Teaching Strategies for Reading Comprehension in Upper Elementary Classrooms

In this post, I share my teaching strategies for reading comprehension in my upper elementary classroom. These effective reading strategies are easy to implement and they have been great for helping my students become better readers.

Plus you can grab some FREE reading worksheets below!

*This post contains affiliate links to Amazon for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which do not cost any extra for you. Please see the full disclosure here.*

This post is a part of a series on helpful content geared toward literacy instruction in upper elementary classrooms. Here are the other posts to check out once you’ve read all of this post:

Posts with * beside their titles have free downloads available!

Why Do Strategies for Reading Comprehension Matter?

By the time students reach 3rd grade and beyond, they are–for the most part–reading in order to learn, rather than learning to read.

Strong reading comprehension skills are essential for upper elementary students.

This post breaks down strategies to effectively teach upper elementary students how to comprehend better when reading.

DISCLAIMER: Students who have barriers to their learning—whether cognitive or behavioral—or students who still struggle with fluency and decoding skills can still benefit from these strategies, but you should still refer to their IEP or learning plan to know what’s best for them.

Reading Strategy 1–Teach Students Self-Questioning Skills with Read Alouds

One major setback for students who struggle with comprehending what they’re reading has to do with whether or not the students ask themselves questions before, during, and after reading.

So I encourage this by constantly modeling it for them when I read out loud. (Yes, I STILL do read-alouds with older students and they LOVE IT!)

reading comprehension for upper elementary students
My Read Aloud with Rigor Series features printables, guided teacher questions and more–all tailored for building reading comprehension skills. Click HERE or click the image for the full details.

Don’t underestimate the simplicity of this approach. And please don’t assume older students are “beyond” being read to. No matter how cool they try to act, ALL children love a good story!!

As students get more confident using these questions, they develop the habit of stopping as they read to themselves to ask things like:

  • “Who is this story/paragraph/chapter about?
  • What just happened?
  • Why did that just happen? etc.

These basic questions then morph into deeper level questioning skills. This leads directly to my second strategy.

The free reading printables you get with this post offers great practice with this skill!

Reading Strategy 2–Teach Students to Discuss What They’ve Read

The second way I help my students develop stronger reading skills is to give chances to talk about their reading.

Once we read a short story, I give students an open-ended discussion question.

They can also talk about their reading with a partner during Buddy Reading.

To keep them on task during Partner Reading, I use Book Talk Prompt Cards like these.

These cards have made a HUGE difference during our Read-to-a-Partner time. Click the image for more details.

Make your questions complex and thought-provoking on purpose. This will stimulate discussion.

It will force students to ask even more questions and to give more descriptions with their answers. It will also require your budding readers to go back to the story for context clues and text evidence. ALL those are skills that CCSS and TEKS require.

Teaching Strategies for Reading Comprehension in Upper Elementary Classrooms
These 4th Graders are looking for evidence from their novel to prepare for our upcoming literature discussion. Click the image for a list of good chapter books for 4th and 5th graders.

These discussions stimulate deeper thinking skills. Students then rely on these skills once you turn them loose to read independently. Trust me, once you see the process in action, you will be a believer too!

Reading Strategy 3–Teach Students to Color-Code Their Notes

These nonfiction reading passages from my Teachers Pay Teachers store are aligned to informational text reading standards for upper elementary. Click HERE or click the image for more details.

This reading comprehension strategy has been especially helpful in teaching non-fiction reading comprehension.

Teaching students to take notes about what they’ve read feels like pulling teeth for both the teacher and the student when you first begin!

So I encourage my kiddos to pull out their colored pencils or skinny markers to color-code their stories.

This color-coding tip is a 2-for-1 deal: Students must read the questions FIRST, which is a reading strategy that research has shown to improve comprehension skills. Then they go back to the text to mark the evidence/answer by color.

When students write their answers in complete sentences, they can quickly go back and see their visually colorful notes.

FREE Reading Comprehension Printables that help students with reading!

Reading Strategy 4–Build Background Knowledge with Object Lessons

Another really cool and deeply impactful strategy for building reading skills is to use an object lesson.

Object lessons do not have to be time-consuming or complicated. Yet, they connect build background knowledge and increase reading comprehension in amazing ways.

I once used this emojis plush set for a character analysis lesson on the novel The Watson’s Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. 

Since we were discussing sensitive issues regarding race relations AND the time frame of the story was difficult for some of the students to relate to, the emojis made the reading lesson fun and relatable.

There is no limit to how you can incorporate object lessons into your reading routine.

