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

Text processing strategies

Becoming a strategic reader

When we read, we construct meaning by making connections between the text we read and what we already know and can do. Proficient readers at any stage operate in this way. They bring to their reading their knowledge of language and of the world and their knowledge of how to use sources of information in text, and they make sense of the ideas and information in the text accordingly.

Competent readers develop knowledge, a repertoire of strategies, and awareness that enable them to:

  • decode, that is, read individual words 
  • construct meaning effectively 
  • think critically as readers.

The terms reading strategies and processing strategies are often used interchangeably in the context of learning to read. However, in this book, the term reading strategies has been extended to cover comprehension strategies and the term processing strategies is consistently used to describe the in-the-head ways by which readers make use of the sources of information in text.

Reading for meaning

Reading for meaning is paramount in school literacy programmes. In order to be able to read for meaning, students need to become accurate and efficient decoders. Through instruction in word identification, teachers ensure that their students become proficient in using visual and grapho-phonic sources of information (see page 30) so that when they encounter an unfamiliar word, they attend to the word itself as a primary source of information. It is important to be explicit when teaching students how to make links between letters (or letter clusters) and their sounds.

Students need to become increasingly fast, automatic decoders of unfamiliar words. In reading, efficient decoding is not an end in itself; it is a means to constructing meaning. Rapid, accurate word recognition frees up the reader’s cognitive resources to focus on meaning – not only on surface meanings but also on the deeper messages of a text. The reader then approaches the reading task in a more thoughtful and analytical way and can be encouraged to make their own personal response to the text.

As learners spend more time reading, they encounter commonly used words more often, and these words become familiar to them. Increasingly rapid word recognition has a direct and cumulative effect on a learner’s progress. Effective teachers, therefore, provide many, many opportunities for their students to read and write.

Very often, the reader decodes and constructs meaning by drawing on only some of the available information. Children learn to select the best source or sources to focus on. For example, in the sentence “The ducks are going to the river”, certain words allow the reader to pay less attention to others. The fact that “ducks” is plural dictates “are”. The structure of the English sentence determines the use of “going” and requires a noun at the end of the sentence. These sorts of factors make a text predictable. Children may not be able to explain such rules, but their experience with spoken language means that they come to know them and apply them in their reading and writing. A key role of the teacher is to develop their students’ awareness of how to apply and control the rules. (See Developing awareness as a reader and writer, on pages 43–45.)

Strategies for reading include comprehension strategies as well as processing strategies (which are the in-the-head ways by which readers make use of the sources of information described on pages 28–31). Readers apply the processing strategies in combination with strategies for comprehending and thinking critically about what they read.

Processing strategies

All readers use processing strategies, but they do so at different levels, depending on factors such as the reader’s proficiency, the difficulty of the text, and the purpose for reading.

The processing strategies that readers use are:

  • attending and searching – looking purposefully for particular information, known words, familiar text features, patterns of syntax, and information in pictures and diagrams 
  • predicting – forming expectations or anticipating what will come next by drawing on prior knowledge and experience of language 
  • cross-checking and confirming – checking to ensure that the reading makes sense and fits with all the information already processed 
  • self-correcting – detecting or suspecting that an error has been made and searching for additional information in order to arrive at the right meaning.

Reading can be thought of as a constantly repeated process of attending and searching, predicting, crosschecking, and confirming or self-correcting. These strategies are not discrete stages; they constantly interact and support one another. They are used in complex combinations, and experienced readers usually apply them automatically. See pages 127–131 in chapter 5 for further detail about teaching students to use processing strategies in the context of text-based experiences.

The ways in which children learn and apply the processing strategies illustrate the importance of metacognition in literacy learning. Beginning readers need to be taught to recognise when to use each strategy; they need to be shown how to apply them deliberately and how to integrate them. Children whose control of the strategies is limited may process text in inappropriate ways – for example, by relying on their memory, by trying to sound out every single word, or by making guesses without appropriate use of the sources of information in the text or their own prior knowledge. Chapter 5 provides examples of how teachers can encourage students to develop metacognition so that they become increasingly able to choose reading strategies for themselves.

