If you read every word on a page, are you really reading it? It might seem a strange question to ask, but the answer is even stranger: maybe you are, but maybe you’re not!

One definition of the verb ‘to read’ is, “to utter aloud written matter”.  By using this definition alone, of course you are reading, but there is another definition (there are several), which says “to understand or interpret”. After reading a page, if you cannot answer questions about the material you just read, you really just uttered the words out loud. Yes, you have shown you know how to say the words, but you also need to understand the author’s message behind the words. If you can do that, you know you are truly reading.

Reading comprehension includes a number of specific skills, which you can develop.  When reading, whether it’s in one of our sessions, or on your own, ask questions that will reinforce these concepts.

Here are a few things to consider:

1. Explore the Main Idea – What is the most important thing the paragraph, page, chapter, story, article, or even cartoon is about? When you first learn this skill, the main idea is usually found in the first sentence; later on, it may not be stated at all.  Watch out for detail sentences that will tell you about the main idea.

For example: I went to the pet shop. It had food and toys for all kinds of pets. The animal sections had birds, fish, and kittens. I wound up buying some cat litter.

In this example, the first sentence tells you the main idea (a trip to the pet shop) and the rest of the sentences tell you more about what actually happened at the pet shop.

Obviously this is a simple example.  Let’s look at something more complicated. What is the main idea / theme of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”?  It’s a complex book, so the answer is open to interpretation.  Some people would say it is a study of social stratification in the US, others that it explores  the baseness of human nature, or maybe  F. Scott Fitzgerald was trying to illustrate The Decline of the American Dream.

2. Making Inferences – Not everything is written explicitly.  To infer means “to conclude by reasoning from something known or assumed.” In other words, use your prior knowledge to figure out something.

For example: We have made a safe landing. There are craters and rocks as far as the eye can see. Pretty soon, I will put on my pressure suit and be the first man to step on the surface.

From these clues, you can infer that a man will soon leave a spaceship and walk onto a planet.

3. Try to Predict Outcomes – If you understand what you are reading, you will be able to guess what will happen next. Reinforce this skill when you are watching TV, during commercials, or when watching the news.

For Example: I had a bath, brushed my teeth, and put on my pyjamas. My mother came in to read me a story. When she was finished, she kissed me goodnight.

You can predict that the child will now go to sleep.

4. Facts and Opinions – A fact is something the writer can prove to be true, whether or not you like, or agree with it, while an opinion is what the writer thinks or believes.

For example: I am at the Millenium Stadium, in Cardiff.  One Direction are walking onto the stage. They are the best band ever!

The first two sentences are facts but the last is an opinion. The writer’s opinion does not have to agree with anyone else’s because it reflects what they think. Clues to opinions can be the use of comparison words (ending in ‘er’) ie: prettier, nicer, or superlative words (ending in ‘est’) ie: happiest, as well as phrases such as ‘of all’, ‘ever’, or ‘in the whole world.’