Reading Comprehension Fix-Up Skills: A Classroom Toolkit

Good readers continuously monitor their understanding of informational text. When necessary, they also take steps to improve their understanding of text through use of reading comprehension ‘fix-up’ skills. Presented here are a series of fix-up skill strategies that can help struggling students to better understand difficult reading assignments.

  • [Core Instruction] Providing Main Idea Practice through ‘Partner Retell’ (Carnine & Carnine, 2004). Students in a group or class are assigned a text selection to read silently. Students are then paired off, with one student assigned the role of ‘reteller’ and the other appointed as ‘listener’. The reteller recounts the main idea to the listener, who can comment or ask questions. The teacher then states the main idea to the class. Next, the reteller locates two key details from the reading that support the main idea and shares these with the listener. At the end of the activity, the teacher does a spot check by randomly calling on one or more students in the listener role and asking them to recap what information was shared by the reteller.
  • [Accommodation] Developing a Bank of Multiple Passages to Present Challenging Concepts (Hedin & Conderman, 2010; Kamil et al., 2008; Texas Reading Initiative, 2002). The teacher notes which course concepts, cognitive strategies, or other information will likely present the greatest challenge to students. For these ‘challenge’ topics, the teacher selects alternative readings that present the same general information and review the same key vocabulary as the course text but that are more accessible to struggling readers (e.g., with selections written at an easier reading level or that use graphics to visually illustrate concepts). These alternative selections are organized into a bank. Students are encouraged to engage in wide reading by choosing selections from the bank as a means to better understand difficult material.
  • [Student Strategy] Promoting Understanding & Building Endurance through Reading-Reflection Pauses (Hedin & Conderman, 2010).The student decides on a reading interval (e.g., every four sentences; every 3 minutes; at the end of each paragraph). At the end of each interval, the student pauses briefly to recall the main points of the reading. If the student has questions or is uncertain about the content, the student rereads part or all of the section just read. This strategy is useful both for students who need to monitor their understanding as well as those who benefit from brief breaks when engaging in intensive reading as a means to build up endurance as attentive readers.
  • [Student Strategy] Identifying or Constructing Main Idea Sentences (Davey & McBride, 1986; Rosenshine, Meister & Chapman, 1996).For each paragraph in an assigned reading, the student either (a) highlights the main idea sentence or (b) highlights key details and uses them to write a ‘gist’ sentence. The student then writes the main idea of that paragraph on an index card. On the other side of the card, the student writes a question whose answer is that paragraph’s main idea sentence. This stack of ‘main idea’ cards becomes a useful tool to review assigned readings.
  • [Student Strategy] Restructuring Paragraphs with Main Idea First to Strengthen ‘Rereads’ (Hedin & Conderman, 2010). The student highlights or creates a main idea sentence for each paragraph in the assigned reading. When rereading each paragraph of the selection, the student (1) reads the main idea sentence or student-generated ‘gist’ sentence first (irrespective of where that sentence actually falls in the paragraph); (2) reads the remainder of the paragraph, and (3) reflects on how the main idea relates to the paragraph content.
  • [Student Strategy] Summarizing Readings (Boardman et al., 2008). The student is taught to summarize readings into main ideas and essential details--stripped of superfluous content. The act of summarizing longer readings can promote understanding and retention of content while the summarized text itself can be a useful study tool. 
  •  [Student Strategy] Linking Pronouns to Referents (Hedin & Conderman, 2010). Some readers lose the connection between pronouns and the nouns that they refer to (known as ‘referents’)—especially when reading challenging text. The student is encouraged to circle pronouns in the reading, to explicitly identify each pronoun’s referent, and (optionally) to write next to the pronoun the name of its referent. For example, the student may add the referent to a pronoun in this sentence from a biology text: “The Cambrian Period is the first geological age that has large numbers of multi-celled organisms associated with it Cambrian Period.”
  • [Student Strategy] Apply Vocabulary ‘Fix-Up’ Skills for Unknown Words (Klingner & Vaughn, 1999). When confronting an unknown word in a reading selection, the student applies the following vocabulary ‘fix-up’ skills:
  1. Read the sentence again.
  2. Read the sentences before and after the problem sentence for clues to the word’s meaning.
  3. See if there are prefixes or suffixes in the word that can give clues to meaning.
  4. Break the word up by syllables and look for ‘smaller words’ within.
  • [Student Strategy] Compiling a Vocabulary Journal from Course Readings (Hedin & Conderman, 2010). The student highlights new or unfamiliar vocabulary from course readings. The student writes each term into a vocabulary journal, using a standard ‘sentence-stem’ format: e.g., “Mitosis means…” or “A chloroplast is…”. If the student is unable to generate a definition for a vocabulary term based on the course reading, he or she writes the term into the vocabulary journal without definition and then applies other strategies to define the term: e.g., look up the term in a dictionary; use Google to locate two examples of the term being used correctly in context; ask the instructor, etc.).
  • [Student Strategy] Encouraging Use of Text Enhancements (Hedin & Conderman, 2010). Text enhancements can be used to tag important vocabulary terms, key ideas, or other reading content.  If working with photocopied material, the student can use a highlighter--but should limit highlighting to important text elements such as main idea and key vocabulary terms. Another enhancement strategy is the ‘lasso and rope’ technique—using a pen or pencil to circle a vocabulary term and then drawing a line that connects that term to its underlined definition. If working from a textbook, the student can cut sticky notes into strips. These strips can be inserted in the book as pointers to text of interest. They can also be used as temporary labels—e.g., for writing a vocabulary term and its definition.
  • Student Strategy] Reading Actively Through Text Annotation (Harris, 1990; Sarkisian et al., 2003). Students are likely to increase their retention of information when they interact actively with their reading by jotting comments in the margin of the text. Using photocopies, the student is taught to engage in an ongoing 'conversation' with the writer by recording a running series of brief comments in the margins of the text. The student may write annotations to record opinions about points raised by the writer, questions triggered by the reading, or unknown vocabulary words.

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Carnine, L., & Carnine, D. (2004). The interaction of reading skills and science content knowledge when teaching struggling secondary students. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 20, 203-218.

Davey, B., & McBride, S. (1986). Effects of question-generation training on reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 78, 256-262.

Harris, J. (1990). Text annotation and underlining as metacognitive strategies to improve comprehension and retention of expository text. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Reading Conference (Miami).

Hedin, L. R., & Conderman, G. (2010). Teaching students to comprehend informational text through rereading. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 556–565.

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Klingner, J. K., & Vaughn, S. (1999). Promoting reading comprehension, content learning, and English acquisition through collaborative strategic reading (CSR). The Reading Teacher, 52(7), 738-747.

Rosenshine, B., Meister, C., & Chapman, S. (1996). Teaching students to generate questions: A review of the intervention studies. Review of Educational Research, 66, 181-221.

Sarkisian V., Toscano, M., Tomkins-Tinch, K., & Casey, K. (2003). Reading strategies and critical thinking. Retrieved October 15, 2006, from

Texas Reading Initiative. (2002). Promoting vocabulary development: Components of effective vocabulary instruction. Austin, TX: Author. Retrieved November 15, 2010, from