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


Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

my powerful words

My powerful words poster for a week

In my role, I deliver a lot of professional development and I love presenting a session on vocabulary. I was lucky enough to ‘inherit’ an original professional development session on vocabulary from my mentor and friend, Kay and her colleague, Chris. Over the years, I have delivered several vocabulary sessions and I don’t think any one session has been the same.

I am always reading new research and incorporating new ideas and strategies and there are a couple of ideas in Konza’s papers that I will use in a session I am running in a few weeks.  In today’s blog, I will be summarising Konza’s synthesis of research on vocabulary, both from her original paper and the supporting vocabulary paper.


Bromley (2007, p 528) wrote vocabulary is a principal contributor to comprehension, fluency and achievement. Vocabulary development is both an outcome of comprehension and a precursor to it, with word meanings making up as much s 70-80% of comprehension.

Vocabulary is a key component of reading and if students know the meaning of a word, there is far more chance that they will be able to read the word and make meaning of the sentence. Vocabulary is generally learnt indirectly through repeated exposure – conversations, listening to stories, reading and through the media.

Some children will arrive at school as highly competent vocabulary users and will absorb words easily. They will be more likely to acquire the skills of reading easily and thereby continue to build their vocabulary knowledge. Other children come to school with small vocabularies and are often not skilled in learning new words, have a more restricted range of words and less access to the vocabulary of books. Consequently, they are more likely to have difficulty acquiring the skills of reading and will be unable to use the skills of reading to develop vocabulary further.

A number of researchers have found that direct instruction is effective for vocabulary growth in all students. In primary school, a rich bank of words that permeate across many contexts needs to be developed. ‘Rich and robust’ (Beck & McKeown, 2002) vocabulary development entails careful choice of words for instruction, strategies that develop deep understanding, regular use and an increasing ‘word consciousness’ in all students. Biemiller (2010) recommends teaching as many new words as possible and Pressley et al (2007) advocates ‘flooding’ classrooms with a range of long-term vocabulary interventions. Konza’s paper on vocabulary includes guidelines and strategies from all three ‘schools of thought’.

Guidelines and Strategies for Vocabulary Development

1. Build vocabulary instruction into everyday routine

  • model high quality language.
  • incorporate vocabulary building into directions and teaching.
  • organise frequent small group interactions to build oral language.
  • preteach critical vocabulary.

2. Select the best words to teach

  • Konza lists 5 questions that will help with word selection (see her paper).

    vocabulary in maths

    Some tier 2 and tier 3 words for a year 2 maths unit

  • There are three tiers of words: Tier 1 – basic and high frequency words; Tier 2 – words that appear more frequently in text than in oral language and   are less likely to be learnt without assistance; and Tier 3 – subject specific words.
  • Tier 2 words should be the focus of direct vocabulary instruction – maximum of 7-10 Tier 2 words from any one book or piece of text.

3. Explicitly teach word meanings

  • Read aloud the sentence and show the word.
  • Have students repeat it several times – brainstorm meanings – look for helpful parts – reread the sentence.
  • Explain the meaning with a student-friendly definition and synonyms.
  • Provide examples.
  • Ask questions to determine understanding.
  • Provide sentences that students can judge as being true or false.
  • Students write own sentences to be judged true or false.
  • Consciously use the word throughout the following days.

4. Teach students to use contextual strategies

  • An example are words that may be in bold or italics – indicates important or new terms and are often explained in a glossary.

5. Teach students to use graphic organisers to explain word meanings

  • using concept maps, word trees, word maps and Y charts are different ways of explaining word meanings in detail.
  • help students develop a clear and accurate concept of a word.


    Using the online instagrok to form a word map



The goal is to develop ‘word consciousness’ – enjoying learning new words and using them in different ways. Teachers who appreciate and enjoy words and understand the power and value of a rich vocabulary pass that enthusiasm and knowledge on to their students.

The word snoop

Enjoying the English language




Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

I am really enjoying reading Konza’s series of articles on Understanding the reading process. She has synthesised the research beautifully and written the articles in a practical and teacher-friendly way. I wish I had known a lot of these things when I was first teaching in the early years.

