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Help! Reading comprehension strategies.

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I have a third grader with an amazing memory for sight words, but comprehension is completely lost.


He can "read" and remember what words look like after viewing them even once.


He might as well be reading a list of nonsense words for all the meaning he retains.

He also reads without any iflection or punctuation.

It's like a big long list of unrelated words.


He has very little concept of phonics, and I've been trying to use unfamiliar words to teach rules as he just sight reads simpler words without applying the concept.


I've also tried having him highlight any details he thinks are important while reading through, but realized he doesn't seem to be able to recognize details of the story while still in the sentence.


He also doesn't seem to retain information that is read to him much better.


I'm hoping that someone here may be able to give some insight or strategies.



Edited by momof4babes
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Have you had any evaluations for learning disabilities? For comprehension issues, determining the cause is important.


It sounds like you are saying that his phonetic decoding is not solid. Has he been taught thoroughly with a phonics based reading program? If so, and he still has trouble, he may have a phonological disability AKA dyslexia. You can get testing to determine whether that is the case.


If the problem is phonological, then comprehension can be due to improper decoding. Or due to spending so much brain power on decoding that the brain is not comprehending. Or it can take so much time to decode each word that the child loses the meaning of the phrases and sentence.


If decoding is an issue, I'd consider evaluations and also consider switching to a reading program that works better for children with phonological issues.


Yes, there can be other issues making comprehension difficult. ADHD, working memory, autism, NVLD, receptive language delays, auditory processing, hearing or vision impairment, etc. Knowing the root issue can help guide the choices for remediation. Because he is having trouble picking out the main idea, and because auditory input does not seem to make a difference, there could be something other than a phonological disability going on.


I have one child with dyslexia and one child with diagnosed reading comprehension disability due to NVLD. Their reading difficulties and remediation needs are almost completely opposite.

Edited by Storygirl
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One of my sons is dyslexic with low working memory, and I believe this is something different.


He's not spending any time decoding words that he has come across before. He reads the words quickly, and correctly. He just doesn't seem to take any meaning from them. It's like he's reading a list instead of a story.


He can correctly read anything from a short easy story about sharks, to a section of Rick Riordan books. The result is the same each time. He can't remember anything about what he's read, even with specific prompting.


This is a friends child who I'm trying to help.

He will be getting a full assessment in the coming months. I'm just looking for anything to try in the mean time.

I'm using my all about reading currently, and supplementing with more difficult words that follow the rules.

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Does he have problems when he reads aloud or silently or both? If both, start with oral reading and then go to silent reading. 


I usually take the student to the lowest level he can read and summarize the story back to me (beginning with question prompts by me). If my student complains that it is too easy I tell them I will move them to harder words once they can retell the story and answer my questions. Most don't complain though. At 8 years old, I will tell the student that reading is more than reading words on the page, they have to get information and be able to tell me about the reading passage and answer questions. 


Once I know the child's comprehension level, I will work on that level or below (1-2 grade levels). I start with very  short passages (sentence, two sentences, or paragraph or more) and they read it out loud and have to tell me about it. I will usually ask an inference question and a vocabulary question out of that section. It shouldn't take too long to get through the entire passage because if they can only retell a small (1-2 sentence) section, I select a very short passage. 


Pictures/things around the room -- can they look at a picture and tell a story or describe what they see. Determine vocabulary and language needs. 


Describe an experience -- maybe that morning or the week-end. Can he/she describe well enough for you to understand what they did (check with parents before or after)? 


As the student improves (can read a longer section -- paragraph+) will expand at the same reading level and work on other topics (non-fiction) to expand background knowledge. I use Readworks.org for leveled passages on a variety of level. The Article A Day program can be useful. 


Once the student has the idea orally, I will have them practice silent reading. Read a sentence or two silently and have them tell me about it. Ask inference questions and vocab questions. Again, build experience at same reading level but use a variety of topics for the student to improve background knowledge. Silent reading lags behind oral reading so if you have to go very low, that is okay. 


I also like Visualizing and Verbalizing but I think it is kind of expensive. It teaches you how to ask questions in a sensory way (What did the character smell as they walked down the street? what the the clown see out of the window? ) That is simplistic but that kind of talk can help the kids connect in a deeper way. 


If I think of anything else I will add. Feel free to ask questions. 



