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Tips to Help Students Understand Written Materials

It can be extremely difficult for many students to understand what they’re reading. Teaching reading comprehension is a major focus in Language Arts as well as other subjects, and it’s something I’m continuously asked about.

Trying to read through important information can be hard for students for many different reasons.

Perhaps they don’t know how to look for proper details, they may have difficulty recalling what they just read, they may not be able to “stick” what they’re reading to background information, they may not be able to find the main ideas or themes, and so on.

Whatever the reason for the difficulty, there are some strategies you can try to use to help these kiddos improve their ability to understand written material. Here are my top tips.


Oftentimes, students have trouble with written material because they don’t know how to read for important information. When they can’t figure out what’s important, everything is important, and they aren’t able to read into specific details or pull out main information.

If you’re able to, it’s very helpful to highlight what is important for them.

For example, you can provide them a copy of a textbook page, worksheet, or other written material with highlights already on them.

Of course, being able to read for important information is a skill we want our kids to learn, so we can’t do this for them forever!

I suggest taking them time to talk to kids about why the highlighted information is important.

Try to get your students to see why some things matter more than others and what types of “tricks” they can use to figure this out themselves. You can also turn this into a partner or small group activity where kids all work together to figure out how to pull out important information.


It can often be helpful for students to hear material to help them to really understand what they’re reading. Some kids understand material they listen to better than material they read. Others may just need to intake it in various ways to really understand it.

Depending on what you’re teaching, there may already be audio available.

For example, there are several novels with read-alouds, or with chapters read on YouTube. If you have a digital copy of textbooks, stories, worksheets, and so on, they can be read out loud through Google Read & Write if you scan them through a text reader.

The student may like to just listen to the audio to help them, or to read along with the written material while they listen. Ideally, If it’s being read by a real human and not through text-to-speech software, they may also be able to understand intonation and be able to infer important points.


Allowing peers to collaborate and work together is a great way for them to all share their talents and strengths.

Those students who are not very strong with understanding written material can receive help from peers, while being able to support in an area they have more skills in.

Additionally, peers can share with one another the tips and tricks they use to find important information or remember what they’ve read. Sometimes students will have techniques we never would have thought of and which other students may relate to.

This can be a great support for students who have difficulty with the material, not only do they get to discuss the information with peers, they may learn some additional skills for future tasks as well.


Using graphic organizers are a great way to have students organize their ideas. When the organizer itself prompts students with questions and outlines what to look for, it saves them the burden of having to figure it out.

Often, it’s this trying to figure out what to pay attention to and what is important that students have the most difficulty with.

Teaching students how to use various graphic organizers is great practice for pulling out what is important and having it all on one page. Depending on the task, you can basically find graphic organizers for everything!

It’s also great to have students complete or go over their organizers in partners or groups to support one another. Learning from peers is a great way to share insight and respect one another’s skills. I also always go over graphic organizers as a class. It’s a great way for students to share things others didn’t think of, have class discussions about what is correct, and let students fill in anything they’ve missed.

The more practice students have with using graphic organizers, the better they’ll become at reading material and picking out points of interest.


If you’re reading out loud or listening to audio while students read aloud, don’t ignore the power of intonation and visual cues.

Of course, if we are the ones reading aloud, it’s easy to emphasize certain things. We can also literally stop reading to let students know something is important, ask a question, point out an answer, or start a class discussion.

Depending on the students you’re teaching, pick what works for your group.

If you’re listening to audio, you can also pause it to do any of these as well, making sure students don’t miss something important.

While listening to audio or someone else reading, you can also use visual cues and not interrupt the reading. I’ve known teachers who’ve made minute signs with things like question marks, hearts, and exclamation marks to raise when they find something important.

You can also make facial and hand gestures when something is important, interesting, or so on.
All of these will help kids who aren’t quite able to pick these up on their own yet.


Teaching specific academic and unit words which are important is a great way to help students know what material is important or what they should be looking for.

Words like “compare”, “contrast”, “example”, and so on are important academic words which will give a lot of insight into what something is about and/or what they should be looking for.

If you’re on a certain unit in, say, Science, students may want to be looking for words like “space”, “planet”, or “stars”.

Point these out to your kids to help them search for these themselves and pull out what’s important.

What do you think about these tips and strategies? Are they helpful? Did I miss anything? let me know!

Enjoyed this? Here are some other blog posts on Katie is a Teacher you may like:

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