This part of the article has moved: Reading Comprehension IEP Goals. The article below is about reading comprehension strategies, how to improve reading speed, comprehension and fluency.

I’m probably going to catch a lot of flak for this post. But, I’ve had enough requests from readers about how to improve reading comprehension, that it was definitely time to put this out there.

This article will discuss several reading comprehension strategies, how to improve reading comprehension and how to improve reading speed and comprehension (fluency). You will find ways to improve reading for both kids and adults.

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A woman improving reading comprehension by reading a book to a boy in a library.

But let me just say this. Believe me, I am aware of how dire the situation is in schools, as far as kids not learning how to read. Whether it’s dyslexia or some other reading disability, schools are failing our kids.

I am aware of how difficult it is to get a decent reading intervention like Lindamood Bell on an IEP. And, then get that IEP implemented consistently. I am aware of all the gaslighting that goes on in IEP meetings with parents.

I too, have sat through the meetings with clients when the team proclaims, “He’s doing fine! He doesn’t need an IEP!”

I get it, really I do.

And this article is in no way meant to act as a substitute for a needed reading intervention for learning disabled students.

But, this is what this article can offer.

  • If you try some of these strategies, you may get clarity on specific skills that your child is struggling with. This may, in turn, help you better define the struggles and ask for more comprehensive evaluations in specific areas. Or, even an IEE.
  • It may provide a positive or confidence-building experience for your child. If they are not reading well at school, chances are they dislike reading. It’s very difficult to turn that ship around and maybe this can do just that. Dyslexia has a very high comorbidity rate with suicide.
  • Getting something on an IEP, and then beginning that intervention can take a long time. Waiting on an IEE can take 6 months or more. These strategies might offer you something to do while you are waiting, so at the very least your child doesn’t regress.
  • Please also read: What is AR Reading? And what do the Color Levels mean?
A girl holding an open book in the fall, improving her reading comprehension.

Decoding and Fluency

It’s important that parents or teachers know for sure what the reading issue is. While it could be a number of things, it’s likely going to fall into decoding, fluency or comprehending.

You cannot work on reading comprehension if the child cannot decode. So it’s important you do that first.

Decoding in reading refers to the ability to translate written or printed symbols into the sounds they represent and then blend those sounds together to form words. It is a fundamental skill in the process of learning to read.

When a person decodes words while reading, they are essentially using their knowledge of letter-sound relationships (phonics) to sound out words.

This involves recognizing the individual letters or letter combinations (graphemes) in a word and understanding the corresponding sounds (phonemes) they represent, then blending those sounds together to pronounce the word.

I have another separate post on phonemic awareness. And another: What is decoding in reading?

Decoding is essential for fluent reading because it enables readers to accurately pronounce words they encounter and comprehend the text. It is often taught explicitly in early reading instruction, typically alongside phonics instruction, where students learn the relationship between letters and sounds.

As readers become more proficient, decoding becomes more automatic, allowing them to focus more on comprehension and higher-level reading skills.

A young boy sitting on a bench reading a book, aiming to improve his reading fluency.

Reading Fluency

Reading fluency refers to the ability to read text accurately, quickly, and with expression. It involves smoothly and effortlessly decoding words while also comprehending the meaning of the text. Fluent readers demonstrate several key characteristics:

  1. Accuracy: Fluent readers can recognize and decode words accurately. They rarely stumble over words or make frequent errors while reading.
  2. Speed: Fluent readers read at an appropriate pace, neither too fast nor too slow. They can maintain a steady reading rate without pausing excessively to decode words or process meaning.
  3. Prosody: Fluent readers read with expression, phrasing, and intonation. They use appropriate stress, pitch, and rhythm to convey the meaning and emotion of the text.
  4. Automaticity: Fluent readers recognize words automatically, without having to consciously sound them out or decode them letter by letter. They have a large sight vocabulary and can quickly identify common words.
  5. Comprehension: Fluent reading is closely tied to comprehension. Fluent readers can focus their attention on understanding the meaning of the text because they do not need to expend significant mental effort on decoding individual words.

