Reading comprehension depends on many subskills. If your child has trouble with comprehension, it may be due to deficits in several areas. It is critical to identify these weaknesses and design a program that brings up all areas of reading together.

The real goal is to develop a deep understanding of books. It begins with imagery. We make mental images of characters and events as we read. We become involved and make judgments about the story. Only then can we answer questions that require inference and synthesis & critical skills in today’s classroom.

As you watch the video above, notice the parents comments on these four areas:

  • Improved comprehension
  • Improved word analysis (phonics)
  • Improved attitude toward reading
  • Improved vocabulary

Here are a few suggestions to help with comprehension of fiction:

  1. Before working with your child, skim the story or get a summary (there are free online study guides for longer works of fiction). This will help you guide the reading.
  2. Make connections: What aspects of the story remind you of situations in your own life and your child’s life?
  3. Help your child make predictions about what the characters will do next.
  4. Raise questions about motives (Why are characters acting this way?).
  5. Emphasize discussion and real engagement with the story.
  6. Use a highlighter and write notes in the margins (or use sticky notes).
  7. Make a mental movie of the story and encourage your child to do this. Check the details of this movie through ongoing discussion.
  8. Do a vocabulary study (emphasize words to images)


Many children read casually and fail to pay close attention to the text. As the questions in school get more abstract, the child’s attention gets worse. This can be very frustrating for a parent.

When a child can’t answer comprehension questions, it’s tempting to say, “But you just read that! How can you not know the answer to that question?” This approach doesn’t work. You can teach a child to answer difficult comprehension questions by creating study guides that gradually increase in difficulty. These guides can include partial explanations or clues to get your child started on answering the question.

Use guides as a basis for discussion. The ultimate purpose of the study guide is to help your child to pay closer attention to the story, and this is best accomplished through discussion. Study guides or summaries of most books are easily located on the internet. They are free or reasonably priced.

Reading by Design will help you develop your child’s reading comprehension of both fiction and nonfiction. You will learn the best way to do a vocabulary study, how to create games, how to select readers, audio books and phonics programs. Combine these resources and design a program specific to your child’s needs. A lengthy discussion of techniques for promoting comprehension through writing is in Chapter 11.

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