The Pinnacle – Comprehension

Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

The final component of Konza’s Big Six and the goal of reading is comprehension. Each of the first five components of the Big Six contributes to comprehension. This is a summary of Konza’s original paper and the supporting paper on comprehension.


10motivaposters-seussComprehension is not just finding answers in a piece of text – it is an active process whereby the reader creates a version of the text in his or her mind (Konza, 2011).

To comprehend text, students not only need to be able to decode but to also understand: vocabulary; background knowledge; the semantic and syntactic structures to help predict relationships between words; and verbal reasoning. Comprehension requires engagement with the text at a deep level.

Researchers have identified a number of behaviours and strategies that good readers use to gain meaning from text.  The following are four important behaviours that characterise good readers and these are expanded upon in Konza’s supporting paper on comprehension.

Briefly, good readers:

  1. Understand the purpose of their reading– they know why they are reading and how to accomplish the task eg when to skim, when to scan or when to read closely.
  2. Understand the purpose of the text – they are aware of how the author’s purpose is reflected in the a text and the particular characteristics of different text types.
  3. Monitor their comprehension – they can integrate what they are reading with what they already know; focus on relevant parts of the text; distinguish between major content and supporting detail; monitor predictions; and evaluate content.
  4. Adjust their reading strategies – they know when to go back and reread; when to slow reading rate; and when to use chunking and decoding strategies with their vocabulary knowledge.

Levels of text comprehension

Independent level: reader can read most of text fluently (no more than 1 in 20 words difficult – success rate of at least 95%).  To gain meaning from the text, students need to be able to read it fluently.

Instructional level: reader finds text challenging but manageable – can read with support (1 word in10 is difficult or unknown – success rate of 90%). Must have support.

Frustration level: reader has difficulty with more than 1 word in 10 – success rate less than 90%.  Constant interruption results in frustration. Reading the text aloud exposes them to more sophisticated language structures and vocabulary – teacher can also do think alouds.

Guidelines and strategies

  1. Comprehension needs to be taught, not just tested – strategies need to be taught and explained along with guided practice.
  2. A variety of reading materials should be used, including short text – text types of all lengths can be used with short ones being particularly useful for struggling readers.
  3. Active listening should be taught – oral comprehension precedes reading comprehension but requires active listening. Give students tasks such as listening for specific information and teaching them strategies to remember the information. Barrier games require active listening and can be adapted for any age group.
  4. Readers need multiple strategies – students need a range of active comprehension strategies (see below – elaborations from Year 4 Australian Curriculum English).

Specific strategies for developing comprehension

I will list Konza’s specific strategies and a couple of the ideas. For more detail, go to her supporting paper.

  1. Prepare students before reading – what do students already know, make predictions using title and illustrations, discuss other texts on similar topic, introduce new vocabulary.
  2. Facilitate engagement during reading aloud – read story/section with few interruptions – questions before and after reading more effective than during reading, emphasise new words that were introduced before reading, stop a few times for comments.
  3. Facilitate student comprehension during independent reading – teach students to use ‘fix-up’ strategies when meaning is lost, help them make connections.
  4. Promote comprehension after reading – identify key words, look for sequence and cause and effect, link to own experiences, retell story in different way – puppets, change the ending, change to another form, use graphic organisers, use glossaries, dictionary and thesaurus.
  5. Use questioning as a comprehension strategy – examples are Blank’s levels of questioning, Bloom’s taxonomy, 3H (Here, Hidden, In my Head).

Guidelines for classroom questioning

Konza also lists a number of guidelines for classroom questioning such as: phrasing questions clearly, using lower order questions and a brisk pace when checking understanding of basic factual material;  using extended wait time for higher order questioning; asking questions before and after reading for older and higher ability students; and mainly asking questions after reading for younger students and those who are struggling.

