Learning to read 5: comprehension

5 - 11 years
Child reading magical book

Did you know there are five key skills that help children learn to read? This final article in our Learning to Read series covers the fifth skill, ‘comprehension’. Read on for eight great tips on how to help your child master this important skill.

What is ‘comprehension’?

Reading ‘comprehension’ means being able to understand what you are reading – both knowing what the individual words mean, and then putting the words together to make sense of the text.

To comprehend what they are reading, readers also use the other four key literacy skills (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and fluency), as well as general thinking skills. Together, these skills let readers figure out words quickly, understand the words individually, put them together into sentences, and make sense of the whole text.

Comprehension requires the reader to take the words on the page and give them meaning based on their own thoughts, knowledge, and experiences.  This greatly increases the pleasure and effectiveness of your child’s reading.

How can you help your child?

Your child will be learning lots of different comprehension strategies at school. These eight tips will help you support the development of their comprehension skills at home.

Read, read, read!

The more time your child spends reading (with you or by themselves), the more practice they are getting at their comprehension skills. So read with your child, read to them and let them see you reading – this will help your child to develop a love of reading and see it as an enjoyable and useful skill.

Reinforce classroom learning

The starting point for practising reading should be to listen to your child doing their home reading, or any other reading your child’s teacher asks them to do. As your child becomes more advanced, you might also like to find reading materials related to other things they are doing in class – for example, if they are learning about ecosystems, you can read books about nature.

Read books above your child’s reading level

Reading your child books that are above their reading level exposes them to new words and ideas, which helps to develop their comprehension skills. When you read to your child, you also allow them to focus on comprehending meaning, without having to figure out the words themselves.

Ask questions

Whenever you read to or with your child, ask questions about what is happening in the book – this lets them re-tell parts of the story in their own words, which is a great way to practise comprehension skills. You can also ask for their opinion, which helps to develop their critical thinking skills. For older children, encourage them to think more broadly and deeply.  For example, instead of asking Where did the boy go? ask a more probing question.
If you were in that situation, would you have done the same thing as the boy? Why?

Make connections

Encourage your child to connect things from the story to events or people in their own life – this sharpens their focus and deepens their understanding of the text. Show your child how by sharing your own connections as you read aloud.
The soldiers in the book are getting ready for battle. Did you know your grandpa was a soldier in the army when he was a young man?

These articles have more activities to help your child develop their comprehension skills:

Rhymes and fairy tales!
A world of notes
Clue detective
So many instructions!


As well as their successes, make sure you praise your child’s efforts. This will build up your child’s confidence to keep trying, even if they didn’t get it right this time. Remind them of their progress, so they see themselves as effective learners.
Remember how you used to find books at this level difficult? But you kept practising every day, and now you can read and understand them easily. You really are a great learner!

Use your home language

If your home language is not English, you can also apply the same ideas in your own language. This will develop your child’s fluency and help them learn to read English (and your own language).

What about the other skills?

For tips on how to help your child master the other four key reading skills, see the other articles in this series.


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Last modified
12 May 2020