How to Teach Text Comprehension Skills in All Classroom Content

text comprehension, literacy, integrated instruction
Why is teaching text comprehension so important for literacy?

Have you ever worked with a student who reads a passage aloud perfectly but wasn’t able to answer basic questions about the text they had just read? Or a student who’s an ace at providing vocabulary definitions but doesn’t necessarily understand their use in context? This is why text comprehension is so important to teach as a skill in all content areas.

What is Text Comprehension?

Text comprehension is one of the five key literacy components described by the National Institute for Literacy as one of the most important strategies to be integrated into everyday instruction. Text comprehension is the process of extracting or constructing meaning (that is, building new meanings and integrating new and old information) from words once they have been identified. It requires students to understand the other four key literacy components—decoding, morphemes, vocabulary, and fluency—in order for them to make sense of not only what words they’re reading, but what the text is conveying through those words.

Text comprehension ability varies for readers depending on the specific text–its content, style, and syntactic structures. Think about it like this: if you’re reading instructions on how to put together some furniture you just ordered online, you may read it with ease, but it may take some more profound consideration to determine exactly what the text is telling you to do. No matter what subject you’re teaching, making sure students comprehend the text (beyond reading fluency) is incredibly important to their advancement in your subject and their entire curriculum.

Text comprehension may seem simple, but it can be tougher to teach than the building blocks of decoding and morphology, and tougher to monitor than fluency and vocabulary. Text comprehension requires each of those four skills, but beyond these it requires as well as the ability to master an ideally an instantaneous understanding of what is being read. This is where content-integrated instruction comes in.

What are the Benefits of Integrated Literacy Instruction?

Context-integrated literacy instruction means emphasizing literacy in every subject area to help students to enhance and relate literacy skills and knowledge. Teaching literacy skills in a broader context, rather than in isolation, is one of the best strategies teachers can employ for their students’ education. When you employ integrated learning, students’ literacy improves at a faster rate, as does their understanding of all subjects. This not only helps them learn, but also to enjoy that instruction by creating a deeper engagement with the content. 

Research suggests that teaching text comprehension within all subject areas can help increase students’ proficiency as well as content-area knowledge. According to the National Institute for Literacy, the most important skills for literacy are decoding, morphology, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each of these builds upon and works with the others to help students understand and apply the knowledge of every subject they’re learning. Advancing literacy in math can help advance literacy in science which can help continue to advance literacy in math, and so on.  

How to Integrate Text Comprehension Skills into All Content Areas

Here are five ways you can help your students advance their text comprehension in any subject.

1. Generating Questions:

Encouraging students to ask before, during, and after questions will engage their interest, promote comprehension, and give them more of a reason to read. Great readers ask questions, and seek answers as they read. This helps them focus on the text, and understand what they’re reading.

2. Answering Questions:

Answering questions require students to consolidate various pieces of knowledge, because though some answers may be found in the text, others come from background knowledge, inferences, discussion, and further research. By providing questions throughout a reading, teachers can demonstrate how questioning enhances the reading experience and deepens understanding.

3. Monitoring Understanding:

When expert readers struggle with comprehension, they’re able to use comprehension monitoring or other problem solving strategies to help them comprehend, such as thinking aloud about their understanding of the passage as they go, or re-reading the text, particularly points that were confusing.

4. Summarize the Text:

Summarizing helps students focus on the important content of a text, determine what is and isn’t important, condense the important content, and then restate it in their own words. Summarizing helps students identify, connect, and restate the main idea of the passage.

5. Using Graphic & Semantic Organizers

Using graphic and semantic organizers will help students with all of the above strategies, and primarily work to create a visualization of concepts within the passage, and their relationship to one another. Organizers can shape the text in a different way that can be easier for some students to understand and guide their comprehension process.

Want to make your life a little easier? LessonWriter makes it easy for teachers to strategically position questions and graphic organizers throughout a reading, and target those questions to students of different abilities. By differentiating comprehension instruction, educators can cater to all students text comprehension needs at once. We also provide a large range of graphic organizer options for teachers to include with any lesson. (Check out all of our resources here).

Text Comprehension: an Important Skill for Every Teacher to Teach, and Student to Learn

Text comprehension is one of the most important aspects of literacy. Using an understanding of decoding, morphemes, and vocabulary, it requires students to do more than read: instead, to construct meaning from whatever text is in front of them. Taking the time to emphasize comprehension in lessons, no matter one’s subject area, can help students in all aspects of their education, and life.

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