Konza (2011) concludes by writing that comprehension enhances both the quality of our learning and the quality of our lives. Some children will acquire comprehension skills easily whereas others will require teachers to have a deep understanding of all the processes involved and how best to teach them. the simplest way

My Addition

Australian Curriculum English

For readers in Australia – these are the comprehension strategies mentioned in English/Year 4/Literacy/Interpreting, analysing, evaluating

Use comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning to expand content knowledge, integrating and linking ideas and analysing and evaluating texts (ACELY1692)

  • making connections between the text and students’ own experience and other texts
  • making connections between information in print and images
  • building and using prior knowledge and vocabulary
  • finding specific literal information
  • asking and answering questions
  • creating mental images
  • finding the main idea of a text
  • inferring meaning from the ways communication occurs in digital environments including the interplay between words, images, and sounds
  • bringing subject and technical vocabulary and concept knowledge to new reading tasks, selecting and using
  • texts for their pertinence to the task and the accuracy of their information

Australian Curriculum

Oral language


IMG_1147The Big Six

In 2011, Deslea Konza wrote a series of papers entitled Understanding the reading process. She identified six major components for the effective teaching of reading and called them The Big SixThey included:

  1. Oral language
  2. Phonological awareness
  3. Phonics
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Fluency
  6. Comprehension

Konza (2011) stated that although reading is difficult to reduce to a small number of components,  the big six was one way of synthesising the major findings of an enormous number of empirical studies into the components of an effective reading program.

The following blog is a brief summary of her first component from her original paper and supporting paper on Oral language.

Oral Language

Children talkingOral language is important for both reading and writing. Children who have been immersed in rich and increasingly complex conversations will have the advantage of increased vocabulary development, understanding language structure and the ability to tune in to the sounds of the English language. Competency with oral language is necessary for understanding language at a printed level as oral language will help develop strong vocabulary, strong grammatical skills and an ability to reason and infer.

It is also important for children to have experiences with books and other forms of print. Awareness of how marks on a page represent language develops from a very young age and this comes about from watching people read and write both for pleasure and other purposes and having stories and books read to them.

Oral language abilities are linked to the development of early reading skills and to reading in the middle years of primary school.  Oral language positions the child as an active, literate oral language learner and prepares him or her for the challenge of learning to read (Konza, 2011).

What do we do for students who don’t have the benefit of a language-rich and print-rich environment? These students will be further disadvantaged if this is not recognised and acknowledged by the school. As Konza (2011) states all young children need a stimulating language environment at school, but for children from these less literacy-rich backgrounds, the need is urgent and paramount.

General principles regarding oral language development

  1. Refer children for assessment if speech and language delays are significant – a hearing assessment and a referral to a speech pathologist if speech or language is delayed or different from peers.
  2. Build oral language across all year levels – oral language proficiency assists with relationships, communication, business and personal lives and employment. Teachers can continue to assist students become more articulate and sophisticated users of language.
  3. Allow wait time  – waiting at least 3-5 seconds gives children thinking time (OWL – observe, wait, listen)

Teacher language

  1. Model clear and correct use of oral language.
  2. Monitor student understanding.
  3. Adjust language according to student need.

Teaching strategies

  1. Teach active listening- active listening requires selective and sustained attention, working memory, cognitive processing and information storage and recall mechanisms. Barrier games and story grammar activities help to develop active listening and for older students, teaching note-taking skills from oral input.
  2. Build on student language – elaborate by adding new information, extend through questioning, reinforce through repetition, model self-talk, taking turns, eye contact and appropriate social distance.
  3. Build oral language development into daily routines and classroom activities – do this during roll call, transition time, collection of materials, giving of instructions.
  4. Provide opportunities for social interaction – Oral language develops better through one-on-one conversations with a better language user. Who is doing the talking in your classroom? Students need as many opportunities as possible to engage in discussions and conversations – pairs, small groups, parents, volunteers, aides.
  5. Explore books together – reading narrative texts provides oral language support for both younger and older children. Picture books can stimulate language and promote a rich discussion of ideas.
  6. Model thinking processes through ‘think alouds’ – the more difficult the problem the more likely we are to articulate our thinking processes as we search for a solution – modelling self-talk is very useful for problem solving and for managing emotions.
  7. Consider the language demands of each lesson – need to explicitly teach the new vocabulary and other elements of language.
  8. ‘Correcting’ children’s communication – most effective response is to model the correct way without explicitly pointing out the error.

Konza (2011) concluded that to help develop these critical skills, it is important to:

  •  engage in conversations with children as often as possible.
  •  provide as many opportunities for discussion and conversation with other fluent speakers.
  •  explore books together.

Reading aloud LPB Laos.jpg
By Blue PloverOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0,