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How to Learn and Improve “Reading Comprehension”?

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By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

Previously, I have discussed that reading comprehension is something that cannot be taught but can definitely be learned.  I think a lot of parents may have the question: How can my children learn reading comprehension then?  The answer to that question is quite simple and easy to do.

As parents, we can help to improve our children’s reading ability by encouraging them to read more and widely on their own.  I am not talking about the book reports that they have to do in school.  Neither am I talking about taking an English Literature class in which they go through texts at a snail’s pace, analyzing every word along the way.  It is what most educators call “Extensive Reading,” but unfortunately, this is not practiced in most schools today.

Extensive reading, or sometimes known as reading for pleasure, is one of the most effective way to learn a language, whether as a first language or a second language.  It is accomplished through reading large amounts of texts in various subjects, as long as they stimulate the interests of the reader.  Extensive reading exposes the reader to grammatical rules, common usage, sentence structure variety, and new vocabulary.  It is important to note that no dictionary is required for reading, because oftentimes, the usage of dictionary distracts the reader and reduces interest.  Vocabulary is learned through inferencing, which is the most natural way for people to learn new things when they were very young.  By being exposed to new vocabulary in different contexts multiple times, the reader is able to pick up the meaning of words without learning them formally through a dictionary.  By immersing them in various ways and styles of writing, the reader is able to follow grammar rules and sentence structures without having to sit down in a classroom.  Furthermore, extensive reading can also help readers to discover and develop their interests and academic skills.

If extensive reading has so many advantages, then how do we practice it at home?  I recommend that parents start by putting aside 30 minutes each day initially for their children’s reading.  It is best done at the end of the day before bedtime and has to be done regularly (every day) and consistently (over many months).  Remember that no book reports or any assessment is required at the end; it is only reading for the sake and pleasure of reading.  If this can be done for 3 to 6 months, you will be able to see good results; for 6 months to 1 year, you will be able to see surprising results.  Another thing that we have to keep in mind is that your child has to be reading at or higher than his current level.  Giving them materials that are too easy or too difficult will be counterproductive because instead of motivating, it will become demotivating.

Reading is an important skill in learning, and it is something that can be learned and improved in the longer term – there is no short-term solution to reading problems.  In our age of computer games and online videos, it becomes a skill that is increasingly neglected by parents and children alike.  Now is the time to cut-down screen times and focus on the necessary skills to help our children succeed in college and career.  If you do this for a longer period of time, I am sure you will find the results not only greatly satisfying, but also immensely rewarding.

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Mr. Paul Lim
Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer
MBA, National University of Singapore
B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College
TBE
TESOL

• Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
• Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
• Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
• Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary

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