Help struggling child to become ‘active’ reader

Q: Our sixth-grader is struggling to understand her social studies and science textbooks. Comprehension has never been easy for her. She has a private reading tutor who comes to our house twice a week. Plus, I still read to her every evening. Even though she listens, she is unable to answer simple questions about the story. What can be done to improve her reading and listening comprehension? — Worried

A: Reading problems can crop up any time. It is not unusual for them to appear in sixth grade, when the amount of reading greatly increases.

Since your child has always had some problems with comprehension, it is past time for the school to investigate why she is having these problems. Make sure that she is tested right away. This will make it much easier for the tutor to give her the help she needs.

Keep up the nightly reading with your daughter, because it will help her learn more sophisticated vocabulary and concepts as she is working on improving her comprehension skills. Start asking questions more frequently; don't wait until the end of the story.

In order for your daughter to truly understand what she reads, you want to help her become what is called an "active" reader. Active readers are always thinking as they read. Here are some hints that you can use to help your daughter improve her reading comprehension:


• When your daughter is reading fiction, the keys to understanding the story are knowing the characters, what problems they are trying to solve and when and where the story is taking place. Talk to her about what she is reading. You may even want to read the same book so you know what the story is all about and can help her understand it better.

• When your daughter is reading nonfiction, she needs to establish a purpose for reading the material before starting. You can help by asking her what she expects to learn before she begins to read a short passage and by asking what she has learned after reading it. Learning to ask and answer her own questions will help improve her reading comprehension.

Send questions to Dear Teacher, in care of the Post-Bulletin, Box 395, Carmel, IN 46082-0395; or e-mail:

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