Most everyone can stand to improve reading comprehension, from early readers to adult professionals. An internet search for reading comprehension strategies to improve this skill yields a multitude of exercises and recommendations, but overall, they all seem to arrive at a singular idea: to improve reading comprehension skills, we must prime the brain through creating a framework that allows the reader to experience a text with intent.
Teaching our students (or just re-training ourselves) to enter into the reading experience with intentallows the reader to extract and retain the key elements of information. This is quite different from simply picking up a book, flipping to page one and jumping right into “Once upon a time...” A number of things can happen before that moment to frame the reader’s mindset and prime the brain to better comprehend the information it is about to delve into.
So, what are some ways of improving reading comprehension by creating that intent and priming the brain? Here are some examples of pre-reading activities and questions that we can offer students young and old to frame their reading for improved comprehension.
Before reading, take a look around. A book is much more than the words on its pages. What is the title? What do we see on the cover? Who is the author and what kinds of stories and books does this person create? When was the book written? By taking a few minutes to focus on these elements, we can set up expectations in our minds—like a loose outline—that we will later fill in with the details.
Get a 30,000 foot view. Delving in a bit deeper, what can we learn about the story by reading the table of contents and flipping quickly through the pages? Tables of contents offer huge amounts of information to help readers further develop expectations and outlines.
Make it personal. Our brains are more likely to absorb information when it is directly applicable or related to our interests and our lives. Thinking about the information we have just accessed by answering the above questions, what aspects of this book grab our interest on a personal level? What features of the book relate directly to our lives?
Write it down. Now that we have a framework of expectations around what we are about to read, write down questions that have arisen about the story and its characters, and make some predictions about how the story might unfold.
All of these pre-reading activities help the reader to create a mental framework that will later hold the details of the text. Readers can then use these notes during and after reading to see where predictions were on target or where they might have gone off course.
Regardless of their simplicity—or maybe because of it—the reading comprehension strategies above help create the reading intention to improve reading comprehension skills. Your own internet search will yield countless additional helpful hints and resources, but don’t underestimate your own creativity. How many ways can you think of to engage students in thinking about a text prior to turning to page one?