Narrative Comprehension By jennifer luckey & Carmin pugh


What is comprehension ???

Meaning making is not simply the decoding and word recognition of text. It is an active problem-solving process that encompass the reader’s understandings regarding: Oral language, Phonological Awareness, Phonographic knowledge, Vocabulary and Fluency. Combined with Comprehension, this identifies Konza’s Big Six (2010). Comprehension is the fundamental aim of reading. It is ability to think purposefully through connections between the text and the reader, integrating the information presented by the author with the reader’s background knowledge (Meissner and Yun, 2008; Sweet and Snow, 2003; Snider, 1989). These essential components contribute to learners becoming independent, self-regulated meaning makers and good readers.

What is narrative comprehension ???

Children are blanketed by Narratives from their earliest forms of language experiences. It is a cognitive foundation by which they "learn how to mean" in order to make sense of their world (Paris and Paris, 2003, pg. 40). Understanding these literary texts is a multifaceted meaning making processes in itself and is dependent on the simultaneous growth of various skills that make up story grammar. To engage effectively with such texts, readers must construct a lexical library of knowledge about narrative language to support their meaning making.

Research to understand what reading comprehension is, how comprehension should occur within classrooms and what best practice looks like, has produced a myriad of arguments, approaches and definitions. Two common perspectives have been defined:

Definition 1 - The goal of comprehension is to extract meaning from a text. Knowledge is an external factor, located outside the learner and so they must attain that knowledge to effectively comprehend a text.

Definition 2 - The goal of comprehension is to construct meaning from a text. Knowledge is located internally and so the learner must actively formulate meaning to successfully comprehend a text.

(Almasi and Hart, 2015)

So which Approach is best ???

Comprehension is a creative, multifaceted thinking process in which students engage with the text.

(Tompkins, Campbell and Green, 2012, p. 283)

How can comprehension be controversial???

Myth 1# If you can decode you can comprehend.

Academics argue that skilled reading only involves linguistic comprehension and the ability to decode. This would infer that first and foremost students require word recognition to be successful in comprehension. However, research has revealed that reading difficulties regardless of the child, vary greatly. Leach, Scarborough and Rescorla’s (2003) investigations identified a portion of fluent readers that portrayed late emerging comprehension struggles. Readers struggle notwithstanding their ability to decode. Almasi, Palmer, Madden and Hart (2011) substantiate these notions as their study indicated that word knowledge was simply not enough but if taught in conjunction with comprehension as a multicomponent intervention, effective understanding could be achieved. Although a crucil element, decoding does not lead to significant impacts on comprehension.

Myth #2 Students should be taught strategies in isolated, pre-specified methods to construct meaning effectively.

There is a strong evidence base that supports the teaching of comprehension strategies. However, there is a lack of research that can stipulate the use of effective combinations of strategies and whether these contribute to overall comprehension. Approaches to comprehension strategies uncover two perspectives of instruction. An ‘isolation view’, encompasses strategies prompted by an educator as ‘things’ to be taught (tools external to the learner) instead of actions to be cultivated. Strategic action requires the student to be actively aware of the text and their meaning making (Afflerbach et. Al. 2008). This “transformational view” encourages students to be autonomous in their decision making and choice of strategies. Simply, teaching readers to be strategic should not only emphasize declarative (where) and procedural (when) aspects but the conditional (how) as well. The capabilities of isolated strategy instruction to yield long-term benefits and transfer over contexts is questionable, as research shows (Almasi et al, 2011). By taking a "transformative view", teachers emphasize “the student” rather then “the strategy” and so create a safe environment to explore individual decision and meaning making processes.

Transformational View - Student Centered

Comprehension encompasses the use of 12 strategies

  • Visualising
  • Predicting
  • Connecting
  • Summarising
  • Inferencing
  • Questioning
  • Activating Background Knowledge
  • Monitoring
  • Determining Importance
  • Evaluating
  • Repairing
  • Setting a Purpose


What makes Narrative comprehension difficult for students?

Students bring to the reading of literary texts, a wealth of story content understandings of diverse kinds, though they may have less familiarity with the written language of literature. This can impede comprehension. Comprehension, particularly in narratives, is complex for a host of reasons. A students' difficulty in constructing meaning from a text may arise from just one of these factors, or a combination of multiple aspects. These areas can be divided into Reader Factors and Text Factors.

