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How Can I Help My Fifth-Grader With Reading Comprehension?

By Allison Gardenswartz, Consulting Educator


My child has difficulty with reading. She had a tutor and that helped her improve her reading. However, what has not improved is her reading comprehension. What can we do to help her improve her reading comprehension?


In reading comprehension at the fifth-grade level, the key is to isolate the specific skills and work them individually. There are different categories or kinds of reading comprehension with the most basic being extracting and remembering details from a story. Start with that category and evaluate her ability to just pull out the information. If she struggles to find the information, you can use a highlighter and find it within the passage/story and then mark it. It can also be helpful to pre- read the questions before reading the passage so that she knows what information she is looking for when reading.

Once she is able to retrieve information she can then move on to finding the main idea. Discuss what the concept of main idea means, and help her to choose the main idea in her reading. There are many practice books that work on these types of questions that perhaps the tutor can review with her. Another helpful option is to read the same pieces, whether they be novels (chapter books) or stories and then discuss together for comprehension, without formally answering questions. Ask questions like, "What do you think the point of the story was?" (main idea). Or "What do you think the author was trying to say to us?" (author's purpose). You can also ask "What do you think happens next?" (predicting an outcome). Sometimes by simply discussing these ideas the notion of critically evaluating a story can be learned and then applied to the typical reading comprehension passages. Students enjoy the discussion part as well, and it doesn't feel as much like school work!

Allison Gardenswartz is the founder of a San Diego tutoring center specializing in gifted and remedial learning and test preparation studies. An educator for over 15 years, Allison is an expert in identifying and enhancing the learning abilities of school-age children. Allison now fully devotes her time to parent education, consulting and college counseling. Allison has a teaching credential and has taught for several years in various public school systems. She has three children: Jacob, 11, Sofia, 7, and newly adopted Ryan, who is 3.

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 daughter is a fifth grader as well which is experiencing comprehension problem when reading books for fourth or fifth graders. When I watch her read, I see that she says the sentences well but doesn't digest the main idea..she gets lost in the details.. It is so hard for her to focus on the book unless I force her to... No noises or simulations, eyes preferably closed and I always suggest to her to picture the story as a movie streaming in her head.. you probably guessed by now that she has ADD/ADHD... How can I improve her focus and comprehension in her classroom setting? or when I am not around? She gets discouraged when she doesn't understand and looses focus immediately.. I cannot be with her 24/7.. how can I help her assume the responsibility and provide her a dependable tool that helps her focus on her own?"
"How can I make my 11 year old daughter like reading?"