A Continuum of Reading Comprehension Skills

Reading comprehension is probably the goal I target most often with my older speech therapy students, alongside vocabulary. I’ve been only too guilty of working mostly on answering comprehension questions, working strategies in while we searched for the answers, but neglecting to explicitly teach strategies. As I did baselines for my high schoolers at the end of last year, comprehension was a noticeable deficit for most of my students with a LI or SLI. When looking for the best way to write a goal that specifically addresses direct instruction fo strategies, I found a graphic from 95 Percent Group that gave me guidance.

95 Percent Group provides professional development and coaching to schools in order to improve student literacy skills. And though the graphic I found is labeled as a version for elementary students, it seemed to be just what I needed for my struggling readers. The strategies here aren’t anything particularly new or newsworthy; however, I found the continuum of skills helpful when I began writing goals and planning intervention. According to 95 Percent Group, reading comprehension can be taught in the following order: Connecting -> Questioning -> Predicting -> Imaging -> Inferring -> Determining Significance -> Synthesizing. Let’s look at some resources and ideas for targeting each step of the continuum in sequence.

1 | Connecting

The skill of “connecting” relates to a student’s background knowledge. Studies show that the more a student knows about a topic, the better they will be able to understand what they are reading. Knowing more about the topic enables students to make better choices regarding word meaning, especially multiple meaning words, and make better inferences about implicitly stated information. For informational texts, background knowledge is even more important, as these texts often convey information about topics less familiar in students’ daily lives.

Something interesting I hadn’t thought about is the information conveyed in Reading Rockets’ article Building Background Knowledge. Although we tend to think about background knowledge in broad strokes, this article focuses first on a strong linguistic foundation, rather than just topical information. This includes teaching categories, encouraging comparing and contrasting, and using analogies. These skills are included in the language processing continuum, but their inclusion here makes perfect sense. Making connections is, after all, all about making connections. Categorization, comparison, and analogies build vocabulary skills by encouraging the ability to make connections about word meaning. In addition to these linguistic skills, Reading Rockets encourages broad reading, on a variety of topics, as well as the inclusion of multimedia activities.

Here are a few articles and activities that might be useful for teaching students to make connections!

21 tips from We Are Teachers

Building Background Knowledge for Informational Texts from Reading Rockets

Activating Prior Knowledge Activities Distance Learning by Think Grow Giggle

Teaching Students to Use Background Knowledge in the Elementary Reading Classroom by Raise the Bar Reading

How to Help Your Students Build Relevant Background Knowledge by Miss Smarticle Particles

Easy Ways to Build Background Knowledge Using Technology by The Techie Teacher

2 | Questioning

Questioning really involves 2 things: answering questions (as we typically address) and asking questions. Although we tend to spend a lot of time on having students answer questions, the opposite seems like it should come more naturally; children do tend to ask a lot of questions! However, the ability to ask good questions about a text is a skill that needs to be explicitly taught. According to an article by CSI Literacy, asking questions encourages students to engage with the text, think critically, look for answers within a text, and discuss the text with others. They are able to clarify what they are reading and thus, better remember it. When students are engaged with a text in this way, it is known as active reading, rather than passive reading. Active reading will always be understood better than passive reading! It is a skill that should be practiced throughout the entirety of reading: before, during, and after.

The types of questions asked will vary. Asking questions about unknown vocabulary and topics will help students clarify information. Questions asked will often lead to new questions and might include “thin” questions and “thick” questions. Thin questions are those that can be answered with explicit information from the text; thin questions are those that require prediction and inference skills, as well as activation of background knowledge. Both types of questions are important for different reasons!

Here are a few resources for working on questioning!