Reader factors

Comprehension involves the active application of intrinsic components that are Reader factors. These include the a readers prior experiences that develop background knowledge, their cognitive capacity as well as their motivation and engagement during reading.

Cognitive Load

When children engage in literary texts they actively employ cognitive resources to comprehend by constructing mental modals of story events through visual, semantic and syntactic cues. This process puts heavy demands on both process and storage functions of a working memory (Konza, 2006, p18). As a result the brains of people with reading difficulties have to work harder than those of skilled readers. These people tend to rely on regions of the brain used by novice readers. Studies have identified an over activation of the Broca’s area and under activation of the occipito-temporal region, as though an interference has occurred in the word analysis area. (Konza, 2006). Constant decoding, lacking mental lexicon and limited knowledge or syntactical structures are some examples that can create delays in cognitive processes, resulting in cognitive overload. Subsequently these readers may come to rely on the use of the pathways in the right hemisphere (important for visual memory). While people can learn information by sight, their limited text memory capacity will impede on their ability to retain enough words for fluent reading and so remain slow and strenuous.

Background knowledge

Reading is a collaborative process between the reader’s prior knowledge and the text. The understandings of the author’s point of views, hinge on the readers’ past experiences, prior knowledge as well as cultural beliefs and prejudices (Abdul-Hamid and Samuel, 2015 p.264). This process can be linked to the reader’s ability to infer meaning. Children with the reading difficulties may not have the literary knowledge base or contextual life connections to form the inferences needed to comprehend a text. Research suggest that vocabulary knowledge can also have implications on reader comprehension, especially Tier 3 words related to subject specific content and experiences. For example, after reading a passage describing a rugby match, a child’s preexisting knowledge can influence their understanding: Poor readers with high knowledge of the game displayed better comprehension than good reader with low knowledge of the sport (Kaefer, Neuman, and Pinkham, 2015). The variability in children’s background knowledge base may also be underpinned by social standing and the extent of text immersion.

…the more you know about a topic the easier it is to read a text, understand and retell the information.

(Neuman, Kaefer, and Pinkham, 2014).


Motivation has been found to uniquely contribute to reading comprehension even when children have an in-depth knowledge base of the factors that make up narrative comprehension. A lack of interest or understanding in a text may reduce a child's willingness to engage with the text, and therefore impact their comprehension development.

Text Factors

The collective components of text factors inform the remaining aspects of comprehension, required for students to competently construct meaning. Graesser and McNamara (2011) track these features into five levels of discourse essential in understanding all genres of text, including narratives.

Level 1 - Surface Code

The surface code of a text refers to the text at a word level. It encompasses the range of knowledges needed to decode and encode text, such as graphemes, phonemes, morphemes and tense. It requires an understanding of traditional and functional grammar, relating to the parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.). Another important influence not often considered is the impact of dialect. For example, honor (American English) versus honour (Standard Australian English).

Level 2 - Textbase

The textbase is composed of the functional role of words (functional grammar) in diverse ways, specifically relating to the construction of meaning and the connective use of words. Clauses that are written with these connections in mind are easier to read, relating ideas and events between clauses more efficiently.

Level 3 - Situation Model

Situation model comprises a host of features that relate to the situation of the text (in time and space). It includes how participants are denoted, the mental representations of the text, and how knowledge is presented as new or assumed. Possibly the most important aspect of this level, although, is the inferences required by the text to bridge elaborate ideas. Known also as local coherence, this describes the construction of the text in such a way as to allow the reader to make logical inferences between sentences. Consider the following sentences:

  1. The girl jumped over the puddle. She did not want to get his feet wet.
  2. The girl jumped over the puddle. It is unpleasant to get your feet wet.
  3. The girl jumped over the puddle. Aeroplanes seldom leave on time.

Example 1. is cohesive through the use of a personal pronoun, indicating that the second sentence is about the girl. Example 2. is cohesive when a bridging inference is made to assume that the second sentence relates to the reason the girl jumped over the puddle. Meanwhile, example 3. is not locally coherent as no logical inference can be made to connect the content of the two sentences.

