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Teaching Comprehension

By: Permanent Substitute Jose Holliday

January 13, 2020

Comprehension is an essential part of the learning process. This constructive process is one that requires students to make connections in order to understand what they are hearing and reading. Comprehension should be interactive between teachers and students. This is where students learn to become problem solvers, infer, compare and contrast, relate what they are learning to background knowledge, among many other meaning-making benefits.

Comprehension is a vital skill to one’s everyday life no matter what walk of life he or she is in. Students must be able to make connections in order to express ideas, gain important subject matter and develop new insights. Our job as teachers is to guide our students down the path to making these connections through collaborations and discussions in order for them to make sense of presented information. Knowing best practices is vital to achieving comprehension goals with students, and some of those methods will be explored. 

Comprehension is one of the many areas in which Rossman teachers strive to use research to teach students how they learn best.


Having students answer questions is a common way of testing the comprehension of students, but this often involves lower level thinking. However, retellings can help teachers extend the thinking of their students and allow for the students to express connections made with their reading. For example, a first grade student might read a story during our guided reading time and be asked to tell a teacher the story to me in their own words. This can be an important assessment tool as students demonstrate their understanding of the structure of a story such as the setting, characters, the problem and resolution, and sequential order of events in the story. 

In today’s schools, students come from all different kinds of backgrounds and thus, will have constructed knowledge in numerous ways. Therefore, a student-centered approach is necessary. Teachers can also use retellings to then guide their questions as students demonstrate their comprehension. In this way teachers can begin with specific learning goals and objectives but allow for student connections to take discussions and activities a different route.  his can be an effective assessment tool for teachers to determine where students are in their understanding and make the necessary adjustments to meet them where they are. Concepts may need to be readdressed and new instructional strategies put into place.

Predictions & Personal Connections

It is essential that teachers truly know their students well in order to best match instructional practices. As students make use of their prior knowledge along with making personal connections, teachers can then use this information to determine the next steps of instruction. Using predictions is one way for students to bring their backgrounds and personal lives into the learning process in a beneficial way. This also provides students with a “why” for learning, and their personal connections bring value. When students know the “why” for learning along with seeing the value of their learning, they are more likely to be motivated, which will only be beneficial to their success in learning. Also, allowing students to check their predictions and make changes based on what they have read yields benefits.  

The Path to Independent Learning

The ability to understand new information is vital to any student’s learning process. Using the best research-based comprehension strategies will set students on this essential path. The connections students are able to make through prior knowledge, personal connections, collaborations, and teaching strategies, such as story mapping and word webs, sets them up with the tools necessary to be successful, independent learners. Teachers must know their students and their backgrounds in order to know the best way to teach. Students not only need to feel connected in the classroom, but also connected to what they are learning, as this will enhance successful comprehension.


Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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