Reading fluency is developed through practice, exposure to a variety of texts, and explicit instruction. Strategies for improving reading fluency include repeated readings, modeling fluent reading, guided oral reading, and providing opportunities for independent reading.

Fluent reading is an essential component of proficient reading skills and is associated with improved comprehension, enjoyment of reading, and academic achievement.

A silhouette of a boy reading a book at sunset, working to improve his reading comprehension.

Differences between Reading Decoding and Comprehension

Decoding and reading comprehension are both essential components of the reading process, but they involve different skills and processes:

  1. Decoding:
    • Decoding refers to the ability to translate written symbols (letters or letter combinations) into the corresponding sounds.
    • It involves recognizing and understanding the relationship between letters (graphemes) and the sounds they represent (phonemes).
    • Decoding skills enable readers to accurately pronounce words they encounter while reading.
    • It is primarily concerned with the mechanics of reading, such as phonics and word recognition.
  2. Reading Comprehension:
    • Reading comprehension refers to the ability to understand and interpret the meaning of a text.
    • It involves making connections between the words on the page, understanding the author’s purpose, identifying main ideas, drawing inferences, and making predictions.
    • Reading comprehension requires readers to actively engage with the text, analyze its content, and derive meaning from it.
    • It encompasses higher-order thinking skills, such as critical thinking, inference, and evaluation.

Decoding is the process of translating written symbols into sounds to pronounce words accurately, while reading comprehension involves understanding and interpreting the meaning of the text.

While decoding is a foundational skill necessary for reading fluency, reading comprehension reflects a deeper level of understanding and engagement with the text.

Effective reading instruction typically addresses both decoding skills and reading comprehension strategies to help students become proficient readers.

Improve reading fluency and comprehension with a silhouette of a boy reading a book at sunset.

How to Improve Reading Comprehension

These are some of the common Reading Comprehension Strategies that schools use.

Again, none of these is intended to replace needed interventions on an IEP.

1. Create Visuals: Studies have shown that students who visualize while reading have better recall than those who do not (Pressley, 1977). This comes in many formats, including but not limited to:

2. Answering Questions about what they just read: Asking and answering questions about a text is another strategy that helps students focus on the meaning of the text. Teachers can help by modeling both the process of asking good questions and strategies for finding the answers in the text. Questions can be effective because they:

  • Give students a purpose for reading.
  • Focus students’ attention on what they are to learn.
  • Help students to think actively as they read.
  • Encourage students to monitor their comprehension.
  • Help students review content.
  • Relate what they have learned to what they already know.

The adult’s task here is to know what the child is reading, and ask them about it. Reading guides are available to accompany many books for kids.

3. Predicting what will happen next: You can ask your reader to make a prediction about a story based on the title and any other clues that are available, such as illustrations. Later, ask him/her to find text that supports or contradicts their predictions.

4. Summarizing/Retell the Story: Summarizing requires students to determine what is important in what they are reading and to put it into their own words. Asking students to retell a story in their own words forces them to analyze the content to determine what is important.

You can encourage your reader to go beyond recounting the story in literal language, to drawing their own conclusions about it.

5. Identify Main Idea, Characters, and Story Line: This helps your reader understand the main parts of a text and its storyline. This can be done with words or visuals.

Again, ask the child about the story.

6. Make a Connection/Past Experiences: When a reader previews text, he/she taps into what they already know that will help them to understand the text they are about to read.

This provides a framework for any new information they read. Ask the child about the book and leading questions like “And what did that remind you of?”

7. Active Reading: Consistent use of the above strategies combined with finding books and material that are of interest to the reader.

8. Positive and Safe Reading Experiences: If a boy wants to read about princesses, a girl wants to read about pirates…or your teen wants to read a graphic novel that seems too “easy” for them…..LET THEM. If your child is struggling to read at school, and this goes on unsupported, they will learn to hate reading. Dyslexia has an extremely high comorbidity rate with suicide.

Kids need safe and positive reading experiences, and they are not getting enough of them. Be the safe space.

A man improving reading comprehension by fluently reading a book to his child on a bench.

