Reading Comprehension Begins In Kindergarten And Develops Over A Lifetime
Understanding depends on thinking skills, background experience, language skills, and intelligence.

These aspects are basic. There are many other influencing factors that determine how well a child understands what is read.

Reading comprehension is in development all through school. In fact, comprehension is a life-long activity whether you read in vocational manuals, in university course books, or simply for pleasure. It's part of life-long learning. It's never complete.

Comprehension begins at birth.

Its development for academic purposes, however, begins as early as kindergarten. It isn't necessary to know the alphabet to begin work on comprehension skills. An information source is necessary to develop comprehension. The source can be from a simple sentence ... to an age-appropriate book.

Once you have a point of reference, you can ask questions surrounding that source, in a systematic way. Regardless, each question requires your child to process, analyze, search, and respond.

Low-potency questions that require a yes or no answer, are the exception. The probability of getting the right answer, based on guessing, is 50 percent. Any child who is aware of body language, facial expressions, and gestures increases that probability to a much higher level.

Here's an example of a simple sentence as a point of reference for questions:

The men drove the blue truck.

With this sentence, you can ask the following comprehension questions:

Who drove the blue truck? (The men)
What color was the truck? (Blue)
What did the men do? (Drove)
What did the men drive (The truck; the blue truck)
How many trucks did the men drive? (One)
How many men drove the truck? (More than one...but not at the same time)
Where did the men drive the truck? (I don't know)
When did the men drive the truck? (Earlier than now)
How did the men drive the truck? (I don't know)
Why did the men drive the truck? (I don't know)

The information for four of the questions is provided in the target sentence. The answers to three questions can be inferred from the words used in the sentence. Drove is the past tense form of drive and means before now. Men is in the plural. It clearly indicates more than one. On the other hand, truck is in the singular form. Without an "s," there can only be one truck.

Kindergarten children who are surrounded by lots of language, and have many exposures to books, with discussions following the reading, will likely be more sensitive to these words. They may be able to answer, correctly. Children who have much less experience, won't.

The answers to the other three questions aren't contained in the target sentence. Any reasonable answer is acceptable. However, do ask if the words in the sentence tell us why, where, or how? What is important to tell your child is that we don't know for sure. The information isn't provided in the sentence.

Asking questions where the information is not contained in the target sentence ... 

is as valid

as asking questions to extract information that is clearly stated. 


Both types of questions require processing and thinking, which are basic to comprehension. They both demonstrate understanding. They also show young children how to apply thinking processes to the act of reading.

The purpose in reading is to receive and understand the ideas of others, communicated in writing. Carefully selected source material, along with carefully planned questions, enhance development in comprehension skills.

Simple, literal questions, based on the words in a sentence can establish understanding. All questions derive from the sentence used. Of course, real words...

in real sentences...
that communicate real ideas...
must be age-appropriate.

It doesn't matter what the source is. Basic W questions underscore understanding.

and, How...

establish patterns of thinking behaviour we expect in every good reader.

These questions increase language sensitivity.
These questions develop the habit of what we do, mentally, when we read.
These questions highlight how we construct sentences in English.

And, yes! It's perfectly OK to ask a question even if the answer isn't contained in the sentence. It extends thinking.

"It doesn't say..." is a perfectly good answer because it confirms comprehension. It even goes beyond because sometimes the answer is in the sentence at a less obvious level.

Pat Hutchins' Rosie the Hen is a good book to read aloud. A good question to ask before you turn each page is, "Where do you think Rosie is going, next?"

Normal readers predict. They hypothesize. And they read to confirm what they think is going to happen.

Experience in prediction/hypothesis helps children refine their comprehension. It helps them fine-tune their language skills.

Comprehension is drawing out meaning from written text and spoken language. In spoken language, you gain meaning from a variety of cues: pitch, stress, intonation. In addition, in face-to-face communications, facial expressions, gestures, and posture help determine understanding.

In reading, you expect more precision and organization from the writer. You have to consider each new statement, in light of those that come before it. You might even have to re-read and make adjustments to understand what the writer means.

For instance, if the topic is dogs, then bark as the surface area on the trunk and branches of a tree is not a possible meaning, in this context. Your child would need to think: bark, as in the sound made by dogs, in this case.

Texts written for early primary children are usually straightforward. That doesn't mean that all questions need to be of the "yes/no" variety, or literal. Questions that extend children's use and understanding of language are desirable...even in a four-word sentence.

At the kindergarten level, the dimensions of comprehension focus on increasing vocabulary...

instilling good phrasing...
and developing the sense of sentences...

Reading comprehension is a skill that is developed over a lifetime.


None of us ever attains perfection!

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