Tips for Building Your Students' Comprehension

By Huntington Learning Center

Tips for Building Your Students’ Comprehension

Thanks to the introduction of the Common Core State Standards, building students’ comprehension in preparation for college and their careers has taken a front seat. One of the key shifts called for by the Common Core is to practice with complex texts and their academic language, progressively developing students’ reading comprehension so that they can gain more from what they read. Students are asked to make logical inferences, analyze the structure of texts, evaluate texts’ arguments (and create their own), and much more.

As you know, however, it is challenging to “teach” comprehension. How can you ensure students extract meaning from that which they read? How can you inspire students to think critically as they read, speak and listen, and incorporate knowledge that they possess already into their understanding of new information?

Below are a few techniques to help your students more thoroughly engage with what they learn, derived from a number of tried-and-true comprehension strategies used by teachers across the nation:

The SQ3R method (Survey, Questions, Read, Recite and Review) guides students to ask questions, make predictions and confirm those predictions when reading and is used for successful studying habits.

  • Survey - Look over the headings, pictures, graphs, or tables. Read the introductory paragraph and summary paragraph. Glance over key words or questions that might be highlighted. Ask yourself; "What do I know about this lesson at this point?"
  • Question - Turn the first heading into a question. 
  • Read - Read to the end of the first section to answer the question you have asked.
  • Recite - After reading the first section, look away from the textbook and try to recite briefly the answer to your question. This is reciting from memory. Jot down brief phrases in outline form. Glance over the section again, if you cannot recite the correct information.

Repeat Question, Read, and Recite on each succeeding section heading.

  • Review - Look over your notes or main heading. Check your memory of the context by reciting the major sub-points under each heading.


Story Sequencing helps students learn to recall facts in a story in order, thereby helping them organize their ideas and the information that they read. One example of story sequencing is the use of story maps. Story maps are graphic aids that help students identify a story’s characters, plot, problem and solution as well as the story’s beginning, middle and end.

Paragraph Shrinking was developed as part of the Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies program that is used by many teachers to improve students’ reading proficiency (and was created at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development). As students read, have them summarize the main points of each section or paragraph (the who/what, most important thing about the who or what, and the overall main idea).

Paragraph shrinking empowers students to hone their comprehension by encouraging them to monitor their understanding of what they read as they read it. Students can work in small groups or you can work with the class as a whole.

Visualization, or the use of visual imagery, teaches students to think of images as they read, thereby engaging with the text and improving comprehension. You can encourage students to practice this by having them read passages and pause periodically (after coming across descriptive information) to develop a mental image. Students might relate a picture to a story’s plot or characters, or a passage’s main point.

When a student lacks reading skills, he or she suffers in all academic subjects. Students need reading skills to understand their history and science textbooks, test instructions, and literary stories.  Huntington's academic evaluation identifies a student's weak skills. Instructors develop an individualized program that builds these skills before progressing to the next skill level. Huntington Learning Center has been teaching reading comprehension since 1977. Visit for more information on our programs.

As you research ways to help your students improve their comprehension, keep in mind that it might be most effective to try out different strategies and give students the tools to hone the techniques that work best for them.  Just as students all learn differently, they learn to comprehend text in different manners as well.  As referenced above, there are various strategies for building comprehension that you can use with your students. To read up on the College and Career Readiness English Language Arts Standards, within the Common Core State Standards visit


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