Reading Comprehension on an IEP

Here are five reading comprehension interventions that could be added to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a student who struggles with reading comprehension:

  1. Explicit Instruction: Provide explicit instruction in comprehension strategies such as predicting, summarizing, questioning, and clarifying. Teach the student how to use these strategies independently while reading, and provide opportunities for guided practice and feedback.
  2. Graphic Organizers: Use graphic organizers to visually represent information from the text. Graphic organizers can help students organize their thoughts, identify main ideas and supporting details, and make connections between different pieces of information.
  3. Vocabulary Instruction: Teach vocabulary words explicitly, including both general academic vocabulary and content-specific vocabulary. Provide opportunities for students to practice using new vocabulary words in context through reading and writing activities.
  4. Scaffolding and Differentiation: Provide scaffolds and differentiated instruction to support students at their individual reading levels. This might include providing audio recordings of texts, using simplified texts with fewer complex sentences, or breaking longer texts into smaller chunks with frequent checkpoints for understanding.
  5. Questioning Techniques: Teach students how to ask and answer different types of questions about the text, including literal, inferential, and evaluative questions. Encourage students to use text evidence to support their answers and to think critically about the author’s purpose, point of view, and tone.

These interventions can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the student and should be regularly monitored and adjusted based on the student’s progress.

What Reading Programs to Add to an IEP

A reminder that every child is different and it’s important to do your due diligence before agreeing to a program for your child.

Here are some examples of programs and resources that can be used for explicit instruction in reading comprehension:

  1. Wilson Reading System: This program is structured and multisensory, focusing on phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  2. Orton-Gillingham Approach: This approach is structured, sequential, and multisensory, emphasizing phonics, decoding, spelling, and reading comprehension.
  3. Reading Mastery: This program provides systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension through scripted lessons and direct instruction.
  4. Lindamood-Bell Programs (e.g., Visualizing and Verbalizing): These programs focus on developing sensory-cognitive processes related to reading and comprehension, such as visualization, verbalization, and concept imagery.
  5. REWARDS: This program focuses on improving reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills through explicit instruction, repeated reading, and strategy instruction.
  6. Read Naturally: This program combines teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring to improve reading fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary skills.
  7. Great Leaps Reading: This program focuses on building fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary skills through one-on-one instruction and repeated reading of short passages.
  8. Thinking Reader: This program integrates instruction in reading comprehension strategies such as summarizing, predicting, questioning, and clarifying with opportunities for practice and feedback.

These programs can be implemented as part of an IEP to provide structured and targeted instruction in reading comprehension for students who require additional support. It’s important to select a program that aligns with the student’s specific needs and learning style, and to provide ongoing assessment and monitoring to track progress and make adjustments as needed.

How to Improve Reading Fluency

A child must be proficient in comprehension to be a fluent reader. You can improve reading fluency in adults, or any age.

Here are five ways to improve reading fluency. It’s important to know the child’s readiness level for these tasks. If you force them before they are ready, it will likely have the opposite effect and just leave the child discouraged and frustrated.

  1. Repeated Reading: Encourage students to read the same passage multiple times. Repeated reading helps build automaticity in word recognition and improves reading speed. Gradually increase the complexity of the passages as students become more fluent.
  2. Model Fluent Reading: Demonstrate fluent reading by reading aloud to students. Model proper pronunciation, intonation, expression, and phrasing. Hearing fluent reading helps students develop a sense of what fluent reading sounds like and provides a model for them to emulate.
  3. Guided Oral Reading: Engage students in guided oral reading activities where they read aloud while receiving feedback and support from a teacher, peer, or tutor. This can involve echo reading (the teacher reads a sentence or phrase first, and then the student repeats), choral reading (reading together as a group), or partner reading (taking turns reading with a peer). This one is often overused in my opinion and before the child is ready.
  4. Use Audio Recordings: Provide students with audio recordings of texts they are reading. Encourage them to follow along with the text while listening to the recording. This can help students develop a sense of pacing, phrasing, and expression as they hear fluent reading modeled by proficient readers.
  5. Fluency-Building Activities: Incorporate fluency-building activities into daily instruction. These may include timed readings (where students read for a set amount of time and track their progress), reader’s theater (performing scripts with expression and fluency), and poetry reading (focusing on rhythm, rhyme, and expression).