Developing comprehension

Comprehension is both a pathway to reading and its end product. Whether we are reading aloud, reading silently, writing, or listening to someone talk, we enter into a mental dialogue with the author, audience, or speaker and explore their ideas or our own in order to make connections. Children begin these explorations when they first set out on their literacy journey, and they continue with further explorations in the instructional settings of classrooms.

Comprehension strategies cannot be separated from processing strategies; the teacher’s instruction should ensure that their students develop both. Comprehension strategies enable students not only to make sense of the text but also to think about what they are reading. Effective teachers encourage their students to develop strategies that lead to deeper understandings of text.

Comprehension involves:

  • getting the message at a basic or literal level, for example, following the plot in a narrative or understanding the facts in a non-fiction text 
  • making connections 
  • understanding the purpose or intent of a text 
  • understanding its form and function 
  • responding personally 
  • thinking critically about the text.

Learners’ comprehension is promoted by:

  • having a large oral vocabulary (the implications for rich classroom conversations are discussed further in chapter 4) 
  • fluency in decoding and a good bank of high-frequency or sight words 
  • opportunities to listen actively to the teacher reading aloud 
  • extensive reading of a range of texts 
  • engagement in many experiences of reading and writing 
  • their ability to relate ideas in texts to their background knowledge.

Writing helps to develop comprehension. The discussion involved in, say, shared writing builds students’ listening vocabulary and helps them to clarify their ideas. Writers need to attend to the making of meaning – to consider their purpose for writing and how their audience will comprehend what they are writing. Applying this learning helps to develop awareness of how to use comprehension strategies.

Comprehension teaching includes both implicit and explicit instruction. In shared reading, for example, the teacher conveys many messages about literacy implicitly as they lead the reading and model what good readers do. Explicit instruction in the context of shared reading often focuses on a particular text feature, such as the use of adjectives to convey a viewpoint. The teacher creates the instructional contexts; the learning may be embedded (implicit), directed (explicit), or both.

Comprehension strategies

Comprehension strategies, like the processing strategies described on pages 38–39, are tools that the reader uses with a purpose in view.

Comprehension strategies may be described as:

  • making connections between prior knowledge and the text 
  • forming and testing hypotheses about texts 
  • asking questions 
  • creating mental images, or visualising 
  • inferring 
  • identifying the author’s purpose and point of view 
  • identifying and summarising main ideas 
  • analysing and synthesising ideas and information 
  • evaluating ideas and information.

Like the strategies for processing text, comprehension strategies are not discrete processes to be used one at a time. They are used together: for example, hypothesising involves making connections. They are employed in complex combinations, according to the text itself, the purpose for reading, and the individual learner’s pathway of development.

Comprehension strategies are necessary and useful tools for all students – including students who are making rapid progress and need to be extended, those who are struggling to master aspects of literacy learning, and those whose home and community literacy practices differ from the conventional practices in schools. Chapter 4 outlines a number of strategies that teachers can use to help their students to develop these important tools for literacy learning. Chapter 5 describes the comprehension strategies and gives examples of how to engage learners with texts to build their comprehension strategies (see pages 131–135).

Attending and searching

Learners need to attend to details of text in order to decode and determine meaning. The learner looks purposefully for particular information, for known letters, clusters, or words, for familiar text features and patterns of syntax, and for information in pictures and diagrams.

For beginning readers, this usually involves attending closely to every word (especially to the initial letters of words) and to the illustrations.

For fluent readers, this usually involves taking in larger chunks of text (phrases rather than words) and slowing down to identify and focus on specific words or features only when necessary to clarify meaning.

With instruction from the teacher, learners begin to acquire a sight vocabulary and to develop understandings about text. They learn to focus more effectively, attending to what is relevant at the time in order to get the message. Teachers provide specific instruction to help them to draw on what they know and can do. Attending and searching may involve the learner in doing some or all of the following.


Predicting is a strategy that readers use not only to identify words but also to anticipate what might come next. It involves forming an expectation on the basis of the information acquired so far, so it is strongly related to meaning and is more than speculation. Predictions draw on readers’ prior knowledge and their use of syntactic, semantic, and visual and grapho-phonic information in the text.

For beginning readers, predicting is usually at the level of individual words. For example, learners use their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to identify the initial sound of a word, or they draw on the pattern of a repetitive text to support them in working out what might happen next. Beginning readers often rely a great deal on the illustrations.

