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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Teaching comprehension

Making connections

Helping students to make connections between what they know and what they are reading improves their comprehension. Teachers can model making such connections, and prompt students to make links with their own knowledge and experience, when they are introducing and discussing texts for reading and in writing and oral-language activities. When activating students’ prior knowledge for a particular purpose, teachers can help the students to hypothesise, infer, and build their own interpretations as they read.

What readers do

  • think about what they already know about the content and text form and draw on their own cultural knowledge, their experience of the world, and their knowledge of text forms to make meaning
  • focus on an aspect of the text, for example, a structure, word, phrase, event, or idea that they want to know more about and relate this aspect to their prior knowledge
  • think about how connecting the aspect of the text to their prior knowledge helps them understand the text better.

How teachers can support learners

  • This explanation seems a lot harder to follow than the one we read last week. I’m having to draw on what we found out about … so I can build on that. I’m finding our summary chart really useful.
  • What do you already know about …? Let’s record that on our chart. Think about what you know as you read the text and see if the text helps you expand on it in any way.
  • You’ll need to dig a bit deeper to work that out. Remember our discussion about persuasion techniques …
  • Is there anyone in the text who reminds you of yourself in any way? In what way? What have you had to do to discover this?
  • Reread the first two paragraphs to see if you can find a link between what the author says there and what’s in this later section.
  • Linking the ideas that Tony’s parents had about him to what you already knew about rock climbing helped you explain why his dad’s comment at the end was so significant.

The points listed under the headings “What readers do” and “How teachers can support learners” are examples rather than comprehensive lists of what readers do and what teachers might say to support them.

Forming and testing hypotheses about texts

Hypotheses are expectations or predictions that the reader forms about the text. They are formed before and during the reading. Proficient readers test and revise their hypotheses as they encounter and act upon new information in the text. Depending on the learning goal, a hypothesis may relate to any aspect of the text, for example, its structure, theme, and characterisation, its possible content, or how it engages the reader.

The teacher can usefully model forming a hypothesis when introducing a text. Testing and revising the hypothesis can be modelled later on, during the reading and discussion. This process encourages students to think critically about their own hypotheses, to seek and give feedback about hypotheses, and to revise them in the light of new information. Students often form a hypothesis as a result of asking their own questions about the text.

What readers do

  • use clues in the text, such as the cover, the blurb, or specific language features, to make links to prior knowledge and form a hypothesis or expectation about the text
  • read to check whether the text supports this hypothesis or expectation
  • reflect on the hypothesis and revise it if necessary in the light of new information or of the reader’s new thoughts about the hypothesis.

How teachers can support learners

  • I’ve noticed in the introduction that there are lots of adjectives that imply sadness. Do you think the author is suggesting a gloomy outcome for the main character?
  • Which text form do you think this might be? What clues have you noticed? What makes you think that?
  • What do you expect from this title? Think about what you know about the author’s other novels.
  • How do the graphics on the screen suggest what the creator of this site might want us to think about?
  • You suggested how the author wanted us to feel about global warming at the beginning of the text, and you’ve found clues throughout the text that supported your original hypothesis.

In this book, the term predicting is used for one of the processing strategies, and the term forming and testing hypotheses is used for one of the comprehension strategies. Predicting in this sense is usually at the word, sentence, or paragraph level, while hypothesizing involves deeper thinking about aspects of the whole text, such as a scientific concept or the development of a character.

Asking questions

Fluent readers spontaneously and continuously pose questions for themselves and attempt to answer these questions (for example, by forming hypotheses) as they interact with the text. They “talk to themselves” about what they are reading, and they do this automatically. They pose questions for themselves about the unfolding content of the text, about the meaning of parts of the text (including particular words and phrases), or about the significance of specific language features.

Questioning helps to reinforce the habit of reading for a purpose. The teacher can raise students’ awareness of the importance of formulating appropriate questions for themselves by, for example, modelling this strategy during shared reading and asking the students to formulate their own questions that relate to a shared learning goal. Asking questions helps readers to engage with the ideas in the text and with the writer and gives focus to the reading task. After students have read a text, it is useful to help them evaluate the effectiveness of the questions they posed for themselves, to identify the benefits they gained by asking questions as they read, and to give them feedback for further learning.

What readers do

  • focus on an aspect of the text that interests or confuses them
  • formulate a question that relates to the content or to a selected text feature
  • record the question, or keep it in mind as they read, so that they can recognise and bring together relevant information as it arises
  • reflect, as a result of the questions they set themselves, on what they’ve found out and on how this has changed their thinking or helped their comprehension
  • ask new questions in the light of what they’ve found out.

