Building reading comprehension skills in your classroom

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Comprehension is not a natural or automatic skill that children are born with. They need to build a specific set of skills and practise these skills in order to become independent and successful readers.

Oxford is here to support you, so we’ve developed a series of articles, free online professional development, classroom activity sheets and an extensive program of resources to help you build reading comprehension skills amongst your students. Click on the links below to navigate to different resources on this page:

'The Importance of Comprehension' - an article by Annie Facchinetti
Take an online PD session on building comprehension skills in your students with Anne Bayetto
Download some FREE activity sheets
View classroom resources with a focus on comprehension

Why are reading comprehension skills important?

Annie Facchinetti, a leading educator and author of OZBOX: Learning through Literacy and Oxford Literacy teaching notes, talks about ‘The Importance of Comprehension’ in today’s schools.

The importance of comprehension

Imagine that you were lost in Turkey and the only directions you had were written in Turkish. You could probably read them out loud with reasonable accuracy, even though your phonological awareness of the language may not be perfect, but unless you can speak Turkish, your understanding would be limited. Reading the directions is therefore unlikely to be a valuable activity for you. So, while phonics and decoding are critical skills, without comprehension, the whole point of reading is lost.

Seminal research by Gough and Tunmer (1986) proposed the Simple View of Reading, which places equal value on decoding and comprehension using a mathematical equation: Reading = Decoding x Comprehension or R = D x C. In this equation, if there is no comprehension, and therefore the C has a value of 0, the R will also equal 0. In other words, if comprehension is not happening, reading is not happening.

A more recent comprehensive study by the US National Reading Panel (NRP & NICHD, 2000) identified five areas as being critical to reading instruction: phonemic awareness; phonics; fluency; vocabulary; and text instruction. Often referred to as the “big five”, the NRP concluded that each component is necessary for successful reading from the earliest stages of school. This represents a shift from traditional thinking, whereby phonics was the main focus for early years students and comprehension was introduced later.

The view that comprehension should be an integral part of reading instruction has garnered much support in the research literature. Cunningham and Shagoury (2005, p.4), for example, contend that emphasising decoding too heavily in lower grades can lead to a lack of understanding when reading by the time students reach the middle years. They advocate explicit instruction in a range of comprehension strategies, including visualising, inference and synthesising skills. Reed (2016) takes this one step further, asserting that:

Teaching comprehension while students are still mastering foundational reading skills will not only allow for students to demonstrate age-appropriate skills, but it also will help reinforce the reasons we read in the first place: to derive meaning, understanding, and enjoyment from a book or other text.

This suggests that not only are students capable of text comprehension as soon as they begin reading (Gregory & Cahill, 2010), ensuring that they have the skills to access meaning as they read is vital to help students become successful and willing readers.

While instruction in some of the foundational skills of reading, such as phonological awareness, will gradually become less necessary as students’ reading proficiency increases (Reed, 2016), comprehension remains important right through the primary years and beyond. A lack of comprehension skills will affect not only a student’s academic results, but also a whole host of areas in their adult lives, including opportunities for future study and employment prospects (Marshall, n.d.). Consequently, it is necessary to provide continued support for students to develop and refine strategies to understand and critically analyse what they read throughout their school lives.

There is general agreement that while decoding is necessary for successful reading, by itself it is not sufficient (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Van Kleeck, 2008). Incorporating targeted and explicit comprehension instruction into daily literacy programs is therefore essential to support students as readers and learners.

Further reading

Cunningham, A., & Shagoury, R. (2005). Starting with comprehension. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse Publishers.

Gough, P., & Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial And Special Education, 7(1), 6-10.

Gregory, A., & Cahill, M. (2010). Kindergartners Can Do It, Too! Comprehension Strategies for Early Readers. The Reading Teacher, 63(6), 515-520.

Marshall, P. The Importance of Reading Comprehension. K12 Reader. Retrieved 15 July 2017, from

National Reading Panel (U.S.), & National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S.). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Reed, D. (2016). Comprehension Skills Are Important for Readers of All Ages. Iowa Reading Research Centre. Retrieved from

Van Kleeck, A. (2008). Providing preschool foundations for later reading comprehension: The importance of and ideas for targeting inferencing in storybook-sharing interventions. Psychology In The Schools, 45(7), 627-643.

Teaching strategies to build reading comprehension skills

Anne Bayetto, author of Read Record Respond, has outlined the factors that influence comprehension in students. These include:

  • purpose
  • text types
  • vocabulary
  • word recognition
  • fluency
  • reading skills and strategies
  • metacognition
  • timeliness
  • generalisation
  • interdependence.

Complete this online PD session with Anne where she offers teaching strategies that will help build comprehension skills amongst your students.

Download this document prior to completing the online session.

Classroom activity sheets

We've developed 12 FREE activity sheets for you to use in your classroom to start building comprehension skills in your students.

Resources to help build reading comprehension skills

Oxford has developed a series of resources to help you guide your students to become better readers and build their comprehension skills. Click on the links below for more information.

OZBOX is a comprehensive and engaging program for Years 3–6 that provides full coverage of the Australian Curriculum for Science, and Humanities and Social Sciences, specifically History and Geography.

OZBOX contains highly visual, informative and detailed topic cards, giving students the opportunity to read, comprehend and engage with content aligned explicitly to the Australian Curriculum. There are four different topic cards for each Australian Curriculum content description. The cards are written at different reading levels – below, on and above – to allow for differentiated instruction. OZBOX:

  • provides opportunities for students to practise comprehension skills and strategies
  • provides opportunities for students to demonstrate research and writing skills
  • is suitable for shared, guided and independent reading and writing
  • includes QR codes that link to real-life videos, allowing for deeper learning and engagement with the subject content.

When you purchase OZBOX, your individual teaching digital licence included in the box can be upgraded for FREE so all the teachers in your year level can have access to the digital components as well as all the teaching support available via Oxford Owl.

Oxford Literacy helps students learn to read, build reading fluency, and encourages reading for practice and pleasure. The books support students by reflecting their interests and using words from the Oxford Wordlist, a contemporary high-frequency wordlist researched and developed in Australia. The titles are levelled to build students’ confidence and help them progress.

Oxford Literacy for students includes:

  • a range of fiction and non-fiction titles
  • non-fiction titles written for the Australian Curriculum: English, history, science and mathematics, making reading even more meaningful and relevant (levels 1–23).

Oxford Literacy for teachers includes:

  • guided reading notes allow educators to use the series in the classroom in a small-group context and enables educators to offer scaffolded support to students, providing opportunities for students to apply reading strategies as they move towards reading independence
  • one activity sheet per book
  • one reading record sheet per book.

All teaching support can be accessed for FREE via Oxford Owl.

Oxford Literacy is now more affordable for all schools with a 30% price reduction. Plus, for a limited time, receive free whole-school access for 12 months to Oxford Owl Student Bookshelf with qualifying orders. For more information on this offer, click here.

Would you like more information?

Book an appointment with your Educational Consultant today to receive a FREE copy of the Oxford Wordlist poster for your classroom.