Have you ever finished a chapter or an entire book and couldn’t remember what you just read? Simply flipping through pages without gaining understanding isn’t an effective way to learn. Instead, readers should actively engage with the text they’re reading in order to understand and evaluate it.

Have you ever finished a chapter or an entire book and couldn’t remember what you just read? Simply flipping through pages without gaining understanding isn’t an effective way to learn. Instead, readers should actively engage with the text they’re reading in order to understand and evaluate it.

That’s where reading comprehension comes in.

Veteran teacher and author Debbie Diller said it best: “Comprehension is a conversation between the reader and the text.” Put simply, reading comprehension is the ability to understand, process and interpret what is read. According to Reading Rockets, students need to be able to do three things to accurately understand written text:

  1. Decode what they read.
  2. Make connections between what they read and what they already know.
  3. Think deeply about what they’ve read.

Why is Reading Comprehension Important?

As students progress through school, they’re expected to “read to learn.” That means they’re tasked with reading text on a variety of subjects (like science, math and social studies), understanding what the writer is trying to convey and using that information to gather facts or learn a new skill.

Without adequate reading comprehension skills, students will have difficulty doing what is expected of them, which includes:

  • Understanding content, sequence and characters,
  • Clarifying confusing parts of the text, and
  • Connecting what they’re reading to their own experience or prior knowledge.

And reading comprehension deficits can have long-term consequences for students, which may affect their vocabulary growth, oral and written language skills, grades and self-esteem.

4 Ways to Boost Reading Comprehension

Teaching reading comprehension helps your students develop a crucial skill that they’ll use throughout school, work and life. Below are four strategies for helping them improve their reading comprehension in afterschool:

1. Encourage independent reading.

Reading and comprehension go hand-in-hand: the more you read, the better you get at understanding the context in which the words are used. But the key to independent reading is helping students to see it as a joy and not a task. To quote former publisher Charles Scribner, Jr.: “Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, duty. It should be offered as a gift.”

There are a few ways to make reading a fun, pleasurable activity for students in afterschool:

  • Designate “quiet time” each day for students to read a book that interests them. They can bring in their own books or choose one from your program library.
  • Create a reading challenge. Ask students to read a select number of books and to track their progress using a reading log. Whoever reads the most books by a certain date receives a reward!
  • Organize a book swap. Allow students to bring in gently-used books and exchange them with their peers.
  • Offer books or reading time as a reward for good behavior, skill mastery or other accomplishments.

As a result, students may develop a lifelong love for reading. 

2. Write about reading.

Writing also plays a major role in reading comprehension. A 2010 report published by the Alliance for Excellent Education found that students improve their comprehension when they write about the texts they read.

According to the report, there are four ways students can combine reading and writing to improve comprehension:

  1. Respond to a text in writing (writing personal reactions, analyzing and interpreting the text).
  2. Write summaries of a text.
  3. Write notes about a text.
  4. Answer questions about a text in writing.

This is also a good opportunity to teach students key writing skills and processes like sentence construction, spelling skills and writing process. Learning these skills can also contribute to improved comprehension.

3. Provide fun opportunities to demonstrate comprehension.

Go beyond writing and create engaging ways for students to show they can recall and analyze what they’ve read. Read a book aloud or have each student read the same book independently. Then, divide them into small groups and challenge them to interpret, or recreate, the story in their own way.

They can create a skit, write a song, make a video or draw a comic strip. Allow them to be creative! The finished result should depict the main idea, main characters and important events in the story. As a bonus, have students vote on which demonstration is the best representation of the book.

4. Practice reading comprehension skills.

Reading comprehension involves finding the main idea, making inferences, using context clues and identifying cause and effect relationships. And practicing these skills repeatedly can help students improve their reading comprehension.

One way to reinforce these skills is with reading comprehension practice cards. These practice cards come in three different levels - red, blue and green - and cover the various aspects of reading comprehension. Each card features a passage and multiple-choice question with self-checking answers on the back. The goal is to get students in the habit of thinking critically about what they’re reading.

While every student learns how to read, not all of them learn proper reading comprehension. Use the tips and strategies above to help your students boost their reading comprehension skills in afterschool.