How teachers can support learners

  • We can see that the author has strong views on this. I wonder how he might try to affect our thinking as we read …
  • A fluent reader has questions and answers going through their head as they read. This helps them get more involved in the reading and adds to their understanding of the text. While I’m reading this, I’m wondering what the significance of the newspaper cutting might be …
  • Tell me a question you asked yourself before you read this part of the text. How did you try to find an answer?
  • You set yourself lots of questions for the reading and then found you were skimming and scanning to find answers rather than focusing on the meaning. Let’s look more closely at the sorts of questions that will help you meet your learning goal.

Creating mental images or visualising

When readers visualise, they connect the ideas in the text with their prior knowledge and experience to create images in their minds. This often means thinking about their senses and using their imagination to see, hear, feel, taste, or smell parts of the text in their minds.

Creating an image can make a text come alive for the reader. The ability to visualise what is being explained or what is happening draws readers into the text. Studies have indicated that creating an image in the memory helps the reader to retain what is read and use it later on.

Readers experiencing difficulties often need help with creating mental images and may not realise how this can help their comprehension. Teachers can support students in visualising by asking questions such as “What image do you see in your head?”, by explicitly drawing attention to descriptive language or a sequence of ideas, and by sharing their own images. Visualising can be supported by creating graphic representations or mind maps of a text.

What readers do

  • identify words that are descriptive or that indicate the content of a text
  • make connections with prior knowledge and use their awareness of their five senses to create a mental image
  • draw on the mental image and use it to gain a deeper understanding or appreciation of the text.

How teachers can support learners

  • The author’s used lots of verbs and adjectives – I’ve connected them to my memory of that enormous storm we had last year. I get a clear picture of the problems they must be facing.
  • In my mind, I’m starting to see a pattern in the structure of this text.
  • What mental image do you think the author is trying to create in this section? How has she done this?
  • I love the three different situations you’ve imagined for using “horrible hands with frozen fingers”; are you intending to follow the recipe to make them and try your ideas out?
  • Talk about the setting with your partner. Talk about what you can hear, feel, taste, or smell there – not just what you can see. Share the parts of the text that gave you those ideas.


Inferring means using content in a text, together with existing knowledge, to come to a personal conclusion about something that is not stated explicitly in the text. When the writer provides clues but not all the information, we read “between the lines” to form hypotheses, revise these, understand underlying themes, make critical judgments, and draw conclusions.

The teacher can help students to make inferences by raising their awareness that reading involves more than just literal meaning and by modelling inferential thinking during shared reading or during discussions in guided reading. Or the teacher may pause, when reading a text with students, to draw out clues from the text and prompt the students to make connections between different parts of the text in order to reach a conclusion that makes sense. It’s important to ask students to give evidence from the text that supports their inferences.

What readers do

  • draw on their awareness that some meanings may not be explicit in the text and question the messages of the text as they read
  • keep in mind their “hunches” about deeper meanings and search for clues or evidence in the text as they continue to read
  • make links between their developing knowledge of the text and the author’s style (drawing on their sense of where the author is taking the text) in relation to these clues
  • form hypotheses, based on the links they have made, about implied meanings in the text
  • reflect on the validity of their inferences by taking account of new evidence or clues that arise as they continue reading.

How teachers can support learners

  • Think about how the images in this explanation help us to form ideas about the immense distances described.
  • This character seems haughty and supercilious. The way she interacts with the other characters isn’t how I expect people to behave. I’ll read on and check out my tentative thinking about her.
  • Find the words that suggest that …
  • What do you think is really happening here? What did you have to do to make those inferences?
  • Even though the writer doesn’t state her opinion explicitly, you’ve inferred that she doesn’t approve of … You’ve noted the examples that she has used and linked them to your own knowledge of … to help you reach this conclusion.

Identifying the writer's purpose and point of view

It is important for readers to recognise that behind every text is a writer, and that the writer has a purpose or reason for writing and a particular point of view. For example, the purpose of the writer may be to:

  • provide or obtain information;
  • share the excitement of an event;
  • persuade or influence the reader or provoke debate;
  • create or enter a personal world;
  • stimulate the imagination;
  • convey important cultural stories or myths;
  • entertain or delight the reader.