For fluent readers, predicting involves using prior knowledge and information in the text quickly, and usually automatically, to decide (at least initially) on the meaning of unknown words or difficult passages or to anticipate, for example, the next event in a narrative or the next step in an argument.

As learners become familiar with patterns of sentences, book language, and basic text structures, they build their ability to use prediction.

Teachers need to explicitly teach beginning readers to predict unknown words and show them exactly how to predict what will come next in a text. Predicting may involve the learner in doing some or all of the following.

Cross-checking, confirming, and self-correcting

Teachers need to show beginning readers how to monitor their own reading. The reader needs to cross-check predictions to ensure that they make sense and fit with other information already processed. When children detect or suspect an error, they need to have strategies to fix it. For example, a beginning reader may notice that there is a mismatch between what they have read and what is in the picture or in the print. Noticing the problem is the first step; knowing what to do to fix it is the next. Readers cross-check by drawing on their prior knowledge and on the syntactic, semantic, and visual and grapho-phonic information in the text. Cross-checking often involves turning a partially correct response into a correct one.

For beginning readers, cross-checking usually involves checking that their prediction of an individual word fits and makes sense. Their checking and confirming often take time and are quite deliberate.

For fluent readers, cross-checking usually involves further searching for information to confirm their initial understanding. In skilled reading, predictions are usually checked swiftly and automatically.

As readers progress, they learn that cross-checking, confirming, and self-correcting are among the habits of a good reader and take responsibility for using these strategies. Cross-checking, confirming, and self-correcting may involve the learner in doing some or all of the following.

What learners do

  • focus attention on particular letters or letter clusters and draw on what they know about letter-sound relationships
  • identify the words they already know
  • look for information in illustrations and diagrams
  • use analogies – that is, use their knowledge of familiar words (can, get) to work out new words (man, ran, pan; let, set, pet).

How teachers prompt and support

  • Tell me the first sound of this word. (“sunhat”, page 6)
  • What letter does this word start with? (“dad”, page 7)
  • What do you notice about the last letter in “dad”?
  • That’s right. It’s the same as the first letter.
  • Which words do you know on this page?
  • Who can you see in this picture? (page 7)
  • Which word is different on this page?
  • What do you notice about this word? (“sunhat”, page 6 – a compound word)

This example features Let’s Go by Feana Tu’akoi, photographs by Mark Round, Ready to Read series, Learning Media, 2001.

What learners do

  • draw on their letter-sound knowledge
  • draw on their awareness of the patterns of text
  • sound out the word or parts of the word and use meaning and syntax to narrow the possibilities
  • focus on a detail in an illustration or diagram
  • repeat or rerun the preceding text and sound out the first letter
  • use their prior knowledge to predict what a character might do next or what the next step in an argument might be.

How teachers prompt and support

  • Read that again. What sound does the word start with?
  • What would make sense?
  • What could you try?
  • What sound do these letters make?
  • What’s happening in the picture on page 4?
  • What will the fly do now?
  • Has it noticed the praying mantis?
  • That’s right. The fly comes b…
  • What do you think will happen next?

This example features The Praying Mantis by Pauline Cartwright, photographs by Nic Bishop, Ready to Read series, Learning Media, 1993.

What learners do

  • draw on the meaning or pattern of the text and use illustrations and word knowledge to check and confirm their prediction
  • reread a word, phrase, or sentence
  • use their knowledge of spoken language or book language to decide whether the piece of text “sounds right”
  • think about the meaning of what they are reading.

How teachers prompt and support

  • Does that look right? If the word was “called”, what would you expect to see at the end/in the middle?
  • You said, “There is a hole in my sock.” Check the first word again. Look at the end of the word.
  • You said “make”. Does that make sense? Could that be “menders”? How do you know?
  • What did you notice [after a hesitation or pause]?
  • How do you know for sure?
  • You’re so clever. How did you know that?
  • Read the whole sentence.
  • Does that sound right to you?
  • Something wasn’t quite right. Try that again.
  • How did you know what was wrong?

This example features The Hole in the King’s Sock by Dot Meharry, illustrated by Philip Webb, Ready to Read series, Learning Media, 2001.

Published on: 21 Mar 2016