Reading can be rather pointless if you don’t understand what you’ve just read. Improving reading comprehension can result in much greater satisfaction as a reader since the activity of reading then rewards you with knowledge you didn’t have before. It really doesn’t matter what type of reading you’re doing, whether you’re reading informational articles or long fictional books. You can use similar strategies for different types of reading materials to improve reading comprehension.
Consider beginning any reading task or reading for pleasure with some questions. First, what are you reading? If you’re reading a book about the life of Abraham Lincoln, what do you know about Lincoln, what stories can you remember about him, and what do you know about the time in which he lived? You might want to make a brief list of some of the things you already know, like that he was president of the US, involved in the Civil War, helped end slavery, and that sort of thing.
Another thing to ask is what you expect a book will tell you. Examine the book. Look at the title of the chapters, and possibly read the introduction. Find out what you’re going to read before you read it. This way, you can make predictions about what may occur. Keep a list of these to see if you are right.
You may improve reading comprehension if you also make a list of what you’d like to know. This can be part of your prediction list, or separate. Ask what you want to find out, and keep a running list going. Don’t make up too many questions at first, but consider adding a few questions before you begin each new section of a book.
If you own the book you’re reading, read with a pencil or highlighter in hand. As you’re reading text, underline words you don’t know. You can use post-its if the book isn’t yours and write the word or keep a dictionary on hand. Don’t read much farther before you look up these words, since it’s challenging to comprehend text when you can’t define words used.
Another thing that will improve reading comprehension is underlining key ideas you find. Don’t underline the whole book, but when you come to a key point, take a minute to underline it. Use paragraphs as a guide to figure out main ideas. The first or second sentence in a paragraph often states the key idea in that paragraph. Also use headings, titles of chapters and subtitles as ways of telling you the main idea of a section of a book.
Consider reading a chapter at a time. Before you move on, ask yourself what the chapter contained. What happened? Who was involved? What were the main points? Go back to individual paragraphs to look at main ideas again, and consider writing a brief summary of the chapter. If you have a study guide for each chapter, which is common in textbooks, take the time to review study questions and answer them. If you can’t come up with the answers, go back and look for the answers in the text to improve reading comprehension.
As you are reading, you will improve reading comprehension if you relate what you’re reading to your own experiences. This may not always be easy, but especially with fiction, you can often find a character that is like someone you know, an emotion that is similar to one you’ve had, or situation that reminds of something that occurred in your life. Relating yourself to what you read expands your ability to understand and remember it. It becomes not just words anymore but something that is personally connected to you.
Don’t forget to reread. Oftentimes, we will miss important things the first time we read something. It may take two more more readings to fully comprehend material. If you’re reading on a chapter-by-chapter basis, then plan to read each chapter at least twice for fuller comprehension.
Lastly, talk or write about what you read. When reading is not a singular experience, you will get more out of it. If you’re reading something for a class, ask others to informally discuss it. Alternately, share reading with a spouse, with kids, or with a friend or relative. The more you engage the reading by thinking and talking about it, the better you will comprehend it.
If you’d like to improve reading comprehension even more, consider joining a book club. There are plenty of these available at local bookstores and libraries, or you can form your own with a few friends. Even a family of kids and parents can start a book club together.