So far, I have summarised oral language and phonological awareness – two incredibly important foundational skills for reading, writing and spelling. Today’s blog will look at the section on phonics in her first paper and the supporting article Phonics.


matPhonics is understanding there is a relationship between the individual sounds (phonemes) of spoken language and the letters (graphemes) of written language.  Once children understand that word can be broken up into a series of sounds, they need to learn the relationship between those sounds and letters – ‘the alphabetic code’ or the system that the English language uses to map sounds onto paper (Konza, 2011).

There is a lot of debate around how and when phonics should be taught but Konza stated that the empirical evidence points towards a synthetic approach. My summary will focus on this approach. The single letters and common letter combinations are taught in a discrete, systematic and explicit method that facilitates blending.

Early blending is critical and begins as soon as students know letters can be blended into vc or cvc words. This is then practised in easy, decodable text which will benefit all students but particularly those who are struggling to learn the relationships quickly. Decodable texts should be a short-term strategy to build automaticity and fluency needed to read for meaning.

Although simple, decodable texts are used to practise phonics, the research is very clear that children should be using their newly developed phonic skills in the context of motivating, connected text as soon as possible and that they should continue to have high quality texts read to them (Konza, 2011).

I really like how Konza stresses the importance of phonics instruction for most beginning and all struggling readers but that it has be to be part of a balanced reading program, one that includes rich oral language instruction and modelled and guided reading. She also states that phonics instruction should never take more time in a day than the other elements of the literacy program.

Konza also states that phonics instruction will not assist students when they encounter irregular or sight words.sight words Sight words need to be taught explicitly and systematically, followed by regular practise in context.

The goal of teaching phonics and sight words to the point of automaticity is rapid word recognition. Immediate and accurate recognition of words allows the reader to concentrate on meaning rather than decoding.

When to start and for how long?

If phonics instruction begins in prep, single letter-sounds and common combinations should be completed by year 1. By this time, letter-sound knowledge should be automated and students should be able to read simple material accurately and comprehend it. Phonics instruction continues after that in the form of spelling instruction and word analysis and continues until students are competent.

Guidelines for teaching phonics systematically

  • Teach letter-sound correspondences: in a sequence that introduces the most common sound for a letter; that occur frequently; and to begin with, separate those that look and sound alike.
  • Begin with continuous sounds (/s/, /m/ and vowels) as they are easy to blend.
  • As soon as students know letter-sounds that blend into words, help them combine them with magnetic letters.letters
  • Provide practice with connected text comprised mainly of simple vc and cvc words (eg Fitzroy and Dandelion series).
  • Extend phonics instruction beyond single letter-sound correspondences to include more complex letter patterns (double letters, consonant digraphs eg th, ch), vowel digraphs (eg ea, ai, ou) and vowel consonant digraphs (eg aw, ay, oy) and other commonly occurring patterns (eg –igh, -ear) in junior and middle primary years.
  • Extend phonics instruction to include morphological elements and structural analysis in upper primary years.

NB Do not hold students back if they are moving quickly through the sequence – the speed with which some children learn this material when explicitly taught can be surprising.

Like phonological awareness, phonics is not an entire reading program for beginning readers. Young children should also be listening to stories and information texts, reading texts both aloud and silently, and writing letters, words, messages and stories. The explicit and systematic teaching of phonics in the beginning phases of reading instruction assists students to master the code that underpins the written form of our language. The goal is for students to read for purpose – reading to understand, learn and enjoy.

Phonological Awareness

Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

I am really impressed with Konza’s Research into practice papers on Understanding the Reading Process.  They are easy to read, bring attention to students who don’t come from print-rich and language-rich backgrounds and give some great ideas to focus on in the classroom. Konza identified the Big 6 for the teaching of reading. My last blog explored her take on oral language. This one is a brief summary of phonological awareness, taken from her first paper and supporting paper.

Phonological awareness

phonological awareness umbrella

Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that focuses on the sounds of speech. There are many components to phonological awareness with the most significant being phonemic awareness (the ability to focus on the separate, individual sounds in words – the phonemes). Many researchers have written that phonemic awareness of preschool children is the single best predictor of their future reading ability (Stanovich and Stanovich, 2003).

Image from

Being able to blend and segment phonemes are crucial phonemic skills for reading and spelling. Separating phonemes can be difficult for children because sounds are compressed and tend to overlap in speech (coarticulation).  This is easy for the listener but disguises the segments. If children cannot hear the separate sounds, they cannot relate them to letters which will make learning to read and spell an alphabetic language very difficult.