My favorite book FULL of ideas on building background knowledge with object lessons is Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor.

books for kids
Be sure to give your students and kids at home a variety of reading material! Click the image for a FREE trial. I LOVE this deal!

Reading Strategy 5–Teach Students to Enjoy Reading By Making it Fun

Let’s face it, if we are boring teachers, we can have all the reading comprehension pedagogy and effective skills in the world and our kids will still hate reading.

Kids who hate reading will struggle to grow stronger developing it.

Here are some ways I’ve made reading fun in my classroom:

  • Held contest for gaining reading points
  • Hosted an all-day Read-A-Thon to raise “dojo” points as a whole group
  • Did character book dress-up days where students had to bring their book and discuss WHY they choose to dress up as that character
  • Engaged my students with “book raffles” and “book picnics”

Teaching Strategies for Reading Comprehension in Upper Elementary Classrooms
Click the image to get this pennant/banner for an easy way to track reading points in your classroom. This friendly reading competition adds fun to reading!

These are just a few of the reading comprehension fun times I’ve had with my students. One search through Pinterest and you’ll be ready to rock and roll.

The point is: find ways to keep the fun infused with your reading time. Your students will be motivated to put into practice all the reading skills you’ve worked hard to teach them.

What Are The Skills Needed for Reading Comprehension?

If you want more information on teaching strategies for reading comprehension in upper elementary classrooms, check out this list of resources:

PLUS, you can still grab your reading comprehension printables to use in the classroom!

What reading comprehension strategies do you use in your classroom?

If so, I would love to hear about your beautiful struggles to transform learning for your kiddos’ reading. Share in the comments below!

The Butterfly Teacher

10 Responses

  1. Hi my child struggles with understanding what she reads. Her school does a lot of word problems and she struggles with making sense of the question she is being asked. She finds reading boring. In other for her to analyze and think about what she is learning, you have to keep questioning her. How to I get her engaged? I feel like her school is not engaging her.

    1. Hi Zainab,
      I am so sorry to hear that your child is struggling with reading. It can be so hard to watch this happen! One solution and possible help is to have her color-code what she reads. For instance, with her word problems, ask her to highlight the question. Then she can use a different color to circle buzz words and details that help her find the answer. I also have students color-code reading comprehension passages in this way. It provides a visual element that makes the text less intimidating or boring. Try this with your child to see how it helps. 🙂

  2. Hello,
    I was wondering where I could find the comprehension passages like the one your student is color coding in the picture above. Are they in your TPT store?

    1. Hi Jamisa,
      This activity is actually from my school’s curriculum reading program. They are not in my TpT store. Thanks for asking. 🙂

  3. Hello,
    For struggling readers going into 7th grade and still comprehending around a 5-6 grade level, I’m trying to provide like a ‘toolkit,’ with strategies he can use no matter what he reads. He also struggles with the words in a question and is unsure of what to write. When he sees the words, explain, or analyze, or even the word, why he feels unsure of what to write or how to answer the question with it being so big. Would you recommend a set strategy or ‘tools,’ he can apply to all of these scenarios?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Meg,
      It sounds like your student struggles with phonics AND vocabulary. You can set up literacy centers or incorporate activities that help this student learn to decompose big words using phonics. I would also recommend having lots of vocabulary building activities to help him learn word parts and their meaning; like Greek & Latin word parts. For a short term fix, give him a reading checklist with questions that help him with context clues. That will begin to build his strength with understanding the question and build his confidence knowing what to write. 🙂

  4. Hello! When you do novel studies, do you do different genres or how do you incorporate that into your reading?

    1. Hi Olivia,
      Yes, I do have different genres for my novel studies, but sometimes the genres overlap. I choose novels based on the curriculum mapping our teaching team must follow. The mapping includes standards and different themes we have to teach in our state. So I choose novels / read alouds based on those themes & standards. My class does one novel study per grading period. (We are on a 9-week grading period.) Then each week, I include different read alouds (shorter picture books) during literacy centers.

      I hope this answer helps!

  5. Good morning! I wanted to see what you did with the AR point clubs? Did you do some sort of reward system or competition?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Christine,
      I keep track of my students’ points using our AR Banner. Then I give rewards based on how many total points they earned for the year. The rewards honestly depend on my teacher budget so they change each year. I love mini trophies and gold medallions from Amazon. I also use special pencils, pens, cute printable certificates, etc. I will be sure to add a separate post that shows some of the rewards I’ve used for my AR points clubs. Thanks!

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