Reading strategies and how to teach them: Asking questions by CSI LIteracy

Reading Comprehension Strategy Series: How To Teach Students to Ask Questions When They Read by the Classroom Nook

Building Reading Comprehension through Questioning Techniques by Reading Horizons

Asking Questions Reading Strategy by Think, Grow, Giggle

Asking Questions Reading Strategy Reading Anchor Chart by Teaching the Tongass

Questioning – Reading Strategy – Asking Questions Resource Package (junior) by Past the Potholes

3 | Predicting

Once students have learned how to ask questions, they can move on to making predictions, for which asking questions is really a prerequisite skill. Making predictions is another important component of active reading which takes place before, during, and after reading a text. Before reading, students use background knowledge, titles, photo, etc… to predict what they think will happen in a text. While reading, students will look for evidence that supports or refutes their predictions. After reading, students can compare and contrast their predictions to the actual text. Similar to asking questions, making predictions is a skill that really comes quite naturally for most people. We are all constantly making predictions about things all day long, including when reading. What we need to do is teach students to make those predictions with intention and use those predictions to engage more deeply with texts and better their understanding of it. Like asking good questions, making logical predictions encourages students to utilize good critical thinking skills and organize information logically, including identifying main ideas and relevant details.

Here are some resources for teaching predicting:

Reading Comprehension Strategy Series: How To Teach Students to Make Predictions While They Read by The Classroom Nook

Your Reading Comprehension Toolkit: Making Predictions by bookpagez

Effective Literacy Lesson: Making and Evaluating Predictions to Support Comprehension by Iowa Reading Research Center

Making Inferences Reading Passages Ideal for Distance Learning (Google Version) by Brain Waves Instruction

Making Predictions – Differentiated Passages with comprehension questions by Sherbert Learning

Reading Response Book Mark Making Predictions Reading Comprehension w/ Any Text by Teaching on Lemon Lane

4 | Visualizing

Have you ever considered why we start children off on picture books? It doesn’t seem to be only about the shorter, simpler texts that accompany them. If you remember, I recently shared ways that viewing art benefits students, alongside some picture books that definitely count as artwork. Research has shown that a person’s ability to picture what they’re reading improves recall and comprehension. Albert Einstein even said that he couldn’t understand what he couldn’t picture! Humans are experiential, tangible beings, so it only makes sense that incorporating our senses into our reading would improve our understanding. When encouraging visualizing, students don’t have to stop at a static picture. It can be even more beneficial for them to “make a movie” in their mind. Asking students to use their 5 senses to imagine characters, settings, and events creates a sort of mental map that students can utilize to ask and answer questions, retell, summarize, and more!

Here are some resources for teaching visualization:

Reading Comprehension Strategy Series: How To Teach Visualizing in the Upper Elementary Classroom by The Classroom Nook

Brain Movies: When Readers Can Picture It, They Understand It by Edutopia

Reading strategies and how to teach them: Visualizing by CSI Literacy

Guided Comprehension: Visualizing Using the Sketch-to-Stretch Strategy by Read, Write, Think

Visualizing Reading Comprehension Unit for Sensory Details by Buzzing with Ms. B


Visualizing Reading Comprehension Questions for Any Book Distance Learning by Teaching on Lemon Lane

Distance Learning: Teaching Visualizing for Reading Comprehension by Astute Hoot

5 | Inferring

Teaching students how to make good inferences is a bit like teaching them how to be detectives. Although many things are directly stated within the texts we read, there are often many more things that are simply implied (hence, explicit and implicit information). In order for students to make good inferences, they must first have established background knowledge for many things, both distinctive to the text and also about life itself. For example, a story might describe the facial expressions of someone who is angry, rather than saying that they are angry. A student’s background knowledge of non-verbal language will help them make inferences about that person’s emotional state and thus understand the story better. At this point, it is pretty evident why these skills exist on a continuum, with each one building on another. A simple way to scaffold your students’ thinking is by encouraging them to ask 3 questions as they read: 1. What does the text say? 2. What do I know? 3. What can I guess? Graphic organizers are a great way to encourage this kind of thinking while you read.

