What Does Not Work for Comprehension Instruction

Regardless of the strategies and activities you use, keep in mind the goal of comprehension instruction and make sure that what students do helps them achieve that goal. Not everything will. Listed below are some common strategies that do not help students develop a justifiable, personal interpretation of text.


Reason Why It Does Not Work

Quizzes, computer based or otherwise

Quizzes are assessment, not instruction. They address the lowest level of knowledge and thinking, recall, because that is the only thing they can assess easily. They cannot address higher levels of thinking or other forms of demonstration, and they do not include opportunities to explore ideas, refine justifications, or build background knowledge. To the extent they attempt to address higher levels, they still assume a single correct interpretation, regardless of the student’s personal and justifiable interpretation. In brief, they do not and cannot measure comprehension.

Individual instruction

I would call this minimally effective. A teacher and student can work together, can have discussions, and can perform a variety of tasks to demonstrate knowledge—all of which lead to comprehension. On the other hand, without other students or other people involved, the instruction value will be limited.

True/false, yes/no, and right/wrong questions and discussion

The point of comprehension instruction is not to get the right answer but to develop a defensible interpretation. Questions that only allow a “correct” answer do not lead to this goal.

Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)

SSR is not comprehension instruction. It might be a precursor to instruction, and it might be used as first step towards developing comprehension, but it is not instruction by itself. This is not to say that students should not read to themselves, but this is not enough. You cannot have students reading silently and call it comprehension instruction—because it isn’t.

Arts and Crafts

Draw me a picture of…. Create a model of…. Etc. Although fun and engaging, these are not instruction. They might be assessment. They also do not require higher-order thinking skills and do not increase a student’s knowledge and understanding. You might use them to increase students’ interest in a text, but they are not valuable from an instructional perspective.