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  • Ms. Urban Educator

How To Increase Comprehension (K-2): For Children Who Don't Remember What They Read!

"I don't understand, he reads very well."

"But she can read the words."

"He never, ever messes up a single word when he reads."

"How can she possibly be below grade level in reading, she reads every night!"

I hear statements like the ones above from parents all the time. It's really, really hard for a parent to understand that their child is struggling in reading when that child reads words beautifully. It's then that I inform parents that reading is more than simply reading words.

Yes, it's great for a child to be able to read the words placed before him, but if he is not able to show understanding for what he's read, all he has really done is articulate some words on a page. Without comprehension, the words mean nothing. Decoding (the ability to read words) and comprehension (understanding what has been read) must come together in order for real reading to occur.

Reading comprehension is complex; it requires many different components to come together. Readers have to monitor for meaning, infer, refer to background knowledge, make connections, ask questions, visualize, and synthesize to understand a text placed before them. Now I know that that's a mouthful, and most parents who aren't educators have probably never hear those words before. Most adult readers just read. We open books, magazines, and/or read online articles without thinking about process our mind goes through as we are reading. It wasn't until I started teaching and attending professional development on reading comprehension that I was able to fully understand all that goes into comprehending a text.

Today we are going to talk about a component of comprehension that our little ones are often assessed on in the early grades: Retelling!

Retelling the simplest indicator of comprehension, and children are assessed on retelling very often Kindergarten. After a child is finished reading a book, she is simple asked "Tell me everything that happened in this story?" Although the reader is not expected to retell the story verbatim, he is expected to tell the story in great detail in his own words. This may seem like an easy enough task, but many children struggle with this task, especially those who do not attend or pay attention to text very well. If your lil one is struggling to retell what she has just finished reading, this strategy will definitely help.

Strategy: Readers Stop and Ask themselves, "What have I just read?"

  1. First, teach your child the essential question by having her repeat it several times across her fingers. There are 5 words in the question so one word per finger. The finger movement is important because the kinesthetic component (learning through physical activity) will help your child remember the question.

  2. Model the strategy to your child by reading a few pages (2-3), and then stopping to ask the question.

  3. Retell what was read in as much detail as possible.

  4. Then, read the next 2-3 pages and go through the process again. Do this unit the book is finished.

  5. When the book is complete, do a full retell of the entire story.

After modeling the strategy to your lil one, grab another book and have him try the strategy on his own. Your child may struggle at first, but with practice and consistency she will get better. As you continue working on the strategy, you can coach your child to make the retell stronger by remembering character names, the setting, and more details. Remember to be patient and gentle so that your lil one feels comfortable working with you. If you are patient, your child will be willing to try any new strategy, mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. However, if you are impatient or show frustration, your child will most certainly shut down--which is something we DO NOT want at all. Optimal learning can only take place when your child is feels safe enough to take risks.

I hope you find this simple but effective comprehension strategy helpful. Please be on the look out for more strategies coming in the following weeks.

Until Next Time,


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