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Comprehension

Reading comprehension is the ability to read a text and understand its meaning.

The National Curriculum divides reading up into two closely linked skills: word reading and comprehension. Word reading is the name given to recognising the words on the page or screen. In English primary schools, phonics is often used to help children with this part of reading. But this is only half of the story – to make sense of what they’re reading, a child needs to be able to understand the words. This is called comprehension.

Comprehension is a key strand of the National Curriculum and is assessed in the Key Stage 1 SATs and Key Stage 2 SATs.

Comprehension at school

As part of learning to read, your child will learn about reading comprehension throughout their time at primary school. The focus will probably move more heavily towards comprehension and away from phonics from Year 2 onwards, as your child becomes more confident with word reading.

Find out how your child will learn to read at school:

Reading comprehension: Age 3–4 (Early Years)

At this age, children will learn early reading skills that form an important foundation for starting school and fostering a love of reading. Your child will learn to:

  • listen to stories and sometimes join in, retelling them in their own words
  • sing songs and simple rhymes.

Reading: Age 3–4 (Early Years) >

Reading comprehension: Age 4–5 (Reception)

In Reception, will be taught phonics (a method for learning to read words) as well as some simple comprehension skills. Your child will learn to:

  • listen to stories and retell favourites
  • recite songs and rhymes (and come up with some of their own).

Reading: Age 4–5 (Reception) >

Reading comprehension: Age 5–6 (Year 1)

In Year 1, children will have a growing knowledge of phonics. They will also read and listen to lots of stories, and will be encouraged to think and talk about them. Your child will learn to:

  • listen to and talk about a range of stories and texts
  • know and understand well-known stories, fairy stories, and traditional tales
  • understand books they can read and listen to.

Reading: Age 5–6 (Year 1) >

Reading comprehension: Age 6–7 (Year 2)

In Year 2, most children are well on the way to becoming fluent readers. They will be given opportunities to develop their understanding of books they read and books that are read to them. Your child will learn to:

  • listen to and talk about a range of stories and texts
  • understand both the books they can already read themselves and those they listen to
  • talk about books and poems, taking turns and listening to what others say.

Reading: Age 6–7 (Year 2) >

Reading comprehension: Age 7–8 (Year 3)

In Year 3, the focus shifts from word-reading to comprehension and building the habits that make a confident and keen reader. Your child will learn to:

  • read a wide range of books and retell some stories orally
  • read aloud and perform poems and play scripts
  • talk about interesting words and phrases
  • read between the lines and use evidence from the text when giving their opinion
  • predict what might happen next
  • use dictionaries to check the meaning of words.

Reading: Age 7–8 (Year 3) >

Reading comprehension: Age 8–9 (Year 4)

In Year 4, your child will be growing ever more confident as an independent reader. They will develop their comprehension skills and build the habits that make an enthusiastic reader. Your child will learn to:

  • read a wide range of books and retell some stories
  • talk about interesting words and phrases
  • predict what might happen next
  • talk about books and poems, take turns, and listen to what others say
  • use dictionaries to check the meaning of words.

Reading: Age 8–9 (Year 4) >

Reading comprehension: Age 9–10 (Year 5)

In Year 5, your child will continue to develop their comprehension skills and build the habits that make a confident and enthusiastic reader. Your child will learn to:

  • read and talk about a wide range of fiction, poetry, plays, non-fiction, and reference books
  • recommend books to their friends, giving reasons for their choices
  • talk about themes in the books they read and make comparisons between them
  • learn a range of poetry by heart and read poems and playscripts aloud with expression
  • talk about how (and why) authors use language.

Reading: Age 9–10 (Year 5) >

Reading comprehension: Age 10–11 (Year 6)

In Year 6, your child will continue to develop as a reader, becoming increasingly independent as they prepare for secondary school. Your child will learn to:

  • identify how the language, structure, and presentation of a text contributes to its meaning
  • talk about how (and why) authors use language
  • tell the difference between fact and opinion and find information from non-fiction texts
  • talk about books, building on their own ideas and other people’s
  • talk about what they have read, including through presentations and debates.

Reading: Age 10–11 (Year 6) >

How to help at home

There are lots of simple and effective ways you can help your child with comprehension. Here are a few ideas.

1. Read to your child

Reading to your child will help them to enjoy reading, to build their comprehension skills, and to become a confident reader themselves.

Children benefit from listening to books that they can’t read themselves yet, as they will see and hear adventurous language and ideas that they might not have encountered in their independent reading. Non-fiction books about the things they’re interested in and longer stories are both great for expanding your child’s reading horizons.

For stories to share with your child, take a look at our storytelling playlist on the Oxford Owl YouTube channel. 

Our free eBook library has lots of books perfect for readers of all ages.

2. Talk about books, stories, words, and pictures

Asking your child questions can help them to think about what they’re reading. Try to ask open questions that begin with ‘how’ and ‘why’. See if your child can go back to the text and pictures to tell you how they know the answer.

Talking about what is happening in a picture, what the characters might be thinking, or what might happen next all help to develop early reading skills.

3. Read for a purpose

As well as reading for pure pleasure, your child is likely to need to read for particular purposes as they get older. They read to find information, to learn about something, or to answer questions. Practising this can be useful for success at school (not to mention later life).

Your child may be asked to investigate a topic or find answers to questions set in class. You can help them with their research skills by talking about where to look to find the answers, although you may need to remind them to look in books and use the library as well as the internet.

Children can struggle with information overload, so they are likely to need your help to ‘search and sift’ both sites and information to make decisions.

Video support

What is comprehension?

Find out how children build their understanding of a text using a combination of background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, and inference.

Supporting your child’s reading comprehension

Understand how to develop your child’s comprehension as they learn to read with tips from Emily Guille-Marrett.

Copyright Oxford University Press 2020