Early oral language and literacy experiences tune children into the sounds of language and prepares them to read.


This is a broad hierarchy of how phonological skills develop.phonological skills

Rhythm – In English, syllables provide the rhythm. Clapping beats in their names or in multi-syllabic words helps students tune in to rhythm. This is also important long-term as chunking words into syllables is an important strategy for both reading and spelling.

Rhyme – Students need to understand which part of the word is rhyming so teachers need to model recognition and production of rhyme. An early sign of developing phonemic awareness is recognising and creating rhyme as children are deleting the first phoneme and replacing it – dog, log, hog.  Word play and rhyming activities are important for any student who hasn’t had a background rich in rhyming.

Onset and rime – These are divisions within syllables. Many students will acquire this naturally but it is an important step for some before developing phonemic awareness. All syllables have a rime, but not necessarily an onset eg at ( – at), mat (m – at), dog (d- og). Oral rhyming activities build this understanding.  I have found using magnetic letters on a whiteboard also very successful – this kind of activity has also builds in movement.

Phonemic awareness – ability to tune into separate single sounds, to play with them, segment them, swap them around. For students who struggle with phonemic skills, tt is important to teach this in a logical sequence.

  • phoneme isolation – the first phoneme is the easiest, then the final and then the middle phoneme. What is the first sound in man? /m/ Last sound in duck? /k/ Middle sound in cup? /u/.
  • phoneme blending – one of the most important and requires careful attention. To begin with, use continuous sounds and do not stop between the phonemes – /mmmmaaaaaannnnn/ man When children can do this, then the phonemes can be separated /m/ /a/ /n/  Then the ‘stop’ consonants like /p/, /b/, /g/, /d/, and /t/ can be introduced. It is really important not to distort the phonemes eg pat should be said ‘paaat’ not ‘paaatuh’. After blending cvc words, help children blend ccvc and cvcc words and words with long vowel sounds.
  • phoneme segmentation – this requires children to count out separate phonemes in a word, saying them as they tap or count it. It is important to model  multiple examples of vc and cvc words before moving to ccvc and cvcc words.  eg at – /a/ / t/   2
  • phoneme manipulation – this is most sophisticated phonemic skill.  Phoneme deletion, addition and a combination of both are included in this. eg listen to train without the /t/. rain

An example of this developing phonological awareness is using the word dog. Most children could relate the to word and understand its meaning – a furry pet.IMG_0497 (480x640) (2) Rhyming words would be log, hog, bog. The word dog could then be separated into onset and rime (d – og) and then finally into all its phonemes (d – o – g). Without these experiences, children will have greater difficulty identifying the separate sounds in words and then translating the sounds into alphabetic script.

When should phonics skills be introduced? Once children can discriminate separate phonemes eg answer the questions in the phoneme isolation section.

How much time should be spent on phonemic awareness instruction? For most children, this would be about 20 hours in total which would be about 10-15 minutes a day for the first two terms of prep. After this, phonics instruction would continue.  Readiness will depend greatly on their preschool experiences and whether they have underlying phonological processing difficulties.  For some children, phonemic skill instruction may still be developing after two or more years in school but the oral will need to referenced to letters (as long as the child can detect single phonemes).

It is usually best to teach phonemic awareness in small groups and early screening such as Queensland’s Early Start On Entry to Prep will assist with this.

Principles of teaching phonemic awareness

  1. Everyone working with phonemic awareness can articulate sounds being taught accurately and clearly (teachers, aides, volunteers)
  2. When first introducing letters, refer to their sound, not the letter name
  3. Work in small groups of 4-6
  4. For children with difficulties, work in groups of 1-3
  5. Concentrate on blending and segmenting
  6. Build from easy to hard when constructing practice items (vc, cvc, ccvc, cvcc, long vowel words)
  7. Give children multiple opportunities to practice (complete three successful practice items three day is a row before you can be confident they have achieved the skill – review skill a week or two later)

Konza (2011) concluded by writing that phonemic awareness is not a complete reading program and will not guarantee reading and writing success for all students. It provides the foundation upon which independent reading, writing and spelling can be built.