English class is all about reading. You read a text and then you analyse it, making sure to pick out all of the best quotes and examples. If you don’t understand the text, then your analysis is not going to make a whole lot of sense. So, it is no wonder why reading comprehension is the most important skill for you to build.
Reading can seem like a lot of hard work, though. I’ve had so many students who stress way too much about it. You’re not alone! Heck, it took me so long to start to get what on earth Shakespeare and Dickens were on about, too. In my mind, they were either using old words I just didn’t get or they were throwing around commas like it would save their lives. Ugh. If you’re anything like me, I totally understand the desire to throw your book across the room and give up.
Don’t stress, though. Take a deep breath and relax. I’m here to let you know that there are loads of things that you can do to improve your reading comprehension. Not only that! There are ways that you can improve that essential skill on your own and in the comfort of your own home.
What exactly is this comprehension skill I keep ranting on and on about? Well, it’s the ability to understand the meaning of what you’re reading. You might know the definition of every single word in a sentence, but that doesn’t mean you can put it all together and understand what the writer is going on about. That’s where comprehension comes in.
There are plenty of things that you can do to improve your reading comprehension. Here are the top 6 tips to get you exam-ready in no time!
Start by Reading Out Loud
We human beings tend to have quite a monotone reading voice in our heads. Unless SOMEONE WRITES IN ALL CAPITALS, anyway. Then our inner voices are suddenly screaming at us.
Other than that, though, it is common for us to remove all of the speech-based things that help us to understand what someone is trying to say. For example:
- Stressing certain words for effect.
- Breaking down sentences into easy parts.
Instead, we can often rush through a sentence in our minds. By the time we get to the end of it, we have no clue what happened. It was like we were looking at the words but they just weren’t computing.
Since we did look at the words and we swear we remember thinking about the meanings of them all, we can trick ourselves into thinking we read the dumb text. Job done… right? Well, as long as you don’t have to tell your teacher what you just read, anyway.
When you read out loud, though, you naturally try to add meaning to the words. You stress certain parts of the sentence and pause where you think it sounds right. That can help you with your reading comprehension more than you’d realise!
Plus, it is a huge help when you come across a sentence you just don’t get. You can try messing with where you place the stress and pauses out loud until it makes a little more sense to you.
Reading out loud is the first step that you should take in understanding a text better. Once you’re more confident, you can go back to reading in your head!
Read Books That Work for You
Let’s be honest for a minute: you might not like all of the books that you have to read in class. Lots of students don’t!
If you’re one of them, it makes sense that your reading isn’t as good as you’d like it to be. After all, it’s bad enough that you have to read a book that you hate. If you have to struggle through it, that’s just one more reason to give up. I get that. Books shouldn’t be allowed to be boring and hard to understand. Pick one, teachers!
So, just don’t use the books from class to improve your reading comprehension skills. Forget about it. It’s not worth the stress.
Instead, find some books that suit you. Pick a reading level that’s challenging but not too hard. You can always read something a little more difficult later on. Most importantly, though: pick a genre that sounds fun to read. If you understand the text and enjoy what you’re reading, improving your reading skills is going to feel like less of a chore.
I know you might think that you just don’t like reading, but I don’t buy it. There is a book out there for everyone. I am convinced of that. You just need to know where to look.
Reach out to other people. Ask your friends and family if they have any book recommendations! Check social media like Reddit, GoodReads or Twitter. There are plenty of people who make it their business to recommend books to others.
If you like my advice, a £5-a-month subscription here on Shani’s Tutoring includes a forum with lots of book lovers – me included! Let us know what stuff you like to watch on Netflix and we can find a book to match!
Learn Roots, Prefixes and Suffixes
You can never know what every single word means. It won’t do you a whole lot of good to try! It’s a much better use of your time if you learn words that will actually help you in your life and studies.
However, it’s no secret that most students would benefit from improving their vocabulary. In fact, I’d say all students would. Part of the GCSE specification specifically asks for you to use complex words. Plus, when you come across a complex word in a text, it helps your reading comprehension massively if you know what it means.
How can you guess which hard words will pop up? Well, you can’t. So, you have to find a better way to learn new words.
