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Explicit Comprehension Strategy Instruction

National Institute for Literacy
Use explicit strategy instruction to make visible the invisible comprehension strategies that good readers use to understand text. Support students until they can use the strategies independently. Recycle and re-teach strategies throughout the year.

Planning for explicit strategy instruction

After you have chosen a strategy to teach, think about how the strategy works. Collect several passages from reading materials that you are using in your classroom. Assess the passages for opportunities to model the comprehension strategy. Put these passages on an overhead transparency or slide. Prepare to introduce the strategy, including a description of the strategy, why it is important, and when it should be used.

Teaching procedures for explicit strategy instruction

Phase 1: Explicit training and teacher modeling

  • Activate students’ prior knowledge of the topic addressed in your selected passages.

    “Let’s look at the title of this chapter and a few of the subheadings. What do you think this passage is going to be about?”

  • Name and describe the comprehension strategy you expect students to learn.

    “Good readers monitor their comprehension continuously as they read. We’re going to discuss and practice using this strategy to make sure you are using it when you read. When you monitor your comprehension, you frequently ask yourself whether what you are reading makes sense to you. If you decide it doesn’t make sense, you stop and figure out what the problem is and how to fix the problem.”

  • Explain why the strategy helps comprehension and when to use the strategy.

    “We use comprehension monitoring to help us keep track of how well we are understanding what we read. You should monitor your comprehension while you are reading, particularly when you are reading materials on a topic you don’t know much about or if the reading is difficult for you.”

  • Model or demonstrate how to use the strategy by thinking aloud with the passages you have selected. For visible strategies, such as word mapping or graphic organizers, think aloud about your reasoning processes as you complete the map or organizer.

    Begin reading the passage, pause at several points and ask yourself,
    “Is this making sense?”
    Next, pause at a place where struggling readers might have difficulty and again ask,
    “Is this making sense? I’m not sure. I don’t know what this second sentence means.”

    Identify what the comprehension problem is by saying, “I don’t know what the author means by ‘the matter was not completely digested.’ What was this ‘matter,’ and why wasn’t it ‘digested?’”

    Read back over previous sentences that provide clues. Use the clues to make a good guess about what the phrase you don’t understand means. “Maybe the word ‘matter’ means the argument. I think this is true because the previous paragraph talks about the argument between the parents. Now if the argument was not digested, that could mean that it wasn’t done or over. That sounds like the best possibility.”

    You can also read forward in the text to look for meaning clues.

  • Repeat teacher modeling with the other passages.

Phase 2: Guided practice

  • Begin to turn responsibility for the strategy over to the students by providing opportunities for students to practice the strategy with you. For example, after you demonstrate the comprehension monitoring strategy, you can ask individual students to try out reading and thinking aloud.
  • Prompt students to pause and ask whether the passage makes sense. Have them check whether it is making sense by occasionally prompting them to summarize or predict.
  • Ask students to continue reading and thinking aloud in small groups or pairs. Monitor the groups closely to ensure that they are practicing the strategy, not just reading aloud to one another.

Phase 3: Independent practice

  • Continue turning over responsibility to students by asking them to read independently in class and use the strategies that you have taught.
  • Ask students to keep a written log of their strategy use. Periodically ask students to share their logs with the class and lead a discussion about how students are using strategies. For example, have students keep a log of places where they used comprehension monitoring to identify difficulties and the problem-solving strategies that they used to help them overcome the difficulties.
  • Continue to support students as they learn new strategies by circulating and reinforcing strategy use on an individual basis.
  • Every few weeks, re-teach strategies that you have taught previously and remind students to use them in their reading.
National Institute for Literacy. (2007). Adapted from What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy. Retrieved from