Here are some resources that can help you teach inferencing skills:

Reading Comprehension Strategy Series: How to Teach Students to Infer While Reading by The Classroom Nook

A complete guide to teaching inference to students by Literacy Ideas for Teachers and Students

Reading strategies and how to teach them: Drawing inferences by CSI Literacy

Making Inferences: 6 Essential Strategies by Read Side by Side

Making inferences Reading Comprehension Passages Distance Learning 4th & 5th by Marcy’s Mayhem

Inferences Reading Comprehension Passages and Questions for Test Prep by Read Write Middle

Making Inferences – Reading Comprehension Passages and Questions – Intervention by Kristine Nannini

Making Inferences | Reading Comprehension Prompts for ANY text Distance Learning by read write thrive

Inferencing Inference Reading Comprehension Questions Any Book Distance Learning by Teaching on Lemon Lane

6 | Determining Significance

We’re nearing the end of our continuum and our students have worked their way through quite a lot of information, using quite a few strategies! Now, it’s time for students to prioritize what they have learned. An author typically has a goal of some sort when writing a text: something he or she wants the reader to take away from it. Whether that’s knowledge of a new topic or a moral lesson, students should walk away from a text with a key nugget to take away from it. In order to do that, they must take everything they have learned, analyze it, and determine what is most important. I like to think of this in terms of main idea and details. In looking at the text as a whole, what is the overriding theme that runs through it? And then, what are the details that support or prove that. For example, an article discussing photosynthesis is written with the main idea of photosynthesis being the way plants make food. That same article might mention an interesting fact about plants; say, the fact that sunflowers can grow up to 10 feet tall. it is a true statement, and it is quite possibly something new that the reader learned, but it does not demonstrate how or why sunflowers make their own food using the process of photosynthesis.

Determining importance differs a bit depending on whether you’re reading fiction or non-fiction. Familiar structures are helpful for students to analyze information. When reading a fiction text, using the structure of story grammar will help students understand the most important parts of a story. Similarly, when reading a non-fiction text, understanding the main structures of exposition (cause/effect, compare/contrast, etc…) as well as the features of non-fiction texts, such as headings, graphs, etc..

Here are some resources for teaching significance:

Reading Comprehension Strategy Series: How To Teach Determining Importance in the Upper Elementary Classroom by The Classroom Nook

Reading strategies and how to teach them: Determining the important idea by CSI Literacy

Non-Fiction Text Features and Text Structure by This Reading Mama

Teaching Story Grammar Parts in Narratives by Speechy Musings

Main Idea and Details Activities, Scaffolded Practice to Build Understanding by Teaching Made Practical

Main Idea and Details for Informational Text – Distance Learning by Simply Creative Teaching

Main Idea and Details Passages and Activities by Fishyrobb

Main Idea and Details | Hands-on Reading by Hollie Griffith

7 | Synthesizing

We have finally reached the end! One sure way to determine how much a reader understands is by having them tell it back to you. That’s where synthesizing and summarizing comes in to play. If you’ve worked your way through the other 6 steps in this continuum, this step really is just pulling it all together. Once you have taught your student the basic structure for summarization (using any number of graphic organizers or writing techniques), students will analyze their notes and compile that information.

Resources for synthesis and summarization:

Introduction to Summarize and Synthesize by Reading Recovery

Synthesizing Informational Text by The Curriculum Corner


Summarizing Reading Passages, Lessons, Google Classroom Distance Learning by Brain Waves Instruction

Summarizing – Reading Comprehension – Google Classroom Distance Learning by Kristine Nannini

Synthesizing Reading Comprehension Questions for Any Book Editable Google by Teaching on Lemon Lane

10 Graphic Organizers for Summary Writing by Literacy in Focus

Resources for Overall Reading Comprehension:

Reading Comprehension Bookmarks with Questions and Sentence Frames by What I Have Learned

Reading Comprehension Assessment Progress Monitoring Graphic Organizer by A Happy Learner (me!) {I designed this freebie to specifically follow this continuum. It can be used with any text.}

Reading Comprehension Questions BUNDLE Active Reading Strategies Editable by Teaching on Lemon Lane

Reading Response Activities | Reading Comprehension Sheets | Book Activities by Inspired Elementary

Graphic Organizers for Reading and Listening Comprehension | Distance Learning by A Happy Learner (me!)


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