Level 4 - Genre and Rhetorical Structure

Genre and rhetorical structure are more commonly known as the text factors of genre, text structure, theme and sentence structure (e.g. command, question). As the focus of this comprehension analysis is through the lens of the narrative genre, assumptions could be made about the structure of the text. Although, modern texts are becoming increasingly complex, with genres embedded within genres now common in many junior fiction texts. These require students to have an understanding of the embedded genre, deciphering that content, before relating it back to the narrative as a whole and interpreting it’s importance in influencing comprehension and furthering the story. These sub-genres form an extensive list that includes, but is not limited to procedures, letters, recipes and diary entries. Subsequently, an already complex process, becomes ever more complicated. The identification of text themes or story morals is another process that relates to an in-depth understanding of the text. Again, this is make more difficult to decipher through the continually changing nature of the narrative text. At this level, the notion of global coherence becomes paramount in building an accurate representation of the text. Similar to local coherence, where local is concerned with the connections between sentences, global assesses the coherence throughout an entire piece of text. Consider the following passage:

The girl jumped over the puddle. There were some frogs in the puddle. Frogs are often used as characters in fairy tales. Fairy tales are narratives. This entry is about narratives.

The above example shows local coherence, in that, each sentence can be logically connected to the previous sentence. Though, at a global level, coherence breaks down, leaving the reader with a disordered and chaotic understanding of the text.

Level 5 - Pragmatic Communication

Pragmatic communication refers to the way that a piece of text is written. Throughout a piece of writing an author displays a ‘voice’. It is through this that goals and attitudes are displayed based on how the text is written. Difficulties may arise when students are unfamiliar with the ‘voice’ (style of writing) of a text. This could be because students don’t understand a humorous tone of writing, or have no prior experience with sarcastic tones of writing.

(Graesser and McNamara, 2011)


Students should be taught to act strategically with agency. When readers investigate their own reading processes, they become more efficient at monitoring their reading and accessing comprehension strategies, inline with individual goals (Harvey and Goudvis, 2013).

The Fix-Up Strategy is an involved meta-cognitive process focused on the monitoring of comprehension, to repair understandings when comprehension breaks down. It promotes autonomy and self-regulation of the reading practice. It is a complex approach to developing comprehension, incorporating strategies within strategies, also known as sub-strategies. Each fix-up sub-strategy should be taught separately to ensure mastery.

Fix-up Strategy

Monitoring and Repairing


  • Students
  • Teacher
  • Preempted sections for whole class modelling and practice
  • class Text
  • Graphic organiser
  • Fix- Up Strategy Anchor chart
  • Gradual Release of Responsibility Model


STEP 1. Class Discussion - Why am I monitoring my reading ?

Discuss the strategy, what it means and the benefits of its use. Engage in authentic conversations about the job of a monitor. For example, a monitor keeps track of something to make sure nothing goes wrong. If something does go wrong, they identify it and fix it. Readers that self monitor listen to their inner voice and analyze what they are reading for meaning T: "When I read, I am a monitor. I monitor my reading by ensuring that I understand what I read. If I get stuck and don’t understand, I stop to fix my comprehension. When I do this, I am ‘self-monitoring'."

STEP 2. Explicitly model

Teacher should acquaint themselves with a text prior to modelling by preempting sections to be used. The teacher should use a Think-Aloud Strategy to demonstrate how to monitor for meaning and resolve breaks in understanding. This indicates to students what to do and when to do it. The teacher should make comments about the following areas: "Before I read, what do I already know...", "I don’t know what that word mean…", "I'm unsure of what that sentence means...", " This paragraph doesn’t make any sense…", "I’ve totally lost concentration…". They continue on from each area, identifying sub-strategies of the Fix-Up Strategy, to be used to repair comprehension.

STEP 3. Guided Practice

Teacher supplies copies of a text to be read. As a class brainstorm, what the text may be about. The teacher should encourage students to analyse their purpose for reading, how they may self-monitor their comprehension in addition to learning content. The teacher should provide a read aloud of the entirety of the text and begin modelling a ‘Think-Aloud for an unknown word or phrase. They work with the students through the Fix-up sub strategies to identify a solution.

STEP 4. Independent Practice

Students can work independently or in partnerships on a leveled text, referring to the strategy anchor chart for confirmation to self-monitor their comprehension. Students can alternate reading the text aloud to each other, mimicking a think aloud to fix-up a difficult word or sentence. As a class the teacher and students can reflect and discuss breakdowns and how these were overcome.

STEP 5. Repeated Reading

Incorporate the Fix-up Strategy with in a repeated reading activity. Students can read independent or instructional leveled texts to practice using multiple sub- strategies for comprehension whilst simultaneously building fluency to assist comprehension.

