How To: Improve Reading Comprehension With a Cognitive Strategy: Ask-Read-Tell

Learning Spark Blog: Jim WrightGood reading comprehension requires that students monitor their understanding while reading a passage. At the point of performance--when a student picks up a text and prepares to read--there are 3 crucial phases that improve comprehension (Pressley & Wharton-McDonald,1997): pre-reading (the reader creates a reading plan), reading (the reader monitors his or her understanding of the text while reading and applies strategies to clarify understanding of the text), and post-reading (the reader continues to think about the passage after reading and encode key details into long-term memory).


Poor readers often lack the skills to effectively monitor their comprehension of assigned passages and apply fix-up skills when needed. One means to help students to develop these self-monitoring skills is to teach them a cognitive strategy : ART: Ask-Read-Tell (McCallum et al., 2010). Whenever the student is assigned a challenging passage, he or she is trained to apply a 3-step ART sequence, which maps to the pre-reading/reading/post-reading timeline:

  1. ASK: Before reading the text, the student looks over the title of the passage, asks what the topic is likely to be, considers what he or she already knows about that topic, and generates 2 questions that the student hopes to answer through reading.
  2. READ: While reading, the student stops after each paragraph to query whether he or she has adequately understood that section of the passage and, if necessary, applies comprehension fix-up skills.
  3. TELL: After reading, the student attempts to answer the 2 questions posed earlier based on the content just read. Finally, the student meets with a peer partner, and participants tell each other what questions and answers they produced.

Preparation. In preparation for each ART session, the teacher:

Procedures. This intervention is student-directed. A full explanation of the ART steps can be found in the attached ASK-READ-TELL (ART): Student Worksheet. When using the ASK-READ-TELL strategy, the teacher:

  1. hands out the reading passage.
  2. directs students to read the passage independently (either in-class or as a take-home assignment).
  3. instructs students to complete the pre-reading, reading, and post-reading sections of the ASK-READ-TELL (ART): Student Worksheet as part of the reading assignment.
  4. pairs students off after the assignment to compare the questions and answers that each generated from the assigned passage.

Training. The ASK-READ-TELL strategy is simple to use. However, the teacher should ensure that students are trained in the proper use of this strategy, beginning with teacher demonstration and moving to group practice with instructor feedback before students are directed to use ASK-READ-TELL independently.


  • McCallum, R. S., Krohn, K. R., Skinner, C. H., Hilton-Prillhart, A., Hopkins, M. Waller, S., & Polite, F. (2010). Improving reading comprehension of at-risk high-school students: The art of reading program. Psychology in the Schools, 48(1), 78-86.
  • Pressley, M., & Wharton-McDonald, R. (1997). Skilled comprehension and its development through instruction. School Psychology Review, 26(3), 448-467.