English and Literacy teacher.

Volunteer LGBT Youth Worker.

Previously taught in Indonesia.

Currently working in the North West of England.

Interested in: YA fiction, EAL/ESL, raising literacy levels, promoting reading for pleasure, celebrating diversity, inspiring creativity and cups of tea.


Strategies to Develop Children’s Understanding of Texts


It is essential that pupils have the opportunity to interact and engage with texts and move beyond literal comprehension. They need to consider questions that require them to deduce, infer, justify and evaluate.

Literal questions: repeating directly, or in own words what the text says.
e.g. Can you tell me what happened when/where/who? What are the main points in this non fiction text?

Inferential questions: reading between the lines, drawing out conclusions which are based on, but go beyond, the information given in the text.
e.g. Will Robbie stay or leave and what makes you think this?

Deductive questions: drawing conclusions from the information given throughout the text.
e.g. Explain … using two or more points to justify this. Where does it imply that?

Justification: finding evidence in the text to justify responses.
e.g. What in the text makes you say that?

Evaluative questions: making critical judgements relating to the text.
e.g. Is this a successful piece of persuasive writing? What makes you think that? Does this passage succeed in creating suspense? Why/How?

Discussion questions and statement prompts

What makes you think that? 

What do you think? 

What words give you that impression? 

How do you feel about…? 

Can you explain why…? 

Do you agree with …’s opinion? 

Do you like the bit where…? 

I wonder if… 

Is there anything that puzzles you? 

I’m not sure what I think about… I wonder what the writer intended… 

This bit reminds me of… 

I would hate to have that happen to me - would you? 

I like the way the writer has… 

Are there any patterns you notice (e.g. familiar story structure, images) 

I wonder why the writer has decided to…

Prior knowledge activation

Activation of prior knowledge can develop children’s understanding by helping them see links between what they already know and new information they are encountering.

Brainstorming around the title, chapter heading, picture on the front cover (these can be written, oral or drawn) 

Word association chain around key word in title or an image in the text 

Ask for memories around key word in title or an artefact (this reminds me of … it makes me think of) 

Filling in a mind-mapping, concept mapping or other grids/proforma (e.g. the first column of a KWL grid).

Prediction/group prediction

The children read the text a section at a time as they do so the teacher encourages them to explain what is happening, predict what will happen next, predict how it will end, revise their earlier predications in the light of new evidence found in the text. This can be oral, or children could make written predictions/revisions in a reading journal.

Constructing images (visualising, drawing, drama)

During and after reading children can sketch what they see, undertake freeze frames of key moments in a story and make models based on the text .e.g. creating the Borrowers living room in design and technology sessions.


Model skim reading a text. Then encourage skim reading or rereading and ask for oral summaries 

Go through a text paragraph by paragraph highlighting the key sentence/sentences in each 

Children can be asked to write brief summaries at the end of each chapter outlining key events and further insights into character and plot

Talk to Author or characters

A text is provided (with wide margins). Questions to the author are written in the margin, for example ‘Who was this? Why did this happen?’ The teacher models the process initially and then the children try

Reading Journals

A reading journal provides pupils with an opportunity to reflect upon and respond to text; it also provides teachers with useful information about pupils’ thinking processes and comprehension as they interact with text. It also offers opportunities to develop a written response to a text.

Format of reading journals may vary. It may depend on age and experience of pupils or the approach of the teacher.

A journal could include:

A set of personal goals for reading 

A list of texts read with commencements dates 

Thoughts or feelings, recorded in response to reading 

Drawings of setting, characters or events 

Phrases or words that have excited or puzzled the reader 

Suggested changes the reader would have made if they had been the author 

Comments on characters illustrations, diagrams, layout or language used 

Glossary of technical terms with their meanings

It is important that both teachers and children understand the purpose of journals. They can be shared in whole class time or group time. Journal work can also provide purposeful homework activities.

Story maps or story charts

Children draw a ‘map’/chart of the events in a story.

Structural organisers

Recognising the structure of non-fiction texts and then mapping the content in different ways. Draw a diagram, grid, flow chart etc to show information e.g. life cycle of a butterfly.

Character development

Imaging how a character might feel; identifying with a character, charting the development of a character over time in a longer text.  There are many strategies that require children to make explicit response to and knowledge of a character. These include:

Feeling graphs or maps showing how emotions develop throughout the story 

Hot seating 

TV interviews. Compile a list of questions to ask if you were to interview the character 

Drawing characters and surrounding the drawing with phrases from the text 

Writing thought bubbles for characters at key moments in the text when they don’t actually speak 

Relationship grid with each character listed along the top and down the side. Each cell represents a relationship to be explored 

Speculating on actions and motives e.g. asking why did, what if? 

Character emotions register. This involves creating a 5-point emotions scale with pupils for the possible range of reactions at certain specific points in the story (for example from ‘mildly irritated’ to ‘incandescent with rage’). Pupils then rate characters on the scale.

Identifying themes/information

The author’s chair - Child takes on role of the author, answering questions about the book and justifying what ‘they’ have written 

Draw strip cartoon/story board identifying 4/5 main points from story or information 

Highlight words, phrases which link together to build a picture of character or mood, or setting and so on 

Write a blurb for the book 

Identify facts and opinion and consider how they are woven together - highlight facts in red, opinion in blue

Reading for multiple meanings

Rank characters according to criteria e.g. most powerful to least powerful, kindest to meanest. 

'The roles we play'. In an outline character shape pupils record all the different roles they play in a story - e.g. daughter, friend 

Identify and discuss any differences or additional information to be found between text and illustrations 

Give the text only or pictures only from a multi-layered picture book and ask children to tell the story/read the prose story before reading the complete book. Discuss any changes in their perceptions and responses. Any changes? 

Retell a scene from the point of view of a minor character within it 

Justify the actions of a ‘villain’. 

Problem solving. Stop at the point where a character faces a problem or dilemma. List alternative suggestions from the group. Consider the consequences of each suggestion. Arrive at a group decision

Looking for/challenging a consistent point of view

Genre Exchange - ask children to transpose something from one written genre they have just read into another written genre 

Criteria rating certain scenes at a crucial point - mostly likely to happen/least likely to happen, mostly likely to be true, least likely to be true 

Story comparison charts. Several versions of a story are read (e.g. Cinderella tales) and a comparative chart is completed

Relating texts to person experiences

Say what they would have done at certain points in the story 

Chose the funniest, scariest, most interesting moment from a story or information book. Justify their choice 

Response journals (ongoing throughout the reading of long books) 

Relate to other books by same author or on same topic, read by the group or individual. Discuss similarities or differences.

Preview vocabulary

The teacher provides a list of words relating to the book/topic. The meanings of the words are then discussed before reading.

Building banks of new/interesting words

As children read they mark or note on post-it notes or in vocabulary journals any new words/words they are unsure of. After reading the group discusses ways of working out the meaning. 

Why did the author decide to use the word whispered instead of said - or raced instead of ran? Discuss and record choices of words made by the author. 

Making dictionaries and glossaries

Children can find words whose meanings are unclear e.g. technical words, dialect words, slang and so on. They then investigate the meanings and create text specific dictionaries or glossaries.