Definition of reading comprehension

Written by jennifer zimmerman Google
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Definition of reading comprehension
People with good reading comprehension use several strategies that help them understand the text. (reading image by Alison Bowden from

Reading comprehension is essentially the ability to understand what has been read. There is little point in being able to pronounce the words on a page if the words mean nothing to you. You can probably read "Sniptops are finbuggle" because you can decode the sounds in the words, but you can't comprehend it because two of the words are nonsense. People with good reading comprehension use several strategies that help them understand the text.

Monitoring Comprehension

Have you ever read a page and remembered absolutely nothing about it? Readers who monitor their comprehension realise when they haven't understood a word, sentence, or page. They realise that they need to clarify their understanding. Sometimes simply rereading the text can help them do this. If rereading does not help, they use the subsequent strategies to help them comprehend.

Activating Background Knowledge

When readers activate background knowledge, they connect things they already know with what they are reading in the text. Reading a fictional story set during the Civil War, for example, causes them to remember what they learnt about the Civil War during history class. Young readers get used to activating background knowledge by looking through the pictures in a picture book before trying to read it or reading the comprehension questions before reading the text.

Questioning the Text

Good reading comprehension requires not only asking, "Do I understand what I am reading?" but, "What else do I want to know?" Many people use post-it notes to write down their questions while reading. Sometimes it may be as simple as wanting to know what a specific word mean, or as complex as knowing about an historical event.

Drawing Inferences

Reading comprehension also means to combine prior knowledge and current reading to predict what may happen next in the text or to figure out what a word means by its use in the text.


Often when books are adapted into movies, there is criticism that this actor or that setting was, "wrong". That's because reading comprehension involves creating mental images of the people, places and things in books. When directors choose things that don't fit readers' mental images, book fans are often outraged. But visualising isn't only an aspect of reading fiction, it's also important for reading non-fiction, such as how-to articles.

Determing Importance

Finding the main idea, that popular part of comprehension questions, is only a part of determining importance. Good comprehension requires that readers can not only determine the main idea, but also themes, secondary ideas and clues as to what will happen next.

Synthesising Information

Readers who infer from, question and connect to the text are then able to synthesise the information. Synthesising is the Holy Grail of reading comprehension, in that it allows readers to take and retain new information from the text. A simple form of synthesising is when you no longer read the directions to make a favourite recipe, but instead incorporate a few new ideas that you remember from the cookbook you borrowed last week.

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