Encourage Deeper Reading Comprehension in Older Students

Kathryn Starke
Kathryn Starke
Professional development expert and National Urban Literacy Consultant; M.A. in Literacy and Culture
Older student sitting at a table reading through a book.

What is Reading Comprehension?

Reading comprehension is defined as the ability to understand, analyze, and interpret text. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading for readers of all ages. Comprehension is also one of the five pillars of reading that are essential to create literacy success for students. Reading comprehension is achieved when students can independently and fluently read and think about their reading. Reading comprehension includes making connections, making predictions, asking questions, inferring, and summarizing text. As students become older, their competency of reading comprehension skills increases, and their understanding of text deepens.

How does Reading Comprehension Differ for Older Students?

Reading is a developmental journey and varies from one student to the next. While some older students may read below grade level, the expectation of grade level reading comprehension skills often remains the same for each student. Reading comprehension greatly differs for older students. Comprehension becomes more inferential instead of literal. As a result, students are asked to analyze and interpret a variety of text including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. If an older student is also an independent and fluent reader, he or she should be able to easily decode words and read with ease. Therefore, the students can put more of an emphasis on understanding the meaning of words and recognize how the vocabulary in text helps older students fully comprehend a story, article, poem, or passage. Vocabulary development and language devices are pertinent in the reading comprehension development for older students.

While reading comprehension standards and objectives are introduced in kindergarten and continue to spiral throughout a child’s reading journey, the level of comprehension deepens as students get older. Reading comprehension often becomes more rigorous and complex for older students. The basic skills including identifying story elements, sequencing events, determining the main idea, or distinguishing between the problem and solution evolve into a deeper understanding and analysis of text. Older students are expected to be able to interpret character motives, analyze perspective, explain the plot, or pose questions inquiring about the author’s purpose. For older students, the text is longer, the sentence structure is more complex, and the vocabulary words are more challenging. Older students should be able to compare and contrast text based on topic, genre, or author. Not only should older students be able to summarize an entire text, but they should also be able to summarize a particular section or chapter of a text. The level of questioning, the rigor of standards, the specificity of tasks, and the complexity of text are significant differences for reading comprehension between younger and older students, despite the students’ reading level.

Reading Comprehension Strategies for Deeper Understanding

Teachers must help students develop the skills and strategies needed to fully comprehend a text at grade level. Educators must equip older students with reading comprehension strategies that enable them to acquire a deeper understanding of any text or question presented to them. Graphic organizers are a reading comprehension strategy introduced to students as early as first grade. Graphic organizers should be age appropriate and match a specific skill or strategy. When used effectively, graphic organizers are an effective way to help students think about what they are reading. Teachers can guide student reading and thinking in a particular text to teach a specific objective like inference or drawing conclusions. When students are exposed to a variety of graphic organizers, they can determine which one works best for them to use when they independently read.

Close reading is a strategy for older students that forces students to read and reread short passages or specific sections to analyze and interpret the text. The suggested model is to initially implement a cold read to simply identify key ideas and details. The second read focuses more on the craft and structure of the text. Finally, the third reread requires the reader to pull all of the information together to combine background knowledge and text information. This sequential reading practice gives students the opportunity to quickly identify the main idea in a first reading. The second reading directs students to dig a little deeper and use text structure and author’s purpose to understand the text. Lastly, the third reading adds the element of inference and personal connection to increase understanding.

A close reading experience may also include or lead to annotating text, another strategy that helps older students gain a deeper understanding of text. Annotating text is the practice of using highlighting, underlining, jotting comments, or making notes within the text. This process helps students note and notice key terms, important points, and patterns. This practice is beneficial because it provides students the opportunity to revisit a particular section or sentences in a text to participate in a book talk or peer conversation. Annotating text encourages students to find and use text evidence to support their thinking and understanding.

At times, annotating text with words can be overwhelming for readers, especially older students who are struggling readers. A powerful strategy that leads to a deeper understanding for these students is sketching. Students are encouraged to sketch a picture to match the main idea of each paragraph or section. After a five-paragraph article, for example, students can refer to the five sketches to summarize the entire passage.

While younger readers are asked to retell stories and recall information orally, older students are encouraged and expected to show their understanding through written comprehension. Written comprehension may be evaluated in a variety of forms from short answer written responses to exit tickets or assessments. The assessments will either evaluate the comprehension of a text or the understanding of a specific reading skill or strategy. An exit ticket is a quick check to see if reading comprehension is present. It is usually presented as a short answer response or multiple- choice question. Students may also be asked to provide a written summary of a text, write an essay, or provide an authentic writing piece to illustrate their full comprehension. When these strategies are combined in the classroom, students are able to practice deeper reading comprehension skills, which will help students become life-long readers in all content areas.

graduate program favicon

Looking for a graduate program?

We can help you find a graduate program.

Our accessible staff is dedicated to providing a smooth and supportive admissions process for busy teachers.

By subscribing you agree to receive marketing emails, and newsletters from us. See privacy policy.