What to do About Reading Comprehension

When I look  at the major Catholic homeschooling curriculum providers to see what they recommend for reading comprehension during the elementary years, I find a lot of variance.  On one end of the spectrum, Mother of Divine Grace simply encourages narrations and discussions of books read, and on the other end, Kolbe Academy requires that their students answer in-depth chapter-by-chapter reading comprehension questions for classic novels. In the middle, Catholic Heritage Curricula and Seton offer reading comprehension workbooks. Seton also requires their registered students to write book reports.

With so much discrepancy, it is hard to know what is the best approach to reading comprehension. But here are some thoughts:

  • Some children need to work on reading comprehension more than others. Big Sis is an avid reader, and it shows in her sophisticated writing style and advanced vocabulary. Since she can easily summarize and analyze what she reads, Big Sis does not need to do a lot of reading comprehension work. All-Star and Feisty, however, do not devour books the way their sister does. They enjoy reading, but would much rather spend their free time playing LEGO and sports. To ensure that they read quality literature (and not just Calvin and Hobbes), I often give them reading assignments as part of their school work.
  • Watch out for voracious readers who are speedy readers. Speedy readers do not necessarily read well. Often, they skim over the less interesting parts of a book, such as lengthy descriptions.   (This is how I read War and Peace in high school.) If you suspect your child is a speed reader who skips details and even entire passages, you may want to assign chapter-by-chapter type reading comprehension guides, such as Kolbe’s Elementary Literature Study Guide. This will teach your child to slow down and read carefully.
  • Noticing details, such as similes, alliteration, and symbolism can deepen a student’s understanding and increase his/her appreciation for a book. Over time, it also helps students to incorporate these literary techniques into their own writing. The Christian Mini Novel Guides do a great job of getting students to notice literary devices. These guides allow a student to complete a study of a book in about two weeks, are discussion-based, and compared to other guides, they are very affordable.
  • However, too much analysis or drill-type questioning can suck the joy out of reading. So avoid spending too much time dissecting a book and try to vary your activities. Throughout the year, use a combination of: basic question and answer guides (such as Kolbe’s), mini-novel guides, and creative book reports. For students in the analytic stage (Gr. 7-9) include literature analysis reports and book critiques.
  • One fun way to deepen reading comprehension and appreciation is to join a book club. If this is not a feasible option, choose a novel that has been turned into a movie. Read the novel together and then have a movie night. Afterwards, have a discussion comparing the movie to the book. How accurate and true to the book were the movie producers? Did they take any artistic liberties?  How well did the actors and actresses portray the main character? If you were the producer, what would you have done differently?
  • Reading comprehension guides/activities are most suitable for children in grades 3-6.  At this age, the goals of reading comprehension are to build vocabulary, develop the habit of close and careful reading, deepen understanding, develop a strong moral sense, and foster a love for and enjoyment of reading. To achieve these goals, I like to use a combination of Catholic Heritage Curricula’s very gentle Reading Comprehension Guides, such as Reading Comprehension: Vintage Tales for Gr. 3, and Rare Catholic Stories Study Guide for Gr. 4, as will as Kolbe’s more challenging Elementary Literature Guide for grades 4-6. When we feel a need for a change of pace or activity, we sometimes use How to Report on Books, or I simply have my kids give me an oral summary of the book, and then we discuss the characters, the plot, and the themes.
  • In grades 7 to 8, most children are ready to take reading comprehension to another level. They are ready to begin analyzing short stories and novels. Seton has two workbooks that do an excellent job of introducing this: Reading For Young Catholics 7 and Reading for Young Catholics 8. If you want your student to analyze novels, you can use this Literature Analysis Guide. I usually give my daughter one week to read a novel and one week to complete the guide. And if you use the Institute of Excellence in Writing program, your child will learn how to write book critiques, which refine their writing skills as they develop their analytical abilities.

As homeschoolers, we are often trying to find the balance between fostering a love for a subject by making it fun  and pushing our students towards academic excellence by challenging them. Using a variety of reading comprehension and literature analysis resources will help us find this balance. Afterall, variety is the spice of life.

If you have any reading comprehension or literature analysis guides that you absolutely love, please let us know. Helpful advice and insights are always welcome, too.


One thought on “What to do About Reading Comprehension

  1. These are great suggestions. Thank you. For teaching ages 4-6 to read (or children ages 7-8 where reading is not yet “clicking”), I love The Reading Lesson as a one-stop shop, comprehensive book. It has nice pictures, and the concepts for teaching it is easy to follow as a parent. For grades 3 and older, I like Seton’s Vocabulary, Bible, and Reading books.


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