By supporting students in identifying and reflecting on an author’s purpose and point of view, teachers can help their students to recognise that writers bring their own experiences and insights to their writing. Such activities contribute richly to students’ awareness of the functions of texts and of how authors position readers. They also help students to build the habit of responding thoughtfully to what they read. Students then carry their awareness and thoughtfulness into their writing and use it to help them plan and articulate their own purpose and point of view when writing a text.

What readers do

  • identify themselves with a writer who is writing for a purpose
  • think about the intended audience of a text and reflect on how this might affect, for example, how the writer chooses what to include and what to leave out
  • search for specific indicators of the writer’s personal thinking, such as examples of the writer’s choice of content or vocabulary
  • reflect on this information as they interpret the text.

How teachers can support learners

  • We’ve gained an idea of the author’s point of view from the examples of emotive language in the introduction. Keep this in mind as you read on …
  • What do you think the writer’s purpose was in writing this text? How does this affect your response to the text?
  • Who do you think is the intended audience of this text? How do you know?
  • If this text had been written by Jason’s mother rather than Jason, how would it be different?
  • When writers feel strongly about a topic, they often try to manipulate their readers so that they are more likely to agree with them. Here are some things to look out for …

Identifying the main idea

Identifying the main idea means determining what is central to a text – what the writer most values or wants to emphasise. In a narrative, this might be the theme or themes, which will probably relate to people and how they live their lives. In a transactional text, it might be the key information or the particular idea about the topic that the writer wants readers to understand. In some transactional text forms, such as reports or letters to the editor, the main idea is often made explicit at the beginning. In fiction, the main idea is more often implied, in a variety of ways, throughout the text. A text may have more than one main idea or theme, but this comprehension strategy involves identifying the idea or ideas that are most important throughout the text, not ideas of lesser importance and not those that feature only in one section of the text.

Identifying the main idea does not mean identifying the topic or content of a text. For example, a story might be about a character breaking his leg, but the main idea (theme) of the text might be about the way the character overcomes adversity or discovers the value of friendship. Often it is relatively easy for a reader to state what a text is about, but it may be more difficult to decide what the main idea is. The reader needs to interpret the writer’s thinking by making connections to their prior knowledge, hypothesising, inferring, and synthesising several aspects of the text in order to identify the main idea.

What readers do

  • identify with the writer as someone who has a main idea to convey (by thinking “Supposing I am the writer of this, what is the main thing that I want the reader to think about?”)
  • search for evidence that indicates what the writer’s main idea may be (including evidence of the writer’s purpose)
  • consider all the evidence in order to decide or hypothesise about what the writer’s main idea is
  • check their hypothesis as they read, revising it when appropriate.

How teachers can support learners

  • So you’ve decided that the writer’s real message isn’t the one he stated at the beginning – and I think you’re right! How did you work that out?
  • I think this text is giving us a message about how sometimes it’s OK to break rules. To work this out, I’ve thought about how the writer has got us to sympathise with the main character even though she breaks rules and causes trouble – the emotional language ensures that we’re on her side.
  • Track the subheadings and see if there’s a pattern developing to help you work out what the writer thinks is most important.
  • What do you think the theme of this text is? What do you think we are meant to be left wondering about at the end? How did you come to this conclusion?
  • We’ve come up with two “main ideas” for this text. Let’s go back through the text and find evidence for our thinking. Maybe both of them are right …


Summarising helps the reader to see how information or events are related and to understand the content and structure of a text. The reader identifies the important information or events in a text or part of a text and remembers, retells, or records them in a shortened form, which enables the reader to make connections within the text. A summary brings together the essential content of a text succinctly as a clear overview or outline. For example, a written or oral summary may describe the beginning, middle, and end of a narrative or the main facts from an information text or a specific paragraph.

In order to summarise a text effectively, the reader needs to have a clear idea of its structure and to be able to differentiate between important points and supporting details. To do this, the reader identifies key words, facts, events, or ideas and notes which parts of the text contain the details that go with each of them. When summarising, the reader puts the important points into their own words, using language as economically as possible and avoiding repetition. A summary may support in-depth work with the text.

With certain texts, summarising may not be a useful strategy to support students’ understanding. Some poems or sets of instructions, for example, do not include key points with supporting detail.

What readers do

  • consider the organisation of the text and use it to help them identify the more important points from each section or paragraph
  • state each important point succinctly in their own words, sometimes in their head and sometimes by saying it aloud or writing it down
  • order and link the important points in a cohesive way that enables them to remember and access the information in order to meet their reading purpose.