That’s where roots, prefixes and suffixes come in.
Lots of complex words are made up of these three things.
Let’s look at the word “uncomfortable”. It is made up of three parts:
- “Un” is the prefix.
- “Comfort” is the root.
- “Able” is the suffix.
Once you know what the root, prefix and suffix of this word mean, you can guess the meaning of the word without a dictionary! That’s a great skill to have in an exam! Plus, it means that you don’t need to stop reading to figure out the meaning!
The good news is that it’s much quicker and less effort to learn these roots, prefixes and suffixes. There are fewer of these parts of words than there are actual words in the English language! Much more efficient!
BBC Bitesize has plenty of resources to help you with this. Or you can wait for the Shani’s Tutoring ones!
Practice Guessing Words Based on Context
This is yet another way to help with words that are new to you.
Lots of students give up when they see a word that they don’t know. This is a huge setback when it comes to building reading comprehension skills. Knowing all of the words that you read will always be one of the best ways to improve your reading skills. Using the context to guess the word is a close second.
It’s a great skill to have. It means that you won’t be thrown off guard when a word is new to you. You can bounce back and substitute the word for one you already know. That way, you can keep going and get the gist of what the writer is trying to say.
So how do you build up this skill? Well, it’s quite simple, really! When you come across a word that you don’t know, read the rest of the sentence. Then, write down some words that you could replace the unknown word for. Make sure that they make sense in the context of the sentence! Choose the best.
Finally, once you’ve made your choice, look the hard word up in the dictionary (on your phone, computer or that book your parents used to use). If the word you chose is close to the actual definition, you’re on the money! If not, have a think about what made you make the choice you did. What words in the text made you think that way? Can you see how the actual word was different?
Once you’ve done that a few times, it will become second nature to you to guess. It’s a great skill to have!
Chat to Others
There’s only so much that you can do on your own. English is a collaborative subject because you learn best when you can bounce off other people’s ideas. So, it will always help your reading comprehension to discuss a text with other people.
They can help you to see things that you might not have on your own. One of you can read out loud while the other listens and tries to deduce the meaning. You can point out words and phrases to one another that could really help with understanding.
I know that I used to sit with my best friend and read court documents from the Elizabethan era for my history degree. That stuff isn’t easy to read, so it helps to have more than one pair of eyes!
This is why I made the forums here on Shani’s Tutoring. It’s a great extra for all membership tiers! You can collaborate with other students and ask me questions if you’re stuck.
I recommend following these steps to get help the right way:
- Read the text for yourself.
- Write notes on what you think the meaning is.
- Listen to someone else read the text (more on this later).
- Discuss with other students.
- Add to your notes with what you learnt from others.
- Discuss your thoughts with a teacher or tutor.
This helps you to see what went well and what you could improve on in your own independent reading. It’s a great way to build your skills!
If In Doubt, Try Immersion Reading!
I’ve spoken about immersion reading before. I said it was great for students with dyslexia and that Audible can help you to enjoy studying during the summer. Well, reading comprehension is yet another thing that immersion reading can help you with. Trust me. I love it!
The benefits of immersion reading are quite similar to those of reading aloud: putting the pauses and stress in the right place can aid understanding. Grabbing an audiobook has two added bonuses, though. For one, the person reading the book will know what each line means. Secondly, they are (or at least they should be) a good enough actor to be paid to read a book out loud. When you put those two things together, you know that you can trust how they read your text.
Now, the best immersion reading tool is Amazon. You can buy the Kindle version of a book and the Audible audiobook in one go. Then, if you’re on a device that supports it, you can have someone read a book to you and follow along at the same time!
However, the Kindle software isn’t the only way that you can achieve the same effect. It’s just the best and easiest to use. With a little more work from you (like having to turn the page yourself – shock horror), you can achieve a similar result!
Just purchase the audiobook that you want to read. You can get them from Audible and the iTunes store. Or, you can go out and buy the CDs from a shop. Then, grab your book and read alongside it. Simple!
That’s it! Those are the best ways to improve your reading comprehension! With a bit of hard work, you can be great!
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