Teens Need Comprehension Skills

How can you build your teen’s comprehension skills?

With AI on the rise, being a critical thinker – and reader – is more vital than ever.  Teens need to be able to read for meaning.  They need to build links between texts and ideas.  Simple reading skills are not enough.

The problem: “I am looking for recommendations for books for a keen teenage reader that will encourage and develop comprehension and interpretation. My 17-year-old son is a good reader but struggled in his English exam recently around questions that needed interpretation and comprehension of grammar within a literary context.”

This question was raised on the The Good Book Appreciation Society (GBAS) a Face Book page, and it echoes what teachers are talking about around the world.  With AI on the rise, being a critical thinker and reader and knowing how to read for meaning and understand how to build links between texts and ideas is vital.

Reading skills are not enough – we need to build comprehension, interpretation and grammar skills.  My son’s Grade 11 teacher recommended we get a subscription to The Atlantic, a news site in the US that has well written essays on a variety of issues, from politics, science and tech to culture, business and fiction. It’s easier to find time to read an essay, you learn about the world and you can discuss the article afterwards and your interpretation of it. This can apply to any publication you enjoy.

Advice offered by readers:
“Push his boundaries a little bit and lead him into more adult stuff. I don’t force the issue with the boys I teach but I do have an adult section in my classroom library where I keep a few select works which challenge and are not as easy to read. Like Cormac Mc Carthy’s The Road. It’s not a comfortable read but you can’t look away. I generally tell a reader to try the first couple of chapters and decide whether they want to embark on the journey. Sometimes the need to ‘study’ literature and analyse it, is how we kill spontaneous connections and the desire to explore the reading world. Rather lead them to think and question and to explore alternate worlds and experiences.”
Haruki Murakami famously said:
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
The Poetry Path
Poetry is another excellent source of reading to expand understanding, interpretation and analysis. Poetry makes for shorter reading time (easier for you to share the experience) and promotes really deep thinking and literary analysis.
Check out the poetry on the school reading list. There will be some gems worth grappling with and you’ll understand his thinking process and shortcomings – especially if you’ve done the exploration yourself.
Some poems to discuss include:
  • Clown Punk by Simon Armitage
  • War Photographer by Carole Ann Duffy
  • Mother in a Refugee Camp by Chinua Achebe
Use reading study sites
Use sites like BBC Bitesize, Shmoop and Spark Notes to understand the work your child is reading and tell him to use those sites when studying. These sites support the learning process without ‘teacher’ intervention.
Reading list
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  • Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
  • The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hani Arikawa
  • Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Children’s Day – Michiel Heyns
  • The Kite Runner – Khaled Houseini
  • The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness
  • Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams
  • Harlan Coben’s Mickey Bolitar series
  • The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness Series by Michelle Paver
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • Q&A by Vikas Swarup
  • Spud books by John van de Ruit
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien,
  • Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  •  Skullduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.
  • All books by Markus Zusak, Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Roald Dahl’s short stories.
  • The Giver Series by Lois Lowry
  • The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
  • Boy by Roald Dahl
    For more on building comprehension skills, read here.



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