Reading for Meaning with Your Child

Reading for Meaning with Your Child

Reading with comprehension means understanding what's been read. It takes practice, time, and patience to develop reading comprehension skills. Here is a before-during-after approach that families can use to help children learn to read for understanding.

 Reading with comprehension means understanding what's been read. It takes practice, time, and patience to develop reading comprehension skills. Families can play an important role in helping a child learn to read for understanding.

First, make sure your child is reading books appropriate for their reading level. If a book is too hard, all your child's energy will be put into decoding and reading word for word, with less energy available to figure out what the book means. Books that your child can read with 98-100% accuracy are good choices for comprehension building.

Reading comprehension skills can be developed using a before-during-after approach. Below are a few suggestions that will help build comprehension skills.


Your goal is to help your child build an understanding of and purpose for what they're about to read. Getting your child mentally ready and motivated to read is the key!  Be enthusiastic and show an interest in reading to discover, learn and discuss good books.

Look at the book's cover. Ask, "What do you think this book might be about? Why? Can you make some predictions?" ?  Make sure your child’s response isn’t just a list of words.  Encourage your child to speak in complete sentences. For example:  

Child’s response: Maybe the story is about a cat and a dog that don’t get along.

Parent response:  Oh great, what made you think that?  

Child’s response: Well, I can tell that they may not get along by the expression on the dog’s face…He looks upset or angry…

Have your child make an “I wonder” statement or a prediction before reading the text. For example: I wonder if they become friends, I predict that the dog and the cat are not getting along, because they both want attention from their owners. Have them write their predictions or I wonder statements down to keep track. After reading have them check their predictions and see how close they came to the real thing. 

Guide your child through the pages, discuss the pictures, and brainstorm what might happen in the story. Do a picture walk together.  Take turns talking about what might be going on in the story based upon the pictures.  If either of you have questions, verbalize them.  For example:  Oh, I see that one character is standing in the background with her arms crossed and head down.  I wonder what she is upset about… 

Talk about any personal experiences or prior knowledge your child may have that relate to the story. As a parent, always read the story first yourself.  Decide if there is a lesson to be learned in the story.  How could your child relate to the story?  You could begin with “Remember the time, when you and Bobby didn’t get along? How did you two decide to fix the problem? Let’s read to find out how these two characters solve their problem.” This is called making a connection. Your child may not be able to make a personal connection, but he or she may be able to relate in another way. For example, “No, but I remember when my friends Mike and Tony were fighting and they solved their problem by talking it over.” They may be able to also relate the story to another story. For example: “Oh, this story reminds me of the book we read in class, because the characters acted the same way towards each other and in the end they made up.”


Your goal is to help your child be an active reader. After a page or two, stop to discuss what is happening in the story.  Ask open-ended questions such as, “Why do you think the character is acting this way?”  Instead of one word responses such as, “What color was the dog?” Read together and talk about what's happening as they're reading. Stop and discuss any interesting or tricky vocabulary words. If a new word, such as “greedy” is in the reading, discuss the word and think of examples that your child would relate to. Talk about any surprising or sad passages and help them visualize parts of the story. Ask your child, "Do you understand what's happening here? What do you think will happen next?"  Identify the characters, setting and plot. If there is a problem, discuss the problem and solution. Re-read when meaning breaks down. If your child seems unsure, stop, go back and reread if necessary. Discuss any confusing parts.


Your goal is to help your child reflect on what they've read. Discuss the story together.  Summarize and share your favorite part of the book. Have your child rate the book on a scale from 1 to 10 and say why. Have your child reread their favorite part or act it out. Did you enjoy the story?  Why or why not?  Did it remind you of something in your own life, a friend’s life or another book?  Was there a lesson to be learned? Have your child retell the story in the correct sequence.  If the story was not understood by your child read it again.  Stop more often to discuss throughout the reading.

Take the extra time before and during reading to read with your child this way. You'll soon find yourself reading with a child who is motivated to comprehend and learn from everything they read.