Teaching a child to read is one thing. Teaching them to understand what they read is a whole other matter. Reading comprehension can be a frustrating subject, and many struggle with it.
How can you get someone to understand what a paragraph is saying? If they can read the paragraph, why can’t they understand what the words are conveying? It sounds simple, but it can one of the most difficult things a child has to learn.
If a child has difficulty with reading comprehension, reading anything can be frustrating. What normally happens is that a child is given a lengthy piece and expected to read and understand it. Several things can hinder the child from fully comprehending what they are reading.
Lots of Words
Too many words can really intimidate a child. They haven’t been too far from the days of picture books. Now they are facing pages and pages of just words. A book of 1000 pages would scare an adult. To child, a story of more than two paragraphs could be horrifying. They are just learning to read so the more words there are, the more hesitant they are to read it. Before they have even begun to read, they are putting up mental barriers.
Think of a large book of physics or philosophy placed before you. After reading one paragraph, your head might be spinning. Comprehending what you read is hard even though you know more of the words. The concepts are things you have never encountered before. That is what the child feels when they read just one paragraph of their own.
Give the child one or two paragraphs at a time. This lets them focus on a few words instead of hundreds of words. They will breathe a sigh of relief. Put yourself in their shoes with something overwhelming before you. Try to help them in a way you can relate to.
Just Reading — Not Thinking
Too often a child thinks all they have to do is read. They don’t understand that they need to comprehend what they are reading. They need to think about what they are reading and not just go over the words.
After a sentence or paragraph is read, ask the child questions about what they read. The words are fresh in their mind. Asking questions makes them think back on what they read. If they were unclear of anything, they can get a better understanding while the words are fresh. Have them read it again. Teach them to think about what they are reading as they read.
Words can be daunting. Unfamiliar words can be terrifying. A child can struggle with understanding a passage if the words are monsters to them.
If a child, or even an adult, does not understand the meaning of the words they are reading, comprehension is almost impossible. Make sure that the child is reading text that has words that they are already familiar with. This will be very important. It also gives them confidence in their ability to read. Don’t challenge them too hard with new vocabulary until they master comprehension.
Inability to Anticipate
One of the ways to fully understand what you are reading is to anticipate what is going to happen next. As we read, we get an idea of what will come next from the language used in what we have already read. When a child learns to do this, they begin to comprehend more.
After a section is read, discuss with the child what was read and what they feel like is going to happen. Ask them why they think that. Really get them thinking about it. Show them how to use what they have read to anticipate what is coming next.
If a child is reading something new to them, it is harder for them to wrap their mind around it. If they love fishing or know about going to camp, they will have an easier time comprehending a book on fishing or summer camp. Strange, new topics can be daunting.
If a new subject has to be introduced, make them familiar with the subject before hand with movies or discussions. Don’t expect comprehension to come easily for something alien to the child.
Do not wait to clarify any issues. Address them immediately. If they are unsure of a phrase, stop and talk it over with them. If they don’t know the meaning of a word, show them how to look up the definition and how important it is to understand the definition.
Ignoring issues will only compound them. Address them quickly and help the reader overcome them.
Just Moving Forward — No Revisit
Don’t just read something, think you have made headway and keep on going. As they progress in their reading, go back and revisit some sentences and paragraphs. Show them how all the sentences relate and how important they are to each other.
Make sure it is ingrained in the reader, and the success is really there and not just something that is temporary.
Reading comprehension is very important and also very challenging. Work with the child and show them how reading can be enjoyable.