As upper elementary students delve into more complex texts, they need help developing reading comprehension skills.
When students enter my upper elementary classroom, most of them are fairly confident readers. However, many of them haven’t moved beyond basic reading comprehension. Up until third grade, many students and teachers focus on the basics of reading such as phonics, fluency, and decoding. So, in the upper elementary grades, it’s time to achieve a deeper level of reading comprehension.
In my classroom, I focus on three levels of reading comprehension to help students achieve a deeper understanding of what they read. Let’s take a look at how I approach reading comprehension with my students.
What is Reading Comprehension?
Reading comprehension is the ability to read a text and understand what it means. It sounds simple, but it’s actually a complex process!
Many students who struggle with decoding words get stuck with reading comprehension. Why? They work so hard to decode or decipher a word that they lose the meaning of the sentence they’re reading.
Beyond that, reading comprehension also involves critical thinking skills and the ability to make connections and use background information. Plus, studies have also shown that when students have larger vocabularies, they perform better with reading comprehension. So, students who are learning English as a second language or who don’t have a large vocabulary may also need extra support with reading comprehension.
3 Levels of Reading Comprehension
When I think of reading comprehension, I find it helpful to divide it into three levels. You can work through the 3 levels of reading comprehension in order with your students. This is also helpful for differentiating learning in your classroom. You can work on the lower levels of reading comprehension with students who need more support and work your way toward the third level as they gain skills.
The three levels of reading comprehension are literal, inferential, and evaluative.
Literal Reading Comprehension
At the literal level of reading comprehension, students answer direct questions about the text. For example, after reading a text about cheetahs, some questions to test literal reading comprehension are:
- How fast can cheetahs run?
- What are some examples of prey that cheetahs eat?
The answers to these questions would be found directly in the text.
Inferential Reading Comprehension
The next level of reading comprehension requires inference. In other words, students have to think about what they’re reading to understand things that may be indirectly stated. Or, they might need background knowledge to understand the text.
For example, take this sentence, “The children roasted their marshmallows around the fire.”
You probably imagined children sitting around a campfire or perhaps a fire pit. You made an inference about what type of fire the writer referred to.
Some examples of an inferential reading comprehension question related to a text on cheetahs might be:
- Can cheetahs run faster than their prey?
- Why do cheetahs rest a lot?
After reading a fictional text, you might ask inferential reading comprehension questions about a character’s feelings, character traits, or intentions. Students can infer what a character might be thinking based on their actions. For example, you might ask “How do you think the character felt in the situation? Why?”
When working through these questions, it can be helpful to have students highlight or underline evidence from the text that helped them formulate their answers. For example, if they believe a character felt angry, they might underline a section of the text that describes the character’s face turning red or stomping their feet.
Similes and metaphors also require inferential thinking. If a student reads in a book that someone was “as hungry as a horse,” they infer that the character was very hungry. Similarly, the meaning of metaphors is not literal. The reader must interpret it. That’s why it’s important for teachers to coach students through understanding metaphors and similes.
Evaluative Reading Comprehension
Evaluative reading comprehension is the third level. This type of reading comprehension often brings the reader and their opinion into the mix. Some questions to test evaluative reading comprehension include:
- How do you think this story will end?
- What would you have done differently if you were the main character?
- Does this story remind you of a situation in your own life?
Why Reading Comprehension Is Important
Reading comprehension is important not just for school, but in life! As teachers, we want our students to be successful inside and outside of the classroom. It’s also important to note that standardized testing includes reading comprehension questions from all three levels including literal, inferential, and evaluative questions.
When we teach reading comprehension, we challenge students to dig deeper and interact with fiction and non-fiction texts in more meaningful ways. This helps them become critical thinkers who can quickly read or hear information and understand its meaning.
Bringing Reading Comprehension to Your Classroom
To achieve reading comprehension, students need practice! Students can practice reading comprehension at the level they’re most comfortable. You can use reading comprehension questions with texts at appropriate reading levels for your students to help them practice. Plus, you can tailor the questions to your student’s abilities and have students focus on literal comprehension questions to get started.
One trick for students who struggle with reading is to have them occasionally listen to audiobooks or you can even read aloud. This gives them the chance to practice higher-level reading comprehension questions and activities. Students who struggle with reading fluency might still have great vocabularies and auditory comprehension. So, be sure to give them the chance to practice.
Most of all, try to make reading fun for your class. When you keep things interesting and fun, your students will be more willing to practice their reading comprehension skills.
I hope this explanation of the three levels of reading comprehension is helpful to you and your students. Do you have a tried and true method of teaching reading comprehension? Tell me about your approach on social media or in the comments below!