Teaching: Comprehension

Many comprehension passages are complex and confusing. There are some simple strategies which may help if they are applied consistently and patiently.

Have you ever read a passage and not understood it? When we read our eyes can read the words but we are not truly reading because we are not taking any meaning from the words. When we read, it has to make sense, otherwise we are not truly reading. To read we must read and understand the implication that the words are telling us. Many children find this very difficult.

Now read this simple passage and ask the questions out loud to your child:


comprehension - autumn passageAutumn is the season which comes between summer and winter. There are several changes that begin in this colourful season. Days will become shorter. Leaves of trees turn from green to vibrant red, yellow and orange. Trees need sunlight to keep their leaves a lively green. Without sunlight leaves turn colour. The grass is no longer blanketed with dew but with frost many mornings, as temperatures reach freezing point. Animals start storing up a food supply to last through the long winter months. These changes occur as we adjust from the heat of the summer to the chill of the winter.

Now answer these questions orally.

  1. What season is this passage about?
  2. What does the passage say happens to the day?
  3. What are animals doing?

This time your child has read and heard the passage and the questions. This reinforces the meaning and the principles of how to tackle comprehension.

Comprehension does not come naturally to some children. These children must be told that the text is supposed to make sense. Some children need help to understand how one action in the passage leads to another. i.e. that autumn means that the day gets shorter and the leaves fall off the trees! Some connections come easier and quicker for some than others.The problem is that some youngsters need and deserve explicit instructions in how to comprehend.

comprehension - talking about helping mum bake a cakeComprehension is like having a pretend conversation. Natural readers ‘hear’ their thinking in their heads as an inner conversation that helps them make sense of what they read. You can help to develop these conversations with your child by discussing the passages with them. It is useful to also help your child make personal connections to the story e.g. talking about them 'helping mum bake a cake!'

Children need to have a firm foundation of understanding so that they will think as they read. This is quite a mature concept but one worth working on so that they are able to develop awareness of their own thinking and relate this to the words which they read.

Provide structure for your child to think when they read. Children must develop an awareness of their own thinking, so that they can monitor themselves while they read. Keep the text simple until this structure is firmly in place. If the text is too difficult, your child is using all his thought processes in understanding the words so they have more difficulty in making sense of the story.

As this understanding process develops and your child comprehends more easily your child is also learning to understand different characters, to feel sympathetic, to gradually appreciate other people’s feelings and to learn about different situations in life.

Many of your child’s favourite books are excellent material. Try this passage from this simple story below.

Remember read it twice out loud together.

Read the questions together. Look for answers in the text.

comprehension - mouse from the lion and mouse storyOnce when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down upon him; this soon wakened the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon him, and opened his big jaws to swallow him. "Pardon, O King," cried the little Mouse: "forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but what I may be able to do you a turn some of these days?"

The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him, that he lifted up his paw and let him go.comprehension - the lion from the mouse and the lion story

Sometime after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a wagon to carry him on.

Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. "Was I not right?" said the little Mouse.

‘Little friends may prove great friends’


  1. What did the mouse do to the sleeping Lion?
  2. Did the lion eat the mouse? If not what did he do?
  3. How did the mouse get away from the lion?
  4. Where did the mouse find the lion next time?
  5. How did the mouse help the lion?

The practice passage should be easy reading for your child i.e. at the correct level.  Always encourage your child to make connections with situation they have encountered.The fact that they have a smaller brother or sister which you encourage them to look after may be a suitable analogy with this story. 

Children may also make the inference that it is unusual for a mouse to approach a lion at all! The fact that this wouldn’t happen in real life is a mature thought process and one that should be encouraged and discussed. This reasoning helps your child to have a more complete understanding in arguments, when reading texts and relating them to real life situations and to appreciate other people’s points of view.

Many children like to discuss and decide how a story might end. The pictures books stimulate their imaginations and lead the child to predict what may happen next. This line of thought should be encouraged and it is fun discussing this with children.

Little Red Riding Hood - in the wood

It is often good to ask children what picture of the story they have in their heads. Children should be encouraged to discuss their thoughts on a person in the story. Why did Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandma live in the middle of a wood? Would that be lonely, frightening or peaceful?

Little Red Riding Hood

  • It is great to ask children questions about the passage they are reading. Questions such as ‘Is this boy like you?’ will sometimes give you the most surprising answers and help the child to have concrete and vivid ‘pictures’ in their heads.
  • It is helpful to encourage your child to decide which parts of the story are important and should be remembered. This can be done by highlighting sentences by re-reading them, or even by dividing the passage into sections.
  • It is a good idea to put all the important facts from a book/passage together and use them to understand and have a complete picture of the theme of the story.
  • It is a good idea to encourage the children to read and re-read sections of the passage. Encourage your child to know when their understanding of the passage has ceased and that is when he must re-read, highlight words and ask questions!

The most useful pattern for successful comprehension is:

  1. Read the passage through twice out loud and together
  2. Read the first question.
  3. Look for the appropriate answer in the text
  4. It may help to underline words on the page
  5. Write the answer in a sentence
  6. Help your child with questions which need an opinion.

It is a good idea to make lists on a separate piece of paper. It is all right to have your own opinions.

Now try this comprehension. Read and re read then read the questions! Look for the answers in the text!

An adventure with a shark

comprehension - passage about a sharkOne day we saw a battle between two fishermen and a shark which had been playing about our boat for some time, driving away the fish and showing his teeth at our bait! Suddenly we heard a great shouting between two fishermen who were fishing on the rock opposite us and saw them pulling away on the stout line with the shark floundering at the other. The line broke but the fisherman sprang fearlessly into the water after the shark!

Before they could get into deep water one of them seized the shark by the tail and ran up the beach with him. However the shark twisted round, turning his head under his body and showed his teeth near to the fisherman’s hand. The fisherman let him go and sprang out of the way.comprehension - fishermen

The shark now turned tail, flapping and floundering towards deep water. The other fisherman who was brave as a lion seized him by the tail and made a spring towards the beach. His friend was at the same time attacking the shark with stones and a large stick. But as soon as the shark could turn he had to let go of his hold.

So the battle went on for some time, the shark in a rage, splashing and twisting about and the fishermen in high excitement yelling at the top of their voices, but the shark got off at last carrying away a hook and line and not a few severe bruises.


  1. Name two ways the shark was spoiling the fishing.
  2. What did the two fishermen do when the shark broke the line?
  3. How did the shark make the fisherman let go?
  4. How did the shark make his way back into deep water?
  5. How do you know that the shark was badly hurt?
  6. Would you like to argue with a shark?


1.Showing his teeth at the bait and driving the fish away 2.They sprang into the water after the shark.3.The shark turned around and showed his teeth near the fisherman’s hand.4.Flapping and floundering 5.The shark escaped with not a few bruises. 6. NO. It would not be a good idea!

You can download this page as a pdf here.

Here are some examples of comprehension worksheets you can find through the Worksheet Finder. There are many more featured on our Comprehension worksheets page.

Hetty Hen the teacher
Marty and the snowman- comprehension
The space adventure comprehension
Waiting - Year 3 and 4 comprehension
Comprehension - factual writing
Great Expectations
A smuggler's song Year 7 comprehension
Comprehension on Pride and Prejudice KS4

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