Comprehension Strategies (2nd-5th and above)

by C. Elkins – OK Math and Reading Lady

I have been doing some research about the difference between reading skills and reading strategies.  There seems to be a variance of opinions, but basically a reading skill is described as a path to answering certain kinds of questions (cause-effect, compare-contrast, sequence, etc.), while a strategy involves a higher meta-cognitive process which leads to deeper thinking about a text (visualize, question, summarize).  Another way to put it is this:  When reading, I need a strategy to help me understand when and where to apply the skills I have learned.

It probably can be illustrated more clearly using mathematics:  A skill might be adding two double-digit numbers, while different strategies might be these:  using base ten manipulatives, using an open number line, or the partial sums method.  Or soccer:  A skill would be the dribbling the ball (how to position the foot, how close/far to keep it to the player), while a strategy would be how to keep dribbling while keeping it away from the opposing team.

There are also varying opinions about which reading practices are considered strategies.  I like to think of strategies as those that can be applied to any reading text such as: summarize, visualize, question, make connections, predict, infer, author’s purpose & point of view. I need a strategy to help me understand when and where to apply the skills I have learned. Keep reading for more ideas and FREE resources.

Skills seem to be more dependent on the text structure (meaning they only apply to certain texts) such as sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect, main idea / detail, problem-solution, identify story elements, etc. 

  • To help me visualize (strategy), I might use skills about character analysis such as paying attention to their words and actions to help me “see” what is really going on. Another example:  I might use skills about noting details while reading a passage to make the details “come alive” as I try to picture them in my mind. (See link to strategy posters at the end of this post.)

To help me summarize (strategy) an article, I need to analyze the text structure (skill) and then use that information to help me summarize. 

  • Is it in sequence? Then my summary will use words such as first, then, next, last.
  • Is it comparing and contrasting something? Then my summary will need to use words such as alike or different.
  • Is it informational? Then my summary will list facts or details.
  • Is it fictional? Then my summary will tell the characters, setting, and events.

To help me make connections (strategy), I might use the skills of comparing and contrasting:

  • Compare / contrast the situation to something familiar /unfamiliar to what I have experienced.
  • Compare / contrast the character to myself or someone I know.
  • Compare / contrast the place to something familiar / unfamiliar to me.
  • Compare / contrast the author’s work with another text by the same author.
  • Compare / contrast the author’s work with another author on a similar topic.
  • Compare / contrast the author’s point of view with my point of view.

Questioning  is another important strategy.  It seems we, as teachers, are always asking all of the questions – but students need to practice asking their own questions before they read, while they read, and after they are done reading.  Here is an idea that has helped me implement this strategy:

Give each student 2-3 post it notes.  When they have a question such as “Why . . ?” or “How can . . .?  or “What will happen if . . .?” or “What does this mean?” or “I wonder . . .?” they can post it on the page so when you are discussing this, the student can ask their own question.  Often they will find out that continued reading will reveal the answer to their question – which gives them a purpose for reading.

In many basal texts, you should see a reference to both skill and strategy work.  I find most teachers are pretty comfortable teaching the skills – but not sure how to teach the strategies.  Here are a few FREE resources to help you on your way.

  1. The posters shown in this post are part of this set (which you notice includes sentence frames so students can respond properly): email: or  TPT (Free): Strategy posters from Kim Solis
  2. More strategy posters (FREE) : TPT (Free) – Colorful strategy posters by Wendy Smith
  3. Using post-it notes to mark use of strategies (this includes a strategy bookmark):  TPT (Free) – Reading Strategies with sticky notes by Winged One

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *