Updated: Sep 9, 2021
Reading comprehension, simply put, means understanding what you are reading. It means making sense of the words on a page.
But how do you know if you're adequately supporting your kindergartner's reading comprehension? What strategies do you use to teach this? And how do you know if your child is on the right track?
As parents, it can feel overwhelming to incorporate reading comprehension strategies into your at home teaching routine. In reality, by embedding a few key strategies into your daily read aloud time, you begin laying the foundation for children to engage meaningfully with books.
Reading comprehension in kindergarten, and even prior, happens primarily through reading out loud to your child. You, as the expert reader, demonstrate fluency in reading, thereby allowing your child to spend their mental energy focusing on the story itself and making sense of that story. Your role, as the expert reader, is to demonstrate, or model, how you engage with the book to make meaning.
Read below for 10 subtle, yet powerful strategies to use while reading out loud to your child. Using these strategies during your read aloud time are key to developing your child’s reading comprehension.
Strategy #1: Read Out Loud Every Day
Make sure you are reading out loud every day for at least 15 minutes. This is a critical, sacred time. Reading out loud is when your child gets to hear an expert reader and practice making meaning from books. All of the strategies listed below can happen in this short period of time. Simply sitting down and reading out loud while modeling and engaging your child in these very specific strategies will help your child develop reading comprehension skills.
Strategy #2: Ask Questions
While reading out loud to your child, periodically stopping to ask questions about the story will engage them so much more deeply in the reading process. Rather than sitting passively as you read to them, asking questions encourages them to think, reason, and search for answers and connections. This is at the heart of teaching reading comprehension. Asking questions sets a purpose for reading and involves your child in paying close attention to the story to find the answers to the questions.
While reading out loud to your child, regularly model how to ask questions about the story you’re reading at the beginning, middle, and end of your read aloud time.
Here’s what this may sound like:
Before Reading: “This looks like an interesting book. I wonder what this book will be about. I see a sad dog on the cover. I wonder if this story is about a dog who gets lost?”
During Reading: “Oh no! The puppy went too far into the forest while playing! I wonder if he will make it home before dark?”
After Reading: “I wonder what the puppy will do the next time they are playing in the forest? What would you do differently?”
Make sure to spend lots of time demonstrating how you ask questions about the book before asking your child to create or generate questions themselves. Otherwise, this can lead to overwhelm and resistance if they feel put on the spot. Instead, as you model asking questions and answering questions yourself, your child will begin to pick up on the fact that this is something that good readers do.
It is equally important to empower your child by posing questions without providing them with the answers. Using questions like “What do you think? Why do you think that?” will help them engage in the story and make meaning. Use phrases to show them how powerful reading can be and to signify the start of reading for a purpose. One of our favorites is “Let’s read to find out!”
Click here for a free list of before, during, and after questions to include during your read aloud sessions.
Strategy #3: Activate Background Knowledge
Before beginning any read aloud book, spend some time looking at the front and back cover, the title, as well as the table of contents, if it has one. Take some time to make observations about what you know about the story before reading it.
If you are working with a picture book, encourage your child to do a picture walk. A picture walk is simply previewing the pictures in the book before reading the story itself. This activity allows your child to start activating and waking up their background knowledge on the topic of the book. This helps children “warm-up” and prepare to make meaning from a story before beginning. As you flip through the book, ask questions such as, “What do you think this might be about? What do you notice?” As questions or observations come up, respond with the phrase, “Let’s read to find out!” This builds on your child’s engagement and interest and encourages them to think critically while reading.
Strategy #4: Make Predictions About the Book
Making a prediction about the book means using clues that the author gives you, along with your background knowledge, to make a guess about what might happen next in the story. Rather than simply asking a question about the book, we are attempting to answer our own question. Before you begin reading, encourage your child to use the title and images on the front cover to make a prediction about what the story will be about. During the reading, take a moment to make a prediction about what might happen next in the story. And as you come to the end of the story, make a prediction about what might happen if the story were to continue.
Again, it’s so important as the expert reader to model this process for your child. It’s brand new to them and they haven’t necessarily done this type of thinking before. As the expert reader, demonstrate how you pose a question and make a guess about the answer. A question elicits a prediction, and then leads into “I think...because…” statements. We are asking children to use clues in the book, as well as to tap into what they already know about a topic, to help them make sense of what will come next in the story.
You can use this same strategy with nonfiction texts or books. Ask, “What do you think this book is trying to teach us?” Engage in a picture walk to look through the images in the book and to notice any text features included, such as charts, labels, graphs, or headings. Then ask, “What do you think this book will be about? What is it going to teach us? Why do you think that?”
Strategy #5: Make Connections to Other Books
Making connections to other books they may have read is another helpful strategy in building reading comprehension. This helps engage them more meaningfully in understanding overarching themes or lessons that books may provide us. Recognizing similarities between stories helps build their background knowledge and gives them insight as to how or why a character may respond, or why a story unfolds in the way that it did.
