Did They Get It?: Classroom Ideas to Simultaneously Support and Assess Adolescents' Reading Comprehension

Classroom Ideas to Simultaneously Support and Assess Adolescents' Reading Comprehension

In her article "Promoting Reading Comprehension in Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities," Dr. Marcia Kosanovich asserted that reading comprehension instruction remains important for secondary students. After all, fourth- through 12th-graders spend most of their time in content-area classes, all of which use literary or informational text. As a result, middle- or high-school students with poor reading comprehension skills are at an increased risk of falling behind if they cannot understand and use the information they've read in class.

Secondary-school educators in all disciplines have a vested interest in supporting their students' reading comprehension skills. Drawing from the What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide on improving adolescent literacy, Dr. Kosanovich recommends that educators emphasize multiple skills with their struggling secondary students, along with comprehension practice before, during, and after reading. Here is an overview of the after-reading instructional practices she suggests:   

  1. First, students should be directly and indirectly taught to use self-questioning strategies to reflect on what they've read.

  2. Second, students should practice summarizing the main ideas of the text.

  3. Third, students should be taught how to use graphic organizers to summarize, review, and make connections.

Educators can use these practices to reinforce reading comprehension skills after completing a reading activity. When thoughtfully designed, these important learning opportunities yield products that can also serve as informal assessments. Informal assessments can be as simple as a short comprehension check or as complex as a large-scale group activity. From these exercises, educators can see how well students understand the course material and what areas of instruction need more review. Below are 12 ideas for secondary-school educators in all disciplines that apply the instructional practices recommended in Dr. Kosanovich's article while simultaneously creating opportunities for informal assessment.


1.  Use self-questioning strategies  

  • After reading a passage of informational text, ask students to write a quiz question with an explicit answer taken from the text.

  • Ask students to answer the six journalism questions about what happened in a literary text. Who was the main character? What happened? When did the event take place? Where did the story occur? Why did it happen that way? How did the event occur?

  • Before transitioning from reading to an activity, ask students to answer the question "Why is this important for me to know?" about the text they just read.

  • Ask students to explain what areas of an informational text are new ideas and which relate back to ideas they've previously explored in class.  

2.  Summarize main ideas

  • When summarizing a long informational text, assign each student the task of focusing on a different paragraph. Then, ask all students to work together to find the main idea of the entire piece.

  • Assess how well students can summarize and prioritize new information by asking them to restate the text using only 15 words, then only 10, and then only five.

  • When assessing comprehension of a literary text, consider how well students understand point of view. Ask them to retell the story from the perspective of a minor character. What information is important in both versions of the story?

  • Ask students to describe what a text is about using only one word. Group together the students who chose the same word and ask them to explain how that word summarizes the text.


3.  Use graphic organizers to summarize, review, and make connections

  • Hand out copies of blank graphic organizers and ask students to fill in the main points of an informational text as they read. In addition to being used as an informal comprehension assessment, these organizers can be passed back and used as study guides and review material.  

  • Graphic organizers can also be used as an informal group assessment. Create a large-scale graphic organizer on the whiteboard or on an oversized piece of bulletin board paper. Students can use Post-It notes to answer questions from the text and place these in the appropriate section of the graphic organizer.  

  • In certain subjects, understanding the correct order of events is an essential part of reading comprehension. Ask students to create a timeline of events (or steps in a formula) to demonstrate their understanding of an informational text.  

  • When students need to connect information from the text to their own experience, support them as they visually organize the similarities. For this activity (and informal assessment!), students can create a web relating a main event of the story to three of their personal experiences.


Each of these after-reading activities serve to reinforce reading comprehension skills and offer an opportunity for informal assessment. They can be used with informational or literary texts in nearly any content area. Share these ideas with educators at your school to help support struggling readers in each of their courses.  

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