Teaching Reading Comprehension Skills

When my oldest child was in fourth grade, the teacher conferences always led to conversations about lack of reading comprehension. I inquired multiple times how I could teach reading comprehension skills to my child. Diagnosed with multiple executive function issues, reading comprehension seemed to be an elusive goal in our house. My child could read the words, but could not relay any sense of the story in a concise way.Comprehension means that the reader has understood the message on the printed page. Essentially, the reader has grasped the “main idea.” Being able to find the main idea of a story, is a direct link to comprehending any story. What I found out is that teaching reading comprehension skills, is not difficult.

My child had no issues with the actual reading of the text, or understanding the vocabulary, or even naming the characters, but with the bigger thinking. There was no way, “Tell me what the main idea was”, or, “What do think about…”, was ever going to happen.

So, how do we help our child who may be doing well, or even exceling in some areas of language, but not others, like reading comprehension skills?


  • Read a story out loud. Every few paragraphs (for younger kids), or every few pages (for older children), provide a short synopsis of what you have just read.If your child is reluctant to have you read to them, you can have them read, or listen to audio books.
  • Let the child know that “We will be stopping after every three paragraphs (pages/chapters) to talk about the main ideas of the story.”Repeat back to your child what you heard him/her say. Sometimes asking for clarification can help a child organize thoughts. Hearing their summary can help them visualize what has been said.
  • Ask clarifying questions like, “I’m not clear on what you mean—can you elaborate or tell me more?

Some Helpful Tips:

  • Write down what your child says. Help them narrow down to the main idea, by notetaking on their thoughts.Be sure your child actually knows what a main idea is vs. facts from the story. The facts will help them get to the main idea where they can then figure out emotions and concepts illicited by the story.
  • Keep a running list of all the main ideas of each paragraph/page/chapter, then work to create bigger ideas. You literally may have to start with comprehension and main ideas, sentence by sentence for the child who is really struggling with this concept.
  • Always start with non-fiction passages first. Non-fiction passages are easier for children to comprehend. Fiction passages can be too abstract to those with beginning comprehension skills.
  • Ask your child to “prove” the main idea. Find supporting details to help them develop the main idea.Used the columned approach. Write down facts from the story in one column, and perhaps higher thinking or main ideas in the second column. Look for overarching themes in each paragraph/page/chapter as you work your way through. Write these in a third column. Keep narrowing your focus.


  • Don’t have your child answering specific questions about the story as the main idea. Let them come to this conclusion by themself after the first few times. Most questions elicit only short or one word answers, and not higher thinking
  • Don’t assume reading comprehension is an overnight trick to be taught. Reading comprehension spans a child’s entire education.
  • Discourage your child constantly telling them the main idea is wrong. Help them develop this skill.
  • Don’t assume because a child can read “four levels above his current grade”, that he is comprehending what he’s reading.
Helping your child with reading comprehension is a long process that requires patience. Some children acquire this skill with little help, but others need much more assistance in attaining higher thinking.
Happy Homeschooling!
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