The 7 Keys to Reading Comprehension

December 5, 2008 

1. Using background knowledge (schema)
Proficient readers recall their relevant background knowledge before, during and after they read.

  • Proficient readers assimilate information from texts they read and learning experiences they have into their background knowledge and make changes in it to accommodate new information.
  • Proficient readers adapt their background knowledge all the time, deleting some information, adding to schema, connecting to other knowledge.
  • Proficient readers use background knowledge to make: Text-to-self, Text-to-text, Text-to-world connections to help them link information to prior knowledge and store information in long-term memory.

2. Creating Mental Images

  • Proficient readers create mental images during and after reading. The images come from all five senses, as well as emotions, and are anchored in the reader’s background knowledge.
  • Proficient readers use images to immerse themselves in rich detail of the text. The detail engages the reader more deeply with depth and dimension, making the text more memorable.
  • Proficient readers use mental images to draw conclusions, to create distinct interpretations of the text, and to recall details. Images from readers’ personal experience frequently become part of their comprehension.
  • Proficient readers adapt their images as they read. Images are revised to incorporate new information and images are modified in response to images other readers share.

3. Questioning

  • Proficient readers generate questions before, during and after reading.
  • Proficient readers ask questions to; clarify meaning, speculate, determine intent, determine content.
  • Proficient readers understand that many of their questions are not answered in the text but left up to their interpretation.
  • When an answer is needed, proficient readers determine whether it can be answered by the text, whether the answer will need to be inferred from the text and their background knowledge, or whether they will need to seek the answer somewhere else.
  • Proficient readers understand how questioning is used in other areas of their lives.
  • Proficient readers are aware that as they hear others’ questions, new ones are inspired in their own minds.

4. Inferring

  • When proficient readers infer, they create a meaning that is not stated explicitly in the text.
  • Inferring is the process of creating a personal meaning form text. The reader combines what is read with relevant prior knowledge (schema).
  • Inferring may cause the reader to slow down, reread sections, talk, write or draw to better understand the content.
  • Teachers should allow great latitude for inferences as long as the reader can support the inference with specific text and prior knowledge.
  • When proficient readers infer, they: draw conclusions, make predictions, create interpretations, answer questions as they read, make connections, make judgments about what they read.

5. Determining Importance

  • The readers schema – – ideas connected to the reader’s background knowledge will be considered most important.
  • The reader’s purpose.
  • The reader’s beliefs, opinions and experiences.
  • The reader’s knowledge of text format, particularly of non-fiction texts (titles, headings, subheadings, graphs, pictures) give clues about what is important.
  • Students should be able to articulate how they make decisions about what is important and how those decisions enhance their comprehension.
  • Pointing out what is not’t important can help students distinguish importance more clearly.
  • Interesting discussions spring from disagreement about what is most important. Children need to work to defend their positions, but there is rarely a true set of most important ideas.

6. Synthesizing (is based on)

  • Answers the question, what does this really mean to you?
  • A synthesis is the sum of information from the text, other relevant texts and the reader’s background knowledge, ideas, and opinions produced in an original way.
  • Proficient readers use synthesis to share, recommend, and review books they have read.
  • Proficient readers monitor the overall meaning and themes in the text as they read and are aware of the ways text elements “fit together” to create that overall meaning.
  • Proficient readers pay attention to character, setting, conflict, sequence of events, and to text patterns and use their knowledge of these elements to make decisions about the overall meaning of the text.

7. Monitoring for meaning (“fix-up strategies”)

  • Proficient readers monitor their comprehension during reading. They know when the text they are reading does not’t make sense.
  • Proficient readers identify difficulties they have in comprehending at the word, sentence, and whole text level. They are flexible in their use of strategies to solve their comprehension problems. They monitor, evaluate and make revisions to their evolving interpretation of the text while reading.
  • Proficient readers can identify confusing ideas, themes, and/or surface elements and can suggest different means to solve the problems they have.

Possible “Fix-Ups”
Go back and reread. Often.
Read ahead to clarify meaning.
Identify where it is that is not’t understood: word, sentence, concept.
If it is a word, read beyond it and see if its meaning is cleared later in the text; think about the content and predict what word might make sense.
If it is a sentence in a picture book, look at the pictures and think about what has happened so far; then reread and read ahead. If still confused, talk with a friend, parent or teacher about it.
If it is a concept, try to summarize the story up to confusing part. See if that clears up confusion. It may be necessary to build more background knowledge. That means going to an encyclopedia, the Internet, or having a conversation with someone who knows about the topic.

Source: Susan Zimmerman, co-author of Mosaic of Thought:The Power of Comprehension Strategy Instruction, Second Edition. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann Publishing, 2007.


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