Description of comprehension

Comprehension - is a process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language.

It isn’t simply derived from decoding of text. Each reader must construct the mental models represented by an author in the text by the vocabulary, linguistic structures, and discourse style with the interplay of the reader’s knowledge.

A process which includes four elements:

  1. Text -  in any form,
  2. Reader - who has variable abilities, knowledge, experiences, and
  3. Context - the physical and mental settings where a reading activity takes place.
  4. Activity (usually called reading comprehension) with the intended purpose, processes, and result of understanding meaning (comprehension) encoded in the text by the author.


Text is written characters that make words in written or printed materials. The usual product of printed or written matter is a page. Pages for ways to communicate (genres) in different pieces of literature: articles, newspapers, magazines, stories, books, and electronic files, all recorded with different types of media.


The reader is the person who tries to understand the message encoded in the text by the author.

The reader's ability to understand the message is affected by abilities to focus attention, retain information (memory), think critically, solve problems, make inferences, visualize, self motivate, set goals (hopefully, to become self-sufficient, self-regulated, active readers who have a variety of strategies to use to comprehend), their self-efficacy, vocabulary, topic knowledge, linguistic ability, social skills, comprehension strategies, fluency (which is a prior requisite of and a consequence of comprehension), understanding of genre, understanding of story elements, and understanding of text within specific documents and understanding its use in different media.


The context includes the external situtations that affect the reader’s desires and purposes for reading, which have short and long term consequences on the reader's desire to read. These include classroom instructions, the curriculum, and other stake holders actions. How the teacher plans and implements activities based on resources, time allowances, philosophy, beliefs, goals, objectives, curriculum, culture, and academic freedom.

Professional educators recognize comprehension is the prime motivator for reading and to create life long readers requires the use of activities and strategies, within a positive context, to facilite the development of all the different kinds of comprehension to empower students ability and desire to read.

Types of comprehension


Activity (reading comprehension)

Comprehension has different purposes that changes while reading.

There are external messages (encoded by the author) and reader purpose's (set by the reader) which affect the construction of understanding. While reader purposes may be supported or conflicted by the context's mandated purposes (teacher, curriculum, culture) which affect comprehension.

The activity of comprehending includes:

  1. Activation of prior knowledge (social, emotional, text structure, genre, story elements, language, communication, media and more)
  2. Monitor comprehension (metacognition) and adjust as necessary. Proficient readers monitor their activity and understanding as they read and make decisions needed to comprehend, by rereading, reading ahead, use fix up strategies or seeking outside clarification. They can summarize and make predictions before during and after reading.
  3. Generate questions
  4. Answer questions
  5. Draw inferences from literal messages in a text and reflect how inferences are created from text, ways of communication, story elements, genre, and media.
  6. Create mental images (visualizations and sensory)
  7. Create summaries, both during and after reading, about what is read.

Strategies used for the activity of comprehension include the following.

Comprehension Strategies

Effective strategies

Suggestions to guide students through books

Reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal teaching includes dialogue with four steps where each person or groups of people take turns sharing their ideas for each of the steps, and may repeat the steps until their ideas are in agreement with what each other is saying or claiming (reciprocating understanding). Source

  1. Summarizing,
  2. Question asking,
  3. Clarifying, and
  4. Predicting.

Comprehsion Skills or Reading skills

Ineffective strategies

Ideas suggested by research to consider to facilitate reading comprehension.



Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
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