Most of us can recall a book from middle or high school English class that gave us a great deal of trouble. Classic literature can be tough, even for students who are generally solid readers. If your child struggles with reading, classic texts can mean a lot of struggle and frustration. 

Learning to break down and comprehend challenging texts is an important skill, however – one that will serve your child far beyond her school years. Our teachers offer the following tips for improving comprehension:

  • Have your child keep three-column notes while reading. The first column is for chapter numbers/titles. The second column is for bulleted notes — maybe 3 or 5 key details or plot points from the chapter. The third column is for your child to jot down questions he has or discussion points from class. These notes become an invaluable guide for test preparation or essay writing.
  • Have your child mark the text using post-its as she reads. She can use (!) to mark something surprising or interesting,  (?) to mark confusing passages or places where she has questions, and (*) where she thinks something important is unfolding. At the end of each chapter, she can write 3-5 bulleted thoughts/reactions about the reading on a post-it.
  • Have your child use Sparknotes, or online plot summaries. Yes, that’s a valid strategy to use, not in place of reading the actual text, but as a supplement. If a text is so difficult that your child can’t glean much as he reads, reading a summary beforehand can help him establish a foothold for comprehension. Teachers will tell you that they can spot a child who ONLY read the summary a mile away. They have a vague idea of what happened but no recall for detail. But kids who read both tend to have an excellent grasp on the book. They understand not only what happened but why and how the elements of literature are working in the text. 

What other strategies have you tried?