What Are Comprehension Skills? (Explained for Beginners) | Iris Reading
What Are Comprehension Skills

What Are Comprehension Skills? (Explained for Beginners)

What Are Comprehension Skills

Often we read a book, put it down, and forget what we were reading. And even if we remember the context, we cannot understand the true meaning and hidden messages between the lines.

Usually, it indicates a lack of comprehension – a skill crucial for kids, young students, or anyone who wants to learn by understanding a passage of words.

Comprehension skills combine understanding a text, reading fluency, and a strong vocabulary. These skills are required to make the most out of a book, an online article, a newspaper, or any other form of written media. 

You cannot learn if you cannot comprehend. Hence, knowing and mastering comprehension skills is as essential as breathing. This article aims to impart knowledge regarding different skills you need to master the art of reading comprehension.

What is reading comprehension? What are comprehension skills?

Reading comprehension is a person’s ability to read, think, and understand what they just read. 

Zimmerman, S. and Hutchins, C., in their paper “Seven keys to comprehension: How to help your kids read it and get it!” stated that compelling reading means being able to think, learn, and expand one’s mind and knowledge. The reader should build their past knowledge, absorb new information, and understand the author’s intent.

For effectively reading, you need comprehension skills.

Comprehension skills are several qualities you need to understand a text fully. These may include decoding the alphabet and words, language fluency, strong vocabulary, understanding the sentence structure, background knowledge of the topic, and working memory.

You will need to work on all levels of your comprehension skills to understand and benefit from a passage of words.

What are the most essential reading comprehension skills?

Reading comprehension can be challenging, especially for kids, young students, or someone learning a new language. Educationists all around the world work on these critical skills to help them overcome their reading predicaments:

1. Decoding the alphabet and words

Recognizing the letters that make a word and understanding its meaning is the first step toward comprehension. It is called decoding and is vital for understanding a text.

When you first start reading, you need to decode the alphabets that make words and words that make sentences. In other words, for a unilingual American, a book in Mandarin will look like a block of indecipherable symbols and characters.

The same is true for a kid who is just starting to read. If they do not have a command over the letters and alphabets, comprehending a text will be next to implausible.

How to learn:

To learn the skill of decoding, you must work on your phonics. It is a skill that helps first-time readers recognize different letters with the sounds they make.

For instance, in the word “fly,” the letter “f” make a /f/ sound, and “l” makes a /l/ sound. Next, work on combining these different sounds to form a whole word. 

The best method to teach this skill is by instruction and repetition. Word games and reading books to practice help, too.

2. Being fluent in the language

As our decoding skill becomes more assertive, we start reading fluently – without pausing to understand the sound of each letter.

Fluent reading involves instant recognition of a word and its meaning without stopping to sound out a word. Several words like “the” and “of” are impossible to describe. Hence kids need to practice with them to speed up their comprehension speed.

When experienced readers read, they identify and understand a word with the help of their first and last letters. They need not sound out the entire alphabet to comprehend the meaning. Hence, skimming past long blocks of text in minutes is more manageable.

The speed reading tool by Iris Reading helps more in this regard.

How to learn:

To learn speed reading and fluency while reading, “sight words” offer tremendous help. Teachers and instructors help their students by committing these words to memory. It takes 4 to 15 interactions with a comment to become a sight word for an average reader.

To achieve fluency, you can read books concurrent to your level of command over the language. You will need loads of practice to be able to speed read in a new language.

3. Having a strong vocabulary

The next thing you need to strengthen is your vocabulary. Your vocabulary is all the words you can read and understand without external assistance.

Having a solid vocabulary is key to reading comprehension. You cannot understand what you are reading if you are unaware of the meanings of most of the words.

It is also noteworthy that if you are reading a book with a couple of new words on each page, you will still probably make out the meaning of the text. So, knowing MOST words is essential, but knowing all is better.

How to learn:

Reading, interactions, and life experiences are the best ways to strengthen your vocabulary. You can also form a list of new words daily and look up their meaning to build your vocabulary.

Hearing stories, telling jokes, and playing word games or scrabble are fun games to learn new words. Whenever you encounter an incomprehensible word, always find its meaning in the dictionary and try to use it in your sentences to commit it to memory.

4. Identifying sentence structure

There are several ways a sentence can be structured and multiple cohesive techniques to group words together in a sentence. Understanding these ways is the next step to reading effectively.

Comprehending different sentence structures and how they work becomes vital after practicing the alphabet and word recognition. Knowing how the various clauses link together and affect the subsequent sentences helps the readers figure out the context.

How to learn:

You will need elaborate grammar lessons to master different sentence structures. Start with the basics and work your way to more complex ones. You can find plenty of help from various educational institutions and online platforms.

Also, like any other comprehension skill, identifying sentence structures requires much practice through reading.

5. Having some background knowledge

To read and comprehend a text, having some background information on the topic is vital. It helps in drawing conclusions and making interferences.

You will not be able to comprehend a book on “nebulas” if you do not know about astrology and stars. Thus, you must gain some knowledge before progressing to more complex topics. 

How to learn:

Understandably, exposure to as much information as possible helps build strong background knowledge. Consume informational media, such as books, television, online material, conversations, art, and hands-on life experiences.

Making new connections and discussing what you learned today also helps grow your data bank. All of these are standard practices among educationalists dealing with young students.

6. Reading carefully

To fully comprehend the meaning of a text, you need attention. Attention means focusing on each word and its meaning and using the working memory to understand the message.

Attention and memory are two fundamental skills to understand a passage’s context. Attention allows making sense of the words, and memory holds on to the information we acquire.

How to learn:

You must work on your attention and memory to read carefully and effectively. Reading exciting books or indulging in the information that interests you are a couple of ways to improve your concentration.

To maximize memory, you can take a course by Iris Reading to help retain your power.


You cannot gain new knowledge if you cannot read effectively. Comprehension skills are vital to increasing your ability to understand the meaning behind words.

These skills include recognizing individual alphabets, tying them together into words and sentences, having a solid vocabulary, fluency, background knowledge, and good attention span and memory that helps to get through a passage.

You can master all the comprehension skills by simply practicing them with more reading, interacting, and using the language you ought to learn in any way possible.

Check out Iris’s comprehension and memory course to read and understand pages upon pages of text like a pro.

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  • Yihunie Alemayehu

    Just Great

    • Paul Nowak

      Thank you :-)