How teachers can support learners

  • I’ve used some of the visual features of this text, especially the writer’s use of bold print, to help me identify five important points.
  • Read this paragraph carefully. What is the key sentence? How do you know?
  • You’ve noted the important facts that are discussed in this report. Do you think you also need to summarise both the introduction and the conclusion, or do they just repeat the same information?
  • The timeline on page 3 shows you what the key events were between 1900 and 1960. Diagrams are often helpful when you are summarising this kind of text.
  • You could use a story map to help you identify the main events in this narrative as you read.
  • Does your summary give you a clear overview of the text? Is it brief and easy to read? Is anything important missed out? Is anything repeated? Does it meet your purpose?

Analysing and synthesising ideas

When readers take apart a text they have read, examine it from their own viewpoint, and put it back together again, they make it their own. When they compare different texts, drawing out similarities and differences and deciding on the reasons for these, they create a new web of knowledge. As they analyse and synthesise, readers identify ideas, information, or features in a text, reflect on these in relation to their existing knowledge and cultural values (or to ideas from other texts), and form conclusions, interpreting the text’s meaning by drawing ideas together. Analysing and synthesising is a creative process that can enable readers to take ownership of the texts they read and the ideas and information in them.

Analysing and synthesising is a valuable strategy to use when bringing a more critical perspective to a text, for example, during a second reading or subsequent, closer readings.

What readers do

  • identify and reflect on the ideas, features, or structures of a text (or texts) and consider how they link to the other ideas, features, or structures and to the reader’s prior knowledge and experience
  • look for common elements, for example, similarities in the writer’s use of imagery within a text or similarities in ideas across several texts, in order to reach a conclusion that relates to their learning goal or reading purpose
  • use this conclusion to inform their thinking and generate new ideas to help them meet their learning goal or reading purpose.

How teachers can support learners

  • Work with a partner to identify the part where the mood changes and to find out how the author has created this change of mood.
  • You’ve noticed that some reports on how tourism affected the island suggest that it’s harmful and others that it’s benefi cial. Can you account for this? Have you considered the writers’ purposes for each text?
  • I’ve been thinking about that coach, what he says and does, how there’s a mystery about his past, the way the writer describes him, and what I would expect a coach to say and do – and I don’t think he can be trusted!
  • You’ve suggested to me that the author delivers an important message about responsibility. You’ve worked this out by tracking how Victoria’s character changes, and you’ve supported this with a clear example of how she reacts quite differently to the problem in the last chapter.
  • This letter to the editor contains more or less the same facts as the conservation website that we looked at yesterday, but the two texts use the information for a different purpose and audience. The different structures of the texts will give you some clues about what the different purposes are.

Evaluating ideas and information

Thoughtful readers respond to the texts they read in a personal, informed way. They generalise from the ideas and information in a text and make judgments about them in the light of their prior knowledge and experience (including their experiences of other texts), their cultural values, and their purpose for reading. They examine and evaluate the ideas and information in the text and may consequently go on to confirm, extend, or change their personal views. They may disagree with the message of a text or explain why they find an argument unconvincing (for example, if they feel that the writer has used unsound evidence in an attempt to influence or “position” their thinking).

As students develop information literacy, they learn to recognise relevant and valid information, interpret it, and evaluate it in terms of its usefulness and reliability (see page 38). Thoughtful readers also evaluate the writer’s style, including their choice of language and other text features.

What readers do

  • focus on selected ideas and information in the text and consider these in relation to their own world view and their purpose for reading
  • make thoughtful, evidence-based judgments about the selected ideas and information (“What do I think about this? Do I agree, or do I have a different view? What is my view based on?”)
  • consider how these judgments affect their response to the text and whether they need to seek further information or check how others have responded to the same text.

How teachers can support learners

  • This information fi ts with what I already know about … I think that the writer uses it in a very sensible and logical way to support her point of view, for example, …
  • Would you please say that again for everyone to hear? That puts the whole question of how the boy shows that he cares about his brother into a new light for me.
  • Does the writer convince you that the information he presents is valid? If so, how does he do this?
  • Would you want to read another book by this writer? Why? Why not?
  • This article put forward an argument for … that I hadn’t heard before. Reading it has led me to change my views in some ways; I used to think that …, but now I believe that …
  • If you were the writer, what part of the text would you feel most proud of having written? Why?

Published on: 22 Mar 2016