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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 national tests in Year 2 and Year 6.

What your child will learn

Follow the links below for an overview of each year, with lots of information, support, and practice activities:

Comprehension in Year 1 (age 5–6)

In Year 1, children will 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.

More information and activity ideas for Year 1 >

Comprehension in Year 2 (age 6–7)

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.

More information and activity ideas for Year 2 >

Comprehension in Year 3 (age 7–8)

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.

More information and activity ideas for Year 3 >

Comprehension in Year 4 (age 8–9)

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.

More information and activity ideas for Year 4 >

Comprehension in Year 5 (age 9–10)

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.

More information and activity ideas for Year 5 >

Comprehension in Year 6 (age 10–11)

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.

More information and activity ideas for 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, 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.

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’. If you can, try to get your child to 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.

What is 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