We all have activities that we enjoy and are good at. Most children who enjoy reading do so because they are good at it, and conversely those who struggle with reading do everything in their power to avoid sitting down with a book. Many parents feel that their child is a “good” reader because he can read the words on the page fluently, but if he isn’t enjoying reading it is possibly because his comprehension skills are lacking.
Here are three areas that you can help build your child’s comprehension regardless of his or her age or reading ability. Remember that nearly any age of student likes being read to. Even if you have a struggling seventh-grader, he or she would probably jump at the chance for you to do some of the reading, and then you can also work on these three skills with your child.
1. Making Connections
The ability to make connections with the book is paramount for children to enjoy what they are reading. The books I fall in love with are ones that I feel a special bond to the main character: Jo in Little Woman, Hermione in Harry Potter, etc. Some children are able to make these connections automatically to characters in books and some need a little help.
While reading your goal is to help them make a connection to the book in some way. It could be with what is happening in the plot, what the character is feeling, something in the setting, or an aspect of the narrative. Ideally, there is some similarity in the story to something that has happened in your child’s life so that they have a personal tie to the story. Stop every little bit and ask her what the story reminds her of. If you know of a time in her life when something similar happened, it is okay to give some prompts at first to remind her of the event and why they are connected.
Sometimes a personal connection is hard, so it is also good if kids find a connection to:
- another book,
- a movie,
- another part in the same book (for longer stories),
- a news story, or
- a song.
Asking your reader to make connections builds their understanding of what the story is about and helps them to remember it better because they have a frame of reference — their own experiences, to make their memory of the story stronger.
2. Recognizing Emotion
For children who don’t read with emotion, stories are as boring as a monotone speaker. Teaching your child to add emotion to dialogue and to understand what emotions the characters are feeling make the story come alive. Reading with emotion is a great skill for parents to model. Most of us, when reading to a child, add voices and enthusiasm so show this to your child how to read with emotion and have them copy the way you say a sentence, question or passage.
Ask questions about what the characters must feel and what the child feels about what is happening in the story. Readers with strong comprehension can recognize when a story surprises them and when an author is trying to make them feel a certain way.
These questions can help you open up these thoughts:
- The picture shows Billy is sad, why do you think he is?
- How would you feel if that happened to you?
- How do you think the character should react?
- What surprised you about what just happened?
- How do you think the character felt when he ran away?
Like personal connections, emotions make stories more interesting and easier to remember. Getting your child emotionally vested in a story is the fasted way to increase his or her love of reading.
3. Making Predictions
Readers with strong comprehension can make predictions about what will happen next in a story. When children are early readers, it is important to look at the pictures in a book and make predictions about what is happening in the picture and what will likely follow. For older readers, the skill of predicting uses their higher level thinking skills like logic and reasoning to understand where the author might be taking the story and the motivations of the characters.
Stop reading every few pages and ask your child to make a predication about what will happen next. Make some predictions yourself and remind the child that not all predictions will come true. The act of thinking about what is happening now and making the logical jump to the next step keeps children active in the reading. Making active readers builds comprehension and reduces the phenomenon of reading a whole page and not remembering a thing about it.
Great places to stop and make predictions are:
- New picture.
- Beginning of a chapter.
- Introduction of a new character.
- Moment of suspense.
- Right before the climax.
Allowing children to make predictions is like giving them a part in the telling of story and increases their enjoyment when they see that they were right.
It is never too early or too late to start building comprehension skills and the love of reading in your child. It is a skill that will carry them throughout school and life. Take the time to read with your child, stopping to ask them to make connections and predictions, and building those emotional ties to the story. Your time and effort will be rewarded with a stronger reader.