Strategies to Boost Reading Comprehension

Students benefit from explicit strategies to boost reading comprehension. Once a student has mastered his or her A, B, C’s, the challenge is not over. We may expect our students to make a smooth transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” but there are many reasons students may struggle to understand what they read even after they have mastered the ability to decode text.

Joan Sedita, founding partner of Keys to Literacy, is a pioneer in programs and professional development aimed at boosting reading comprehension. She identifies three main reasons why a student may struggle to comprehend text.

  1. Language comprehension — Perhaps the student does not understand the vocabulary or the grammar and syntax of the text are confusing or inappropriately challenging.
  2. Cognitive skills — Students who are concrete and inflexible may struggle to make inferences or integrate key details and main ideas. Additionally, if a student has a verbal working memory deficit, it will be challenging to retain enough information to comprehend the passage.
  3. Knowledge — If a student is unfamiliar with the structure of different types of text (e.g., informational, narrative, etc.), then she may struggle to understand what she is reading. Also, if a student lacks background knowledge of the text, it will be much more challenging to use context to understand the reading passage.


Understanding difficulties with reading comprehension requires us to move beyond the “simple view” of reading, which defines reading as a combination of decoding and language comprehension. Instead, we must look at weaknesses in the skills and processes above in order to understand the various reasons a student might have difficulty with reading comprehension.

Once we understand which of these areas is contributing to our students’ struggles, we can teach strategies that address these areas of weakness. Strategies such as question generation, activating prior knowledge, note taking, or summarizing and retelling can go a long way in boosting a student’s ability to comprehend reading material.

To learn more about reading comprehension, come and hear Joan Sedita at this year’s Learning Differences Conference, March 10–11. She will be presenting a talk titled “Comprehension Difficulty: Causes & Instructional Solutions.”  Hope to see you there!


  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director