As always, it is important to model this as the expert reader. This may sound like, “Wow! This reminds me of the story we read yesterday because they both lost something important to them.” Focus on connections that link the theme, lesson, or topic of a book. As you’re reading, stop and ask your child if the book reminds them of something else they’ve read. It’s okay if they say no. You can always share a connection that you recognize between the story and another book you’ve read together. This gradually helps children notice similarities in characters, themes, or lessons.
Strategy #6: Making Inferences
Inferences simply means reading between the lines. We are understanding things about the characters, or the action in the story, based on clues that the author has given us but hasn’t told us directly. A great way for early readers to begin engaging with inferences is through pictures. When you’re reading through a book, take a moment to stop and analyze the pictures in the book to make guesses or assumptions about how the character feels and what might happen next based on the illustrations. “How do you think the character is feeling right now? How do you know that?” This is the first step into making inferences.
You do not need to use the word inference with your child. This will come later in their reading journey. But as you’re just starting out, and still working with picture books, using the images on the page to help you figure out what might happen next, or how a character feels, is a great way to combine background knowledge and clues from the author to make meaning about the text.
Strategy #7: Visualize the Story
Helping children visualize what they’re reading in their mind is a great way to support your child in making meaning from the text. Model this for your child by stopping while you read and sharing what you see in your mind. This sounds like, “Wow! I can almost smell the delicious food at the bakery. There are cakes and treats all over the countertop!” If you like, close your eyes, ask your child to do the same, and share what you see and feel as you escape into the book.
Eventually, like you can now, this will happen naturally for your child. As they are just beginning in their reading life, they need practice learning that reading is more than just decoding words on the page. Being able to place yourself inside of a story helps develop understanding of and empathy for the characters and their problems.
Strategy #8: Teaching Text Structure
Teaching text structure, even to young children, is an incredibly beneficial tool to help them make meaning from texts. This means, in a fiction book, teaching children that almost all fiction books have characters, a setting, a problem, and a solution to that problem, or a way that the problem is solved. Good readers pay attention to these elements and are always looking out for them as they read. Early readers need more guidance and regular reminders that these elements are present in almost all stories.
A helpful tip is to spend several days just focusing on identifying the characters in the story. As you read, ask your child to pay attention to the characters. What are their names? Is there one main character? How do you know they are the main character? Slowly, once your child shows confidence with that process, introduce the idea that almost all stories have a problem. Spend the next several days looking for the problem in the book as you read. Continue introducing the other elements of text structure.
You can use this same strategy with nonfiction texts. In kindergarten, we begin by saying that nonfiction books teach us something. Set the purpose for the nonfiction read aloud by searching for what the author wants to teach us and how you can identify the most important information. Begin pointing out text features as you read, such as headings, images, and captions as clues to how the author sets up the book to let us know the most important things they want us to learn.
Strategy #9: Retell the Story
It’s important to always end your read aloud session strong and that means taking a moment to stop and reflect on the book you just read. This may start by asking your child about their favorite part of the story or their favorite character. What made them laugh or if they’d like to read the book again?
Once you’re in the habit of reflecting on the story at the end of reading out loud, begin working with your child to see if they can retell the story in their own words. This is a very important element of reading comprehension and it's a good clue to see where your child is in terms of understanding the books they read and hear. Again, this will be a brand new skill to your reader, so it is important for you to model what this looks like and sounds like. A good way to frame this is by focusing on the four elements of narrative text - the characters, the setting, the problem, and how the problem was solved. It may take your child some time to tell the story in this way. Model for them how to retell a story for several days and then engage your child in helping you to retell the story together. This is called gradual release. You are slowly giving your child control of retelling the story, but you are there to support and encourage and correct as needed. Eventually they will develop the skill to do this on their own.
Strategy #10: Reread Stories It is a great idea to reread stories more than one time. I love rereading our favorite books together because it helps children get the deeper levels and meaning of a text. The first time they hear a book they will be focusing on the pictures and following the details of the plot on a very basic level. The first read through is a great time to ask questions and make predictions. However, as you read the story again and again, they can begin practicing the strategies we’ve talked about above, such as visualization and retelling, with more confidence.
Nurturing a child who can read and comprehend independently will set them up for a lifetime of success regardless of the subject, the content, or the difficulty level. Remember, teaching reading comprehension is ongoing. It’s not a checkbox we do one time and then we’re convinced that they’ve got it. Incorporating the strategies above throughout your read aloud sessions will help build reading comprehension in your kindergartner.
Know that you do not need to use all of these strategies each time you read out loud with your child. Choose a few of them to focus on at each read aloud time.
We’re here to help if you have any questions or need more support in strengthening your child’s reading skills. Please send us a message by visiting us at Thoughtful Play.
Our Kindergarten Curriculum guides families through the process of teaching reading comprehension, as well as phonics and fluency. We provide a list of high-quality read aloud books to read with your child each day, as well as the questions to ask before, during, and after reading to make sure you are guiding your child through meaningful interaction with the text.
Katie Eichman, M.Ed.