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A few other ideas:


Pre-teach vocabulary. Be cognizant that this child most likely lacks background knowledge. He may need even basic facts and words explained before reading the passage. Introduce what the topic is about before reading it. Show videos or pictures beforehand.


Do not read the whole passage straight through.Read aloud with the child and stop to clarify everything, even if it means discussing each sentence individually. This will seem choppy, because it interrupts the flow of the story, but the child is not grasping the flow of the story anyway.


Then read through the passage again. If it is very brief, you may be able to do the repeat reading the same day, but it is worthwhile to read the same passage on multiple days.


DS is enrolled in school (sixth grade) and gets a lot of intervention help plus support at home. Whereas his classmates may read each week's story one time, DS will read it multiple times per week. We found at the beginning of the school year that when he was introduced to the story with the rest of the class for the first time, he retained very little afterward. We switched to pre-reading the selection with him at home FIRST before his class at school reads it. Once the background knowledge and vocabulary have been introduced, he understands the story much better upon the second reading.


Having your student try to mark the main idea, etc., is a good strategy, but he may not be ready for that yet. I would focus on doing oral comprehension work first by talking through everything with him multiple times. Make sure the selections you use are very straightforward, with little use of figurative language, flashbacks, changes in point of view, etc., as these all complicate understanding the story. He may also have trouble with inference, so that he cannot tell what the story is meaning to say unless it is stated outright. DS has major trouble with inference.


Be prepared for it to be very slow going.



Edited by Storygirl
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  • 2 weeks later...

Diane Craft has a video on how to teach comprehension.  Basically, you teach them to make a movie in their head.  I found it very helpful for teaching comprehension to my son.  Another thing I did was read a sentence to him and ask him to narrate back.  If he can do that, then he reads a sentence and tells you what he just read.  The brain has to be trained to pay attention.


Good luck!  Hope he improves soon.

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He probably has language issues, which is why it's showing up both when he reads and when he is read to. I assume he's getting autism evals, and the psych or team will probably do a CELF as part of it. 


I would leave him alone and not interfere, because in this case getting those baseline scores without therapy intervention will be very valuable. If the mom is delaying evals or hedging and doesn't have them scheduled, simply say that you've heard it could be a language issue and that you strongly encourage her to get evals ASAP. If she has the evals scheduled, hopefully they're longer, not just a clinical psych. As long as that's the case, walk away. The baseline testing will give the areas that need to be worked on and the referrals to who can help. It *is* stuff that can be worked on at home, but they really need a baseline.


An SLP can also do language testing like the CELF or CASL.

Edited by OhElizabeth
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Thank you all for your help and suggestions.


I was reading, but had to reset my password to log in.


He is waiting for an appointment to be evaluated.

He's also received intervention at school, but it doesn't help.

Hopefully the evaluations will give some insight.


Thanks again.

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If he is receiving interventions, does he have an IEP? If he does, then the mom can look at the evaluation team report from the school and see what testing was done. The answer may be in there, even if the school interventions are inadequate. If the school did not run language testing, that's even more telling. Then she could go back and dispute the IEP, using the legal dispute process. She has all kinds of legal rights and can get an advocate. If he's in school, he's going to need the IEP to change as well. 


So I would start by looking at the ETR to see what is hidden in there that might give you some clues.

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I'll have Level 4 materials ready to sell by end of summer. It has been a very comprehensive and effective program. My son's speech therapist even loves it.

Probably 5 or 6. She is 12 and reads at a beginning 6 th grade level. What does the teacher manual have in it? It is so expensive.

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The research on reading and the brain showed that the better you could sound out words, the more the meaning part of the brain activated.  I would have him work with a lot of nonsense words and syllables and my multi syllable phonics.




That being said, there may be something else going on if there is also a problem with oral comprehension.  There may be a hearing problem, a phonological awareness problem, etc.


Here is a phonemic awareness test:



And, some comprehension ideas and links as well:


Here is an ESL comprehension resource from a friend/mentor of Don Potter, he also used it for non ESL students who needed explicit help in that area, it is in both English and Spanish, keep scrolling through if it switches to Spanish:




I found these helpful for my daughter who struggled with inference, we skipped to level 2 and some of the early exercises even in the level 2 book, but they all looked good, she just didn't need the first few books or the first bit of book 2:




Also, try to figure out what the challenge is--underlying specific vocabulary of the subject, problem with inference, problem with long sentences where you have to figure out the use of "but" or "and" or things like that, then isolate and work on problem area.

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