Consistent practice, feedback, and exposure to a variety of texts are key to improving reading fluency. Tailor instruction to meet the individual needs of students and provide ample opportunities for them to develop and refine their fluency skills.

How Can I Increase Reading Speed and Comprehension?

Increasing reading speed and comprehension involves both practice and adopting effective strategies. Here are some tips to help you improve:

Speed Reading Techniques:

  1. Eliminate Subvocalization: Try to read without pronouncing each word in your head. Subvocalization slows down reading speed significantly.
  2. Use a Pointer: Utilize your finger, a pen, or a pointer tool to guide your eyes along the lines. This helps in reducing regression and keeps your focus moving forward.
  3. Expand Your Peripheral Vision: Train yourself to see groups of words rather than individual words. This can be done by practicing with wider passages or using software/apps designed for peripheral vision expansion.
  4. Skimming and Scanning: Learn when it’s appropriate to skim for main ideas and scan for specific information rather than reading every word.
  5. Chunking: Group words together in meaningful clusters instead of reading them individually.

Comprehension Strategies:

  1. Active Reading: Engage with the text actively by asking questions, summarizing paragraphs, or making connections with prior knowledge.
  2. Preview the Text: Skim through headings, subheadings, and any summary sections to get an overview before diving in.
  3. Annotate: Mark important points, underline key phrases, and jot down summaries or questions in the margins.
  4. Summarize: After reading a section or chapter, summarize what you’ve read in your own words. This reinforces understanding and retention.
  5. Practice Mindfulness: Stay focused on the material without allowing distractions to interfere. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation can help improve concentration.
  6. Vocabulary Development: Enhance your vocabulary to grasp the nuances of the text better. Look up unfamiliar words and try to use them in context.
  7. Make Connections: Relate what you’re reading to your own experiences, other texts, or real-world events to deepen understanding.

General Tips:

  1. Practice Regularly: Like any skill, reading speed and comprehension improve with consistent practice.
  2. Set Goals: Establish specific goals for reading speed and comprehension, and track your progress over time.
  3. Use Tools and Resources: There are various speed reading apps, online courses, and exercises available to help you improve.
  4. Read Diverse Material: Expand your reading repertoire to include different genres, topics, and formats to enhance your overall comprehension abilities.

Remember, increasing reading speed should not compromise comprehension. Finding a balance between speed and understanding is key. Start implementing these techniques gradually and adjust them to suit your individual learning style and goals.

It’s important to keep the reading experiences successful, low risk and positive experiences.

And, keep fighting for that IEP!

Raise a Reader!

  1. What is AR Reading? And what do the Color Levels mean?
  2. Tips for Teaching Inflectional Endings or Inflected Endings + Free Worksheet PDF!
  3. Free Phonics Worksheets including CVC, Dipthongs, Vowels, Blends and More.
  4. 10 Research-Based Vocabulary Interventions for an IEP or RTI/MTSS
  5. How to Write a Meaningful IEP for Dyslexia (includes IEP Goals for Dyslexia)
  6. Phonological Awareness vs Phonemic Awareness: What’s the Difference and What’s the Same?
  7. 26 Free Alphabet Worksheets for Preschool and Kindergarten
  8. 20 Common Reading Intervention Programs for Schools (+how to get one on your IEP)
  9. Reading Comprehension Strategies: How to Improve Reading Comprehension (and then Reading Speed and Fluency)
  10. 30 Book Reading Challenge for Kids: Free Printable Reading Tracker
  11. What Is Decoding in Reading? A Simple Explanation
  12. Is Lindamood Bell Worth the Money?
  13. 13 Free Summer Reading Programs For Kids
  14. Dolch Sight Words: Free PDF Lists and Worksheets
  15. What are Temporal Words? (includes anchor chart)
  16. Is Your 3rd Grader Struggling? It’s Probably the Matthew Effect in Reading.
  17. Fry’s First 100 Words | PDF | Printable
  18. What is a Frayer Model? | Example | Blank Template
  19. Elkonin Boxes for Dyslexia | Phonemic Awareness | Examples | PDF

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