Comprehension skills refer to skills that help you to interpret and understand information. This can include comprehending written texts, multimodal texts (such as film), and language.
In basic education, we tend to use this term to refer to reading comprehension. The term is also extensively used in language learning to refer to language comprehension.
Separately, in media and literature studies, the term is often used to refer to a person’s ability to comprehend and infer underling meanings in cultural texts such as films and novels.
The Most Important Comprehension Skills
To summarize is to give a brief but accurate overview of a text. A strong summary will present the most important points about a text without going into unnecessary detail.
We often assess people’s comprehension by asking them to summarize a text using test methods like asking students to write a book report, give a 5-minute presentation, or give complete a close passage.
Paraphrasing is akin to summarizing, but requires you to demonstrate your understanding of a text in your own words.
When I teach my students to paraphrase, I usually ask them to close the book then tell me what they read about. Simply by not directly reading then parroting the text, your brain regurgitates the information in your own language, not the original language of the text. In these situations, you can tell that someone has actually understood what they’ve read, not just repeated the words.
3. Drawing Conclusions
Drawing conclusions refers to the ability to evaluate a text. It’s considered a comprehension skill because you don’t just do a surface reading of the text, but also use the text to inform your beliefs and views.
When drawing conclusions, you might read a text and then, based on the information within the text, make a decision or evaluation about the information within the text. Take, for example, a person who reads an election pamphlet that summarizes the policies of two different candidates for mayor. Once reading the text, they make a decision and can justify their decision with reference to the text. Here, this person would have sufficiently comprehended the text to the point that they could draw a valid conclusion.
4. Sequencing Events
We can also assess someone’s comprehension by asking them to sequence events in chronological order.
Take, for example, a teacher who asks their students to explain the sequence of events in a film they watched in class. The students might have to come together and discuss what happened first, second, third. Throughout this task, the students are demonstrating their comprehension (and, likely, memory) skills.
5. Ranking Information
As an extension of sequencing, we could also order events not just chronologically but also in order of importance or any other ranking factor.
The benefit of ranking is that the person isn’t just trying to remember what they heard or read. They’re also analyzing it.
Take, for example, students in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class who are asked to listen to someone talking about their siblings. At the end of the talk, the students have to rank the siblings from oldest to youngest.
6. Recognizing Author Purpose
Identifying the author’s purpose involves deducing why the writer chose to create a particular text. Inherent in this is seeing if the author has biases or underlying intentions that you probably should know about.
This skill requires a deep understanding of the text, and often, you also need to know about different text genres.
You, as the reader, must identify whether the writer’s intention was to inform, persuade, entertain, or provoke thought.
Consider a high school English language arts class, where students are studying persuasive texts. The teacher assigns an article on climate change. Based on the language, arguments, and style of each article, the students determine the authors’ purposes were to persuade readers to take action against climate change.
7. Interpreting Figurative Language
Interpreting figurative language requires understanding that the writer has intentionally deviated from the norms of literal language to enhance the text’s meaning, effect, or impact.
The figurative language that you’re looking for can include metaphors, similes, personification, irony, and symbolism.
For instance, in a literature class, students read the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The title itself becomes a discussion point for interpreting figurative language, with students using context from the story to decode its symbolic meaning.
8. Identifying Cause and Effect
Identifying cause and effect refers to pinpointing actions or events (the causes) and the outcomes that occur as a result (the effects).
This can be a way of assessing comprehension. After someone has read, viewed, or listened to a text, we can ask them what caused what in the story they have read.
Let’s take an example. You’re reading a history book on World War II. By closely analyzing the events leading up to the war, you can infer that the effects of the Treaty of Versailles were instrumental causes of the conflict.
See Also: Cause and Effect Examples
9. Making Connections (Text-to-Self, Text-to-Text, Text-to-World)
Making connections involves relating the text to personal experiences, other texts, or broader world issues. This could be text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connections.
Consider a scenario where you’re reading a novel about a character dealing with the loss of a loved one. You remember your own experiences of grief, creating a text-to-self connection. In the process, you draw parallels between your feelings and those expressed by the character in the book.
If you can make connections between things outside of the text (‘the metatext’) and the text, then you can demonstrate your comprehension skills.
10. Identifying Key Themes
Understanding key themes entails recognizing the overarching messages or central topics that recur throughout a text. This skill allows you to extract more profound meaning and realize the author’s larger point.
For example, in an examination of the novel “Brave New World,” a student identifies the pervading themes of technology versus nature, the dehumanizing effects of conditioning, and the conflict between individuality and societal expectation. These insights deepen their understanding of the book and facilitate a more enriching discussion on the author’s viewpoint.
List of Additional Comprehension Skills
- Main Idea Identification
- Supporting Details Recognition
- Drawing Conclusions
- Making Inferences
- Predicting Outcomes
- Identifying Cause and Effect
- Comparing and Contrasting
- Sequencing Events
- Recognizing Author’s Purpose
- Distinguishing Fact from Opinion
- Understanding Chronology
- Recognizing Problem and Solution
- Identifying Themes and Lessons
- Making Connections (Text-to-Self, Text-to-Text, Text-to-World)
- Determining Importance
- Recognizing Plot Elements
- Identifying Setting
- Recognizing Character Traits
- Understanding Point of View
- Interpreting Figurative Language
- Recognizing Literary Devices
- Analyzing Text Structure
- Decoding Vocabulary in Context
- Recognizing Tone and Mood
- Evaluating Arguments and Claims
- Synthesizing Information
- Asking Questions
- Recognizing Bias and Perspective
- Analyzing Dialogue
- Interpreting Symbols
- Recognizing Flashbacks and Foreshadowing
- Identifying Genre Characteristics
- Analyzing Author’s Craft
- Recognizing Irony
- Evaluating Evidence
- Understanding Text Features (e.g., headings, captions, etc.)
- Recognizing Rhetorical Devices
- Analyzing Multiple Texts
- Understanding Non-linear Texts
- Recognizing Satire and Parody
- Evaluating Credibility of Sources
- Recognizing Propaganda Techniques
- Interpreting Charts and Graphs
- Understanding Allusions
- Recognizing Archetypes
- Analyzing Poetry Structure
- Identifying the Moral or Message
Read Also: A List of Writing Skills
Comprehension skills stretch far beyond the simple act of reading. They involve understanding and interpreting texts, making connections, and extracting deeper meanings. Developing these skills can enhance your critical thinking, cognitive efficiency, and overall learning. Remember, the more you practice these skills, the more adept you’ll become at comprehending a broad range of texts and making the most out of your reading experiences.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]