Reading comprehension explained for parents

Father and son reading together
Once your child can read they’ll be working on understanding what they read and really engaging with words in their literacy lessons. Reading comprehension is also a big part of SATs. Teacher Alice Hart explains how you can help boost your child’s skills at home.

Primary school teachers assess children in reading every six weeks. Sometimes this will be by ‘teacher assessment’ where a teacher will read with a group and assess their understanding of a text against a set of objectives which helps them to decide how a child is progressing. In Year 2 and Year 6 children sit the official SATs.

Although national curriculum levels have now been abolished, schools still assess children with a primary-school grading system and children are expected to make steady progress throughout their time at primary school.

Reading comprehension and SATs

The SATs reading papers consist of non-fiction and fiction texts which are usually linked by a common theme. Children are given copies of these texts, plus an answer booklet, which contains questions on the texts and space for answers.

Questions will indicate the maximum number of marks that can be awarded for an answer (1 mark, 2 marks or 3 marks). Sometimes the questions will involve multiple choice answers, or children will be required to complete a table, match up statements or label names of the features of a text.

Many of the questions in a SATs paper will require children to retrieve information from the text, which literally means picking out a relevant bit of information. Some questions involve children inferring information about a theme or characters based on what they have read. Some questions may involve deduction, where children have to draw their own conclusions using reasoning skills. Children may be asked to give their opinion on something (this will always need to be backed up by evidence from the text). Children may also be asked to comment on the effectiveness of the author’s language.

Example reading comprehension text, questions and answers

“Let’s get the dinner on shall we?” said Matthew’s mum.
“What are we having, Mum?” Matthew asked her.
“Cottage pie and peas,” she replied cheerily.
Matthew grinned from ear to ear. Mum smiled back at him.
“I tell you what,” she said, “why don’t you go and learn your spellings for twenty minutes before we have dinner?”
The smile on Matthew’s face disappeared.
“Do I have to?” he whined. Matthew thought practising spellings was a bit like watching paint dry.

Retrieval of information
Example question: What was Matthew’s mum making for dinner?
Answer: Cottage pie and peas.

Inference
Example question: How does Matthew feel about eating cottage pie and peas? How do you know?
Answer: He loves cottage pie and peas. We know this because he grins from ear to ear when his mum tells him that is what she is making for dinner.

Deduction
Example question: What do you think Matthew might do next? Explain why you think this.
Answer: There could be several answers to this, but the person marking the text would be looking for the child to have thought about what Matthew might do, based on what they have read. For example: I think Matthew will go and watch TV instead of doing his spellings because he doesn’t want to do his spellings.

Opinion
Example question: Do you think Matthew’s mum is a kind person? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
Answer: Yes, I think Matthew’s mum is a kind person because she is cooking his favourite meal. We also know she wants him to do well at school, which is why she asks him to practise his spellings.

Commenting on effectiveness of language
Example question: ‘Matthew thought practising spellings was a bit like watching paint dry.’ Why is this a good way to show how Matthew feels about his spellings?
Answer: The author is comparing spelling practice to watching paint dry to show how boring Matthew finds it.

Practising reading comprehension at home

One of the best ways to improve reading comprehension skills, particularly for KS1 and KS2 SATs, is to practise past papers. If possible, read through the text with your child and practise answering some of the questions together. Don’t forget to discuss what a question is asking – for example, if a question asks for your child’s opinion on something backed up by evidence from the text, you may need to remind them that there are two parts to that question (writing their opinion and then offering evidence from the text to back it up); you may also need to discuss what ‘evidence’ means.

Another way to help your child with their reading comprehension is to discuss books with your child while you are reading, posing similar questions to the examples given above. You could also help them write a book review with some of these types of questions as prompts.

Find more parents' advice about reading comprehension in our Teachers' tips for reading comprehension.