Reading for Better Understanding

Main points:

  • Understanding what you are reading is a good way towards making reading a fun and enjoyable thing to do.
  • Comprehension involves combining the skill of reading with thinking and reasoning.
  • Teachers guide your child through the mechanics of learning to read and equip them with the skill of understanding and interpreting what they are reading.

Gaining important skills

While your child is learning to read they are also learning to understand what they are reading and relating this to their everyday experiences. The comprehension skills your child develops– understanding and making sense of the words, stories, ideas and concepts they are reading about – will be put to good use throughout their schooling and throughout their life.

Reading with understanding means your child needs to know enough words and their meanings so they can understand what is important, what caused an event, or why certain things happened in a story. It involves:

  • Decoding – understanding what the story is about as well as knowing what each letter and word is. Decoding is about navigating your way through what is actually written  - the words, sentences and paragraphs - as well as what isn’t written, the ideas, feelings, experiences, theories and knowledge the words are trying to convey.
  • Making connections between stories and life experiences – something that develops over time. The stories that your child reads can help them make sense of certain experiences or feelings that they’ll then be able to draw on in their future reading.
  • Gaining new insights – thinking about what is being read and seeing how this relates to everyday life. This is where understanding comes into its own and the joy of reading is born. When your child thinks about what they are reading, they can go on journeys or discover new things about themselves and the world that wouldn’t normally be available to them.

What teachers do at school

Teachers will show how books, magazines, shopping lists and text books that your child is reading are structured. For instance, story books  usually have characters that face a problem and they take an action or make a decision that helps them solve the problem. Magazines or web pages may describe something, such a show a bird makes a nest, compare two or more things, or lists steps to follow as you would in a recipe.
Your child’s teacher may talk about what the words mean. They may pick out particular words and ask your child what they mean or how they could be used. They may also encourage your child to use words they have just learnt in as many ways as possible. Or they may revisit words your child already knows and ask them to use these words in different ways.

What you can do at home

Some suggestions for what you can do at home when reading with your child are:

  • Read stories or passages in short sections and let your child tell you what happened before you continue reading. This way you can check their understanding, without pressure, and help them understand how stories are put together.
  • Talk to your child about the books they read at school and with you at home to help hone their comprehension skills. Ask your child probing questions about the book – ‘I wonder why they did that?’ or ‘how do you think they felt when that happened?’ or ‘what might have happened if they didn’t do that?’
  • Where possible, connect events in the book to things that have happened in your child’s life. This will help them understand why a character does things and may help them to enjoy the story more.
  • After finishing a book, ask your child to tell you the story in their own words. Even if they get some parts wrong or out of sequence, as long as they “get” what the story is about, they understand what they have read.
  • Discuss the meanings of unknown words, both those your child reads and those they hear. Show them how to look up the meanings by using a dictionary or searching online.

Other things you can consider include encouraging your child to:

  • tell you about what is happening in the book as if they were the main character
  • draw a map of the book's setting – where do the characters live, where do they travel to, how do they get there, how long does it take, who else might live there?
  • think about why particular characters do things – for example, why did they decide to visit the wizard? Or think about things that happen in the book, like why the main character got angry – what did they do, what happened after that?
  • tell you about an experience or something that interests them. Write this story down, using your child’s words. You could even help your child write the story themselves, depending on where they are up to in developing their writing skills. Then read their story back to them, letting them see their words written down and read aloud.

Reading is supposed to be enjoyable. If we like doing something we are more likely to continue.

Related links

  • 201 literacy and maths tips to help your child–handy hints and activities you can do with your child at home that will help them learn to read
  • Find your local library – listening to CDs, talking books, DVDs or reading stories online are all activities you can do with your child at your local library. They also have children’s stories you can borrow. Your local library may also have children’s story time throughout the year.
  • Fuse’s Primary Students – online games and reading activities specifically designed for young children to be used with adult supervision and guidance