The fix-up strategy: a mock lesson in comprehension

Everybody loves graphic organisers!

"Graphic organisers are excellent visual tools for scaffolding and extending thinking for all learners."

(Gargiulo and Metcalf, 2017, p. 360)

By including graphic organisers, not only are we reaching students who learn better through different avenues (like visual or kinaesthetic learners), but we are making our lessons and content more engaging by doing something that they may not have done before. Students can be provided with an alternative means in which to order their thoughts and draw conclusions from the information within the text.


Graphic organisers can be as pretty or as plain as you like. What counts is the strategy it is facilitating. Make sure students know how to use the tool and how they are expected to respond for each part. Such a strategy could also be developed into an interactive classroom activity, getting students more involved and invested in their predictions. For example, a simple betting system. Students place their bets before reading (you could create a prediction wall). As students' predictions come true they could earn rewards or points towards a classroom reward system.

See below for further resources and ways to incorporate predicting graphic organisers into lessons.


On first glance, inferencing can seem very similar to predicting. Students need to be explicitly taught the difference. That inferencing occurs throughout the reading and viewing of texts, based on clues provided in the text that link up to the readers' background knowledge. For example, consider the following sentence:

"Charlie went surfing on Saturday."

Immediately, anyone with any sort of exposure to the concept of surfing will assume that Charlie went to the beach on Saturday. Although, not specifically stated, we know from our past experiences with the topic that surfing is a beach activity.

See below for further information about inferencing and how to teach it.


Students may form connections with a text through the three avenues of text to self, text to text, and text to world. By making connections between the content within viewed texts and other experienced situations, students deepen their understanding and develop meaning in a way that assists information retrieval from memory stores (Queensland, Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 2010).

See below for more information about connecting and how to incorporate this strategy into the classroom.

Helpful Anchor Charts

'How to' Fix-Up Strategy Anchor Chart (Repairing Strategy)
An example of a Predicting Strategy Anchor Chart that may be utilised within a classroom situation
A possible Inferring anchor chart that may be displayed to prompt the connection of ideas between sentences
An example of a Connecting strategy anchor chart that will remind students to connect the content of the text to their prior experiences

How can we assess??

Paris and Stahl, 2005, p. 32

When considering the complex and diverse nature of comprehension, there is no invariable process that might be evaluated (Paris and Stahl, 2005). As a result, there is no 'perfect' assessment. A range of techniques are necessary to gain an accurate snapshot of students' learning. A collection of classroom-based assessments provide the most reliable and relevant information for educators, parents, and the students themselves. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Checklists
  • Observations
  • Multimedia Recording
  • Work Samples
  • Student Self-Assessment

The following questions are an example of an assessment that takes the format of a student self-assessment, as well as a teacher completed checklist.


Advantages and disadvantages

As with any activity within the classroom, there are a host of advantages and disadvantages to be considered. What is explored here is by no means an exhaustive list, as with each group of students, there are a range of factors that come into play and will impact the effectiveness of this strategy. For every perceived advantage of this approach, a disadvantage can be extracted that may apply in any given situation, depending on the nature of the students being taught.

The first and most apparent advantage is the involved nature of the strategy. While students are working to improve comprehension, they are simultaneously practicing reading in terms of fluency, vocabulary building and word automaticity. While for some students this may be a straightforward way of training multiple skills, some students may experience trammels in completing the task. For these students, the interwoven elements may be too complicated to interpret when presented concurrently (Konza, 2006,). This could be due to the current skills a student possesses, as the demands of developing several synchronously becomes too difficult. This could also be due to a students’ cognitive processing abilities; brain power is too focused on one skill to actively observe the other skills alongside.

This activity applies a positive connotation on making mistakes. Students are encouraged to seek out mistakes, as with these mistakes, measures can be taken to repair comprehension. For a student who has a positive view of reading, this task is simply monitoring compression for improvement. If that student, however, has had negative experiences with reading in the past, or has a low estimation of their reading ability, being tasked into repeatedly reading can draw attention to their mistakes in a negative way. Students can experience negative emotions when continually confronted with their mistakes. For these students, they become resistant to reading. Then, when made to read again, further mistakes are brought to the forefront. This cycle, known as the Matthew Effect (Stanovich, 1986), continues in a downward spiral that results in a student completely disengaging from reading and becoming demoralised in their own abilities.

