What about Comprehension?

Oct 24, 2022 | Posted by Jennifer

Today’s post is all about comprehension. This is an area where many students struggle. Possibly the difficulty stems from a learning disability such as expressive or receptive processing difficulties or even dyslexia or ADHD. There are a host of reasons a student might find it difficult to correctly interpret what he reads. How can you help your students become more proficient? Read on!

Let’s begin with literature. Be sure to include regular times of the day when you sit down and read aloud to your student. Select a book that is at your student’s comprehension level and that engages him. During the reading, pause from time to time to ask Socratic-style questions. These questions are open-ended and allow your student the opportunity to think about a response rather than simply responding with a “yes” or “no.” Here is an example of how to do this. Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a charming short story that many people encounter in their childhood. It also affords some wonderful discussion questions. Read the story to your student, and then chat about it together. Here are a few sample questions you could ponder together:

  • Why do you think Peter didn’t obey his mother?
  • Why would his mother want him to stay away from Mr. McGregor’s garden?
  • Why do you think Peter wants to go there?
  • Why would Peter avoid the cat that was sitting by the pond?
  • Why is Peter sick after his adventure?
  • What do you think happened to Peter’s clothes that he had previously lost?
  • Do you believe that Peter will obey his mother from here on out? Why? Why not?

This story is appropriate for all ages although there is some vocabulary that you may need to define. The words fortnight, mischief, currant, amongst, gooseberry, implored, exert, sieve, and camomile might possibly be unknown to students. Be sure to anticipate that and to take the time to fill in the blanks by defining the vocabulary for them.

Have fun with the story! Do all the voices, imitate the sound effects, and make the story multisensory by offering samples of some of the foods mentioned in it. Even though this short tale charms young children, it is equally appealing for older students. In fact, it is one of the first stories I teach to my high school literature class and is also used as an example in Teaching the Classics, a fabulous resource for learning how to implement Socratic discussion in literary analysis.

Another powerful resource for strengthening comprehension is Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization. You can sample the program for free by visiting IEW.com/free-poetry. In the teacher portion of the course, there are a few articles that share more about why poetry memorization is such a significant integrator for language comprehension. Especially note these sections: "Prerequisites for Effective Communication," "Why Memorization?" and "Why Poetry?" The program implements the Suzuki Method of mastery.

Using the Structure and Style writing approach is another key aspect to supporting and expanding comprehension. When you are working with your student in writing, be sure to select a source text that is written at or below his current reading level. If your student has a reading disability, choose a source text that is at his comprehension level and then assist with the decoding. For all students, as you read through the source text together, take plenty of time to break it down. Provide background information on the topic. For example, show a map of where the source text is centered. Pull up a brief video about the subject that adds to the student’s understanding. If relevant, add in a sample of the food mentioned or provide an object to examine that reflects the theme. Again, draw in Socratic discussion. Be sure that your students understand the text before you ever begin the outlining process. Once that is done, help your students complete a key word outline of the source text. Test the outline orally before you have them begin the writing task. Model, model, model, and then model some more. Help as much as they need. There is no better way to learn how to do this than from the master teacher himself, Andrew Pudewa. You can watch how he helps his students with their comprehension by viewing the sample lessons for Structure and Style for Students. You can access those lessons by visiting IEW.com/free-writing.

Finally, understand that learning is not separate from life. Sometimes the best opportunities to draw connections and strengthen comprehension are encountered during the daily course of living. Discuss the world around you. Learn about your child’s interests by asking Socratic questions. Engage in the minutiae of life by remarking on the little things: the unique color of the sunset, the shape of a cloud, or the sound of the rain on the windows. It can all be fodder for enhancing language and building comprehension.

Are you interested in reading more about comprehension? IEW offers talks and articles on this topic.


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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