Reading Comprehension in High School
Reading to Learn or Learning to Read?
Comprehension & the Struggling Reader

Strategy Instruction


The National Reading Panel has analyzed 203 studies of comprehension strategy instruction. The bulk of these studies were conducted with students in fourth grade through high school. NRP found that there was research evidence for the efficacy of eight strategies, which included the following:


Comprehension monitoring is the process by which readers decide whether or not they are understanding the text. If they are not understanding it, they need to learn to apply “fix-up” strategies to correct whatever problems are occurring.


Fix-up Strategies:

  • Restating
  • Looking back
  • Looking ahead for clues that might help


Cooperative learning allows students to learn while being engaged in the learning process with other students.

Research shows that students often learn better when they are engaged in cooperative learning. Asking students in small groups to translate content material from “teacher talk” to “kid talk” shows gains in reading.


Graphic organizers are alternative representations of text, visual or spatial. Graphic organizers include semantic networks, concept maps, or text maps. Graphic organizers can be used before, during, or after reading. Most of the uses have had  effects on reading, but using graphic organizers after reading has shown improvement in written summaries.


Story structure refers to the common components in story  text. These components are:

  • setting
  • initiating events
  • internal reactions
  • goals
  • attempts
  • outcomes

Many students arrive at school with a complete knowledge of stories, while others do not. Research shows that knowledge of these components helps readers comprehend stories better than without such knowledge (e.g., Singer and Donlan, 1982).


Question answering is one of the most common forms of comprehension assessment. It is also an effective comprehension strategy. One interesting example is the QAR technique in which students are taught that questions can be answered by referring to the text, as well as the information one already knows. A critical variable in this strategy is the process of identifying where the information to answer the question was found.


QAR: An Example

Following the text below are some questions that students might answer after reading the text. In parentheses after each question is the name of the category into which each question falls.

Jeff has lived in Martinsville his entire life. But tomorrow, Jeff and his family would be moving 200 miles away to Petersburg. Jeff hated the idea of having to move. He would be leaving behind his best friend, Rick, the baseball team he had played on for the last two years, and the big oak tree in his backyard, where he liked to sit and think. And to make matters worse, he was moving on his birthday! Jeff would be thirteen tomorrow.  He was going to be a teenager! He wanted to spend the day with his friends, not watching his house being packed up and put on a truck. Jeff thought that moving was a horrible way to spend his birthday. What about a party? What about spending the day with his friends? What about what he wanted? But that was just the problem. No one ever asked Jeff what he wanted.  

  1. How long has Jeff lived in Martinsville? (Think and Search)

  2. What is the name of the town where Jeff and his family are moving? (Right There)
  3. What might Jeff do to make moving to a new town easier for him? (In my Head)
  4. Does Jeff like playing on the baseball team he has played on for the last two years? (Think and Search)
  5. In what ways can moving to a new house and to a new city be exciting? (In my Head)
  6. What is Jeff’s best friend’s name? (Right There)


Question generating is another powerful technique. Students are taught to create and then answer their own questions about a text.  Question generation can be used independently or as part of multiple strategy instruction.


Summarization is the result of reading the text and extracting the most important information from it. As a strategy, it forces the reader to extract the main ideas and eliminate redundant and unnecessary details. To do this requires reading and rereading of the text, accounting for greater comprehension. 


Multiple strategies. The final category of research-supported strategies is not really a “strategy,” but rather the application of multiple strategies. Instructionally, students are taught to use combinations of strategies to assist in comprehending the text. 



Excerpted  from: Adolescents and Literacy: Reading for the 21st Century, by Michael Kamil (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2003).