Related to the previous judgement, are the motivational factors inherent in the task. For some students, the chance to logically assess their comprehension is like a puzzle, that they enjoy solving. For students who view reading negatively, or are experiencing the Matthew Effect, this task may have a demotivating effect, resulting in unwanted and disruptive behaviours.

This strategy is advantageous in it’s teaching and learning flexibility. It is easily adaptable to individual, small group or whole class experiences. This is primarily because of it’s ability to cater for all ability levels. Changes can be made to the task surrounding the level of the text or the amount of text to provide students with a more personalised activity. While an advantage in catering for the diverse needs of a class, the teacher is now responsible for monitoring up to twenty-five students, working at different paces and to different levels. For this to be successful in a whole class scenario, the teacher must have behaviour expectations clear, and the skills to ensure all students are engaged in the activity.

Teaching the repairing strategy for comprehension in this way encourages personal monitoring. Students develop a sense of autonomy and take responsibility for their own understanding. They learn how to check comprehension constantly, working through a series of methods to repair understanding when gaps are identified. This way, the strategies and steps are solidified in memory, with students able to pull out the specific steps of the strategy to fit different contexts. With all the apparent benefits clear, it is essential to recognise the possible failings related to an activity that requires autonomy. For some students, autonomy is not something regularly practiced and others, helplessness is a learned behaviour. These students are unlikely to monitor their own understanding or identify when there is no comprehension, instead resorting to behaviours mimicking those working, or just disrupting others.

The Fix-Up Strategy is just one approach to the teaching of comprehension. It has many advantages and disadvantages dependent on the students and the way the activity is approached. Aspects that are advantageous to some, will put others at a disadvantage because of their skills, behaviours and views. When incorporating this strategy into the classroom, the teacher should apply explicit instruction and behavioural expectations, to ensure a pragmatic experience for all.

Possible adaptions

As with all activities utilised within the classroom, there are always adaptions that can be made to further engage and connect with the students. Some possible adaptions have been outlined below, in the aim of making content more accessible for children.

When introducing this activity in the classroom there is no guarantee that students will have been exposed to it or something similar before. You, as the teacher, will need to provide that explicit teaching first.

Whew! Thank god that's over. So what did we actually learn today? Comprehension is an involved and extensive practice, requiring the knowledge and application of a range of skills and strategies.

Handy Resource


Afflerbach,P., Pearson, P.D. & Paris, S.G. et. (2008) Clarifying differneces between reading skills and reading strategies. The Reading Teacher, 61(5), 364-373.

Almasi, J. F, Palmer, B. M., Madden, A., & Hart, S. (2011). Interventions to enhance narrative comprhnsion. In R. Allington & A. McGill-Franzen (Eds), Handbook of reading disability research (pp.329-344). New-York: rRoutledge

Almasi, Janice F., & Hart, Susan J. (2015). Best practices in narrative text: Comprehension instruction. In Gambrell, Linda B., & Mandel Morrow, Lesley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (5th ed.). (pp. 223-248). New York: Guilford Press.

Graesser, A. C. and McNamara, D. S. (2011). Computational Analyses of Multilevel Discourse Comprehension. Topics in Cognitive Science, 3(2), 371–398. doi:10.1111/j.1756-8765.2010.01081.x

Kaefer, T., Neuman, S. B., & Pinkham, A. M. (2015;2014;). Pre-existing background knowledge influences socioeconomic differences in preschoolers' word learning and comprehension. Reading Psychology, 36(3), 203-231. doi:10.1080/02702711.2013.843064

Konza, Deslea. (2010). Understanding the reading process. Research Into Practice. Retrieved from

Neuman, S. B., Kaefer, T., & Pinkham, A. (2014). Building background knowledge. The Reading Teacher, 68(2), 145-148. doi:10.1002/trtr.1314

Paris, Alison H., & Paris, Scott G. (2003). Assessing Narrative Comprehension in young children: Reading Research Quarterly, 38(1), 36-76. doi:10.1598/RRQ.38.1.3

Paris, Scott G., & Stahl Steven A. (2005). Children's reading comprehension and assessment. Mahwah: Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from

Queensland Curriculum & Assessment Authority. [QCAA]. (2010). Teaching reading and viewing: Comprehension strategies and activities for years 1-9. Retrieved from

Stanovich, Keith E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 360-407.

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