) To ______.
Part of understanding what we read is being able to fit it into what we already know, our prior knowledge. Help your child make connections to her own life and other books she’s read. Model this for your kids: “Oh, that reminds me of … “

8. Good Stories Are Worth the Work
Sometimes we can forget the forest when we focus on the trees. Remember, the end goal: that your child loves to read. If reading is getting tough, stop and find a way to make it fun. Chances are, your child already loves stories thanks to your rich home environment. Now, remind him again that the story itself is the reward. And that you will support him through this amazing journey of growing as a reader.