HomeAcademics & ActivitiesAcademic Skills

Ask the Experts

How Can I Help With Reading Comprehension?

By Dr. Ruth Jacoby, Educational Consultant


My first-grader is having problems with reading comprehension. We received a letter from the school stating that he may not be promoted to second grade because he is not reaching the right levels and goals for his school and grade.

I must say they have a very confusing way of evaluating students now, but in any case, he is not having trouble reading, he is having trouble giving back details, restating, and retelling a story with detail from the beginning, middle and end. He doesn't seem to be focused and honestly doesn't seem interested. But he loves to listen to a story and he reads on his own. He also reads every word he can when he sees one.

He doesn't seem to like to sound out words and does a lot of guessing or relies on memory of other words that look the same and attempts to say those words instead of the right words.

I look forward to hearing back from you with some good suggestions on how to move forward.


Try this game. I call it "I Spy." When you are in the car tell your child to look for a sign or a car or restaurant that starts with a certain sound. For example: You say, "I spy a vehicle that starts with a B and it is yellow". Your child should look around and say, "I spy a school bus." This is a game to assist with developing phonetic skills.

Also try to establish a consistent routine for you and your child. Set aside a time every day, at least 15 minutes, to talk with your child. Ask him to show you the homework that he did, and to share with you how his day went at school. After dinner, turn the television off and either read together or separately. If you show him that you read for enjoyment and that television is not as important as a book, he may learn to follow your example.

To further encourage reading at home, get a library card for each family member. Make plans to visit the library, or a local book store, as part of your family time. Make it a positive family activity and get a treat afterward. Act as a role model by checking out a book for yourself and then let your child see you reading it. Help your child pick out books that interest him at his reading level. Check with his teacher for a suggested list of book titles and authors. Get a calendar of special events that are held at the library and make a point to visit during those times.

To create a stronger reader try these simple strategies as suggested by the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Invite your child to read with you everyday. You can play a game where he reads a sentence and you read the next one. As he gains confidence, try having him read a page and you read the next one until he can do it on his own.
  • Read your child's favorite book over and over. The more you read to him, the better reader he will become.
  • Stop and ask about the pictures and about what is happening in the story.

If these strategies are not succeeding, meet with the teacher or maybe the reading specialist, if your child's school has one on staff. Get their suggestions and seek their advice. The skills he seems to be lacking are important ones and as stories get longer and fewer pictures appear, your son may exhibit further difficulty and frustration. Remember, you are your child's best teacher. That is why it is important to act as a team and make plans, so your child reaches full expectations for being a good reader.

Dr. Ruth Jacoby has been involved in education for more than 30 years as an educator, principal and currently as an educational consultant in Florida. She is the co-author of the School Talk! Success Series including Parent Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication With the School and Your Child, Homework Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication About Your Child's Homework and Test Talk!: Understanding the Stakes and Helping Your Children Do Their Best.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"My son is 11 years old and he is in the third grade. He has been retained twice and he has reading comprehension problems. He recently took a test at school to see if he could be promoted to the fourth grade. He did not pass the test, and I try to help him all the time, but he still doesn't comprehend. I need help and don't know what else to do! "
"My 7 yr. old grandaughter loves to read. But her teacher tells us she is having a hard time with comprehension of what she reads. She does take medicine for a.d.d. /What would help us at home to help her? thanks, Joyce Chavis- nana"
"My second grader is having same problem. His teacher bragged about him being an excellent reader and commented on all reportcards and conferences that he had a focus problem but never mentioned a reading comprehension problem and now getting his report card he's being retained with all passing grades. Is this legal?"
"My son is in the first grade and is on the border of being retained. He knows his sounds really well and is a great speller. His teacher says that he lacks reading comprehension, but when others and myself work with he seem to do fine. He have received d's and f's the entire school year. I have met with the teacher and higher staff. According to the teacher he only shows little improvement since the first day of school. Also, he have problems with counting by 2's, 5's, and 20's. In addition, counting and recognizing money is also a challenge for him, along with 2 digit addition and subtraction. For parents, who childs love music is a great website where you can buy learning audio cd's/dvd's on many different subjects and it has really helped my son in reading. Now, were trying the math and its great because he love music and it teaches in rap, country, or rock. Phonic songs are great 4 the kids."
"Thanks u for your advice, because my son is really struggling with his reading comphension, if their is any thing else i could do to improve his acheivements, please reply with more suggestions. Thank you!"
"Dear Dr. Jacoby, At this time I'm trying to realize what I can do to help my child. He is an eighth grader who has demonstrated reading comprehension difficulty on his standardized tests since his fifth grade school year. The problem didn't appear recognizable to me until this time. Prior to the fifth grad year he was graded as 'average' on his test results... Since that time he as been 'below average'. I have taken on the task of reading with him to hopefully help him to improve. We've had gains but hey have been slow to come. How do I get to the root of his problem and who can I solicit help from. I'm in the sate of Alabama and my son attends a public school. He attends a magnet school and therefore, does not receive the attention that a Title I school would receive with federal assistance. I refuse to just allow him to deep further into an area where I can't exactly say if my help is adequate but to do nothing is totally inadequate. I need some suggestions. Also when a child gets in the situation that my son is in, is there a frame of time to expect significant improvement?"
"my third grader has the same problem he reads well but comprehens litle, pls. let me know what programs i can used to help him. thank you "
"I am a teacher and have been working with students with learning difficulties for many, many years. I have had amazing results by using dot patterns -- I wish they were part of the curriculum and that all students had to do them daily. For reading, I use word decoding lists and little reading booklets that match these decoding lists. I teach math by giving the student techniques to use since struggling students can rarely memorize math facts. I have a website that explains some of my techniques and that has the worksheets that I have developed over the years to help these students. Hopefully, it will give you a few ideas. Good luck. "
"My son is having problems with reading at a 1st grade level he is already 8 years old and I want to help him so we read every day and he just sits and cries because he can't figure out how to sound out words. What should I do? I am trying everything I know how and nothing is seeming to work. Please help!!!!!!!! "
"I would also check out, 'visual spatial,' and, 'right brain,' learners. Your son sounds just like my daughter. Work also on, 'whole word,' reading, not phonetics if he doesn't seem to be getting that. I told my daughter what, 'setting,' was then she read the story, then I asked her how the story would be different if the setting were different and I gave an example. She understood it when I explained it that way when her teachers thought that she just could not understand it. Good Luck!"
"My third grader has comprehension problems. He reads well, but comprehends little. What programs are out there for me. I am a homeschooler. Thank you"