Reading Comprehension Instruction for Grades K-3
Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA
August 2015

Background: Reading Comprehension Defined

Reading comprehension is the ability of children to understand the meaning of a written piece of work, i.e., tradebooks, textbooks, and digital text. Whatever the format is, the written piece is also called "text." Reading comprehension can be broken into two engagement categories: listening comprehension, i.e., children listening to a text being read aloud to them; and when children are actually doing the reading of a text themselves.


It is a misconception to think that children only understand a written text when they, themselves, are able to read it on their own. Research has suggested that instead, children begin to comprehend a written text read aloud to them beginning at birth. It is also a misconception that children first learn to read on their own, and then they learn to comprehend what it is they are reading. Research has suggested that instead, learning to read and reading comprehension, happen together, at the same time.

Guiding Reading Comprehension

There are some guidelines to follow when teaching children how to comprehend any and all written material used in the classroom:

1. When teachers read aloud to children, they must either be able to see the text on the classroom screen or be able to see it in print form in front of them. This practice builds phonemic awareness.
2. The children need to be able to see the teacher's face. Facial expressions convey meaning along with the words, and the teacher needs to emphasize how to form the words with her mouth.
3. The teacher should articulate the words clearly and slow down to a pace that is appropriate for the age level of children she is teaching, the younger they are, the slower the teacher ought to speak. Children do not process language as fast as adults do.

Choose the Right Text

Text selection is one of the most important considerations to make when teaching children reading comprehension. Some text actually impedes the reading comprehension process of children. It is best for teachers to follow the guidelines listed below when selecting text for teaching reading comprehension to children in grades K-3:

1. Consider the interests of the children. If children are interested in the topic, they are more motivated to listen and to read it on their own.
2. The text should have few words and lots of colorful pictures. Quality picture books blend words with pictures to convey important meaning.
3. The printed or digital text should be easy to read text. Some printed or digital text is written in fonts that are hard for young children to make sense of.
4. If the written piece is narrative, it should have interesting vocabulary, characters, setting, problem, and solution.
5. If the written piece is expository, it should have interesting vocabulary, illustrations, style, and format.
6. The more creative, unique, and imaginative the written material is, the more attention young children will give to it.

Reading Comprehension Methods

There are many reading comprehension strategies that make up reading comprehension methods. They can be categorized into three main areas are that are sequentially taught for the sake of building conceptual development. These categories are as follows:

• Category One: before reading strategies
• Category Two: during reading strategies
• Category Three: after reading strategies

Each of these is presented with more explanation and description in the following sections. Note that some strategies work best with narrative pieces and some work best with expository, nonfiction; some can work with both, but some do not. It is best to match the strategy to the type of text the children are working with.

Before Reading Strategies

It is best practice to teach some of the book before children actually read it, or the teacher actually reads it to them. These strategies set the stage, prepare children's minds, and get their attention. Online search engines can be used for obtaining detailed strategy lesson plans that fall into this category. The titles of some select strategies are as follows: Exclusive Brainstorming, Prereading Plan, Word Ladders, Word Sorts, Word Walls, Anticipation Guides, Book Talks, KWL Charts, Picture Walks, and Quick Writes. These before reading comprehension strategies all work with narrative and expository text.

During Reading Strategies

Teachers support children's further understandings of the reading piece while they are actually reading it or the piece is being read aloud to them. These strategies guide children to think about what is happening in the reading piece, to make personal connections to the piece, to deepen their understandings, to go beyond literal meanings (see Bloom's Taxonomy), and to see underlying themes. During reading comprehension strategy lesson plans that fall into this category include the following:

• For narrative text: Think Alouds, Reciprocal Questioning, Open-ended Questioning, Questioning the Author, Personal Vocabulary Journal, Free-Response Journal, and Illustrative Journal.
• For expository, nonfiction text: Double Entry Journal and Leaning Logs

After Reading Strategies

Teachers advance children to further understand the reading pieces after they have actually read them. These strategies assist children in thinking back about what happened in the reading piece, to make personal connections to the piece, to deepen their understandings, to go beyond literal meanings, and to see underlying themes. These after reading comprehension strategies include the following;

• For narrative text: Story Retelling, Sketch-to-Stretch, Story Boards, Story Ladder, Story Map, Book Boxes, Quilts, and Open-Mind Portraits
• For expository, nonfiction text: Venn Diagram, KWL Charts, Alphabet Books, Book Boxes, and T-Charts


Children look for meaning and relationship in the reading material that is presented to them. If they find it, they will feel inspired to seek understanding. If they do not, they will ignore or discard the written piece. There are some key factors and principles for teachers to practice for the sake of guiding their students towards motivation in reading, these factors include: the children's personal interests, text selection, strategy selection, and the teacher's ability to inspire and motivate her students. Most importantly, a teacher's personal enthusiasm over a text can go long way towards stimulating her students to feel motivated as well.

About Author / Additional Info:
Timothy G. Weih is an associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA, and teaches elementary teaching methods courses.