Reading comprehension is extracting and constructing meaning from written text using knowledge of words, concepts, facts, and ideas.

Comprehension is the process by which students gain meaning from what they read, and opens the door to a world of knowledge and creativity.

The major determining factor in comprehension success is a student’s basic reading skills. When any of the foundational skills and processes are compromised, so too will be reading comprehension.

Many complicated processes must function harmoniously for comprehension to occur. Students must be able to:

  • Say what is on the page using accurate and fluent word-level processing (decoding)
  • Assign meaning to each word (vocabulary)
  • Assemble words into sentences
  • Retain this information while attending to subsequent sentences, continuously updating their understanding of the text, and
  • Use their knowledge of language and the world to supply further context.

For beginning readers, the most common stumbling blocks for comprehension are inadequate decoding first, followed by vocabularyEarly detection and effective intervention can change the trajectory.

In most cases, reading comprehension deficits will recede as other reading skills advance. If not, reading comprehension must become a subsequent focus – and for students older than about 10 years, the most concerning focus.

Other potential disruptors to comprehension include: working memory; making inferences; monitoring of comprehension; domain knowledge; text structure and a student’s ability to sustain attention.

Comprehension strategies are procedures students can use to help unravel a text’s meaning. Recent research has been generally supportive of the role of comprehension strategies, such as or main idea strategy instruction, comprehension monitoring, mnemonics, mapping, summarisation, and questioning.

Multiple strategy instruction has had strong support. Increasingly, research has supported the systematic and explicit model of instruction.

“Teaching reading [comprehension] strategies is worthwhile, but we should bear in mind that knowledge of strategies is only a small part of what makes an effective reader. A good reader also decodes fluently, has a broad vocabulary, and has wide-ranging background knowledge.”
Willingham (2006)
“Reading comprehension and its development are highly dependent on a reader’s
ability to read written words accurately and fluently. The general consensus is
that the automaticity of word reading is directly related to the cognitive resources that can be devoted to the processes involved in constructing meaning from text.”

Garcia and Cain 2014
“Reading to children is important in developing their oral language skill and vocabulary knowledge, as well as their knowledge of the world and their thinking and reasoning skills…This experience provides the basis for comprehension of both oral and written language. However, children do not learn to read by being read to.”
De Lemos 2013


  • In a study of over 400,000 students from Year One to Three (Australia?), it was revealed that among students whose decoding and vocabulary were developing normally, fewer than 1% displayed reading comprehension problems.

  • A meta-analysis of 30 years of studies of reading comprehension interventions found that the strongest effects occurred in studies that incorporated direct instruction as their curriculum delivery method.


Compton, D.l., Miller, A.C., Elleman, A.M. & Steacy, L.M. (2014).
Have we forsaken reading theory in the name of “quick fix” interventions for children with reading disability?
Scientific Studies of Reading, 18(1), 55-73.

De Lemos, M. (2013).
How children learn to read: A position statement.
Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin, 45(2), August.

Garcia, J.R. & Cain, K. (2014).
Decoding and reading comprehension: A meta-analysis to identify which reader and assessment characteristics influence the strength of the relationship in English.
Review of Educational Research, 84(1), 74–111.

Hairrell, A., Rupley, W.H., Edmonds, M., Larsen, R., Simmons, D., Willson, V., Byrns, G. & Vaughn, S. (2011).
Examining the impact of teacher quality on fourth-grade students’ comprehension and content-area achievement.
Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 27(3), 239-260.

Sabatini, J.P., O’Reilly, T., Halderman, L.K. & Bruce, K. (2014).
Integrating scenario-based and component reading skill measures to understand the reading behavior of struggling readers.
Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 29(1), 36–43.

Solis, M., Ciullo, S., Vaughn, S., Pyle, N., Hassaram, B. & Leroux, A. (2012).
Reading comprehension interventions for middle school students with learning disabilities: A synthesis of 30 years of research.
Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45, 327- 340.

Spencer, M., Quinn, J.M. & Wagner, R.K. (2014).
Specific reading comprehension disability: Major problem, myth, or misnomer?
Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 29(1), 3-8.

Wagner, R.K. & Meros, D. (2010).
Vocabulary and reading comprehension: Direct, indirect, and reciprocal influences.
Focus on Exceptional Children, 43, 1-12.

Willingham, D.T. (2006).
The usefulness of brief instruction in reading comprehension strategies.
American Educator, Winter, 39-50.