4 Free Reading Comprehension Activities

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Four free reading comprehension activities that work -  you won't believe how much fun these lessons are.  Who knew that making a salad would be a way to teach reading strategies! 

Getting children to become fluent readers includes being able to use metacognition to make sense of the text.  These awesome strategies are fun, engage all levels of learners and are easy for the teacher to implement!

Tier 3 Vocabulary

Do you remember who Athena was? How about Demeter and Hermes? No? Hmmm…perhaps you need a bit of help acquiring subject-specific vocabulary. This strategy works for all subject areas, at all age levels.

Let's use a Greek mythology example. Get some index cards, let's say 20 - one card for each god or goddess.

Greek Vocabulary words

On the front of the card write the name of the god or goddess.

On the back, put VERY limited and specific information about him or her (only what the students really need to know).

Hand out these cards in class along with a paper that has all the names listed on it.

Tell the students they are each now a figure from Greek mythology (the one on their card).

Their job is to visit their friends to find out who everyone is and learn important information about them.

As the students visit with each other, they write down the essential information each person tells them (from the back of their card) beside the correct name on their paper. It would look like this:

  • Zeus: god of heaven
  • Hera: goddess of marriage; Zeus' wife
  • Hermes: messenger of the gods

This is a great way to get that kinesthetic modality involved, have kids working together and making difficult vocabulary accessible!

Could this reading comprehension exercise also be used with math? Absolutely. Make the cards names of geometric figures. What about science? The cards could have words related to the study of sound, the moon, plants…so many free reading comprehension activities work with any subject, and this one is no exception.

Need free reading comprehension activities for reading aloud? Go to Interactive Read Aloud.

Word Walls 

Word walls are one of the most effective free reading comprehension activities.

A word wall is a fantastic tool to use for vocabulary activities and instruction, and we know that a deep understanding of key vocabulary terms is essential to comprehending text.

(To see how this is used with mathematics, go here)

word wall game

Words should be posted where they are accessible and visible to all students. Subject specific terms are used to create the word wall.

Some ideas are:

  • geographic land forms
  • math concepts, weather words
  • literary genres
  • animal habitats.

The words should be addressed often and used continually throughout the unit of study through activities such as:

  • Add a "visiting" word (one that doesn't belong) and see if the students can find it and identify why it doesn't belong there
  • Introduce a new word as a "scrambled" word. Give clues about meaning and spelling and the students figure it out together
  • Make word pictures for word wall words in teams. The students try to guess the other team's word from the illustration
  • Five Words in a Story - while students are writing, call out a word wall word and they have to immediately use it in their story. This goes on at two minute intervals for ten minutes. At the end, students share their stories
  • Similes and Metaphors - students use word wall words to create either similes or metaphors for each one

 Make a Simple Salad

Effective teaching reading strategies can include kinesthetic learning modalities. Try making this simple salad!

In French cuisine, a simple salad is made of only lettuce and onion. Your students will make a simple salad while learning what it means to think about thinking/reading (metacognition).

simple salad reading comprehension strategy

Tear up pieces of green and white paper. The green paper is the lettuce, and the white is the onion.

Ask the students what they should have more of in their salad, lettuce or onion? Of course, the answer is lettuce.

Tell them the lettuce represents your thinking about what you are reading. The onion is when you are just reading the words of a text.

Call two students up to stand with you while you read aloud. Tell them that whenever you are just reading the text, one of them is to put some onion into a bowl. When you stop and think aloud about what you have read, the other student must put in some lettuce. This takes some practice, so you may want to work on it ahead of time.

Here is an example using The Magic Horns: A South African Cinderella Tale:

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there were many large and small kraals on the veldt in South Africa.(white paper)

"I wonder what a kraal is. I bet it is home or a village. But what is a veldt? It must be a type of landform."(green papers)

In one of the kraals lived a mother and father and their little son/(white paper)

"Okay, a kraal is definitely a home or a village."(green paper)

One day, the mother became very ill. Her skin become the color of dust, and despite everyone's efforts, she soon died.(white paper)

"Why would the author say her skin became the color of dust? That must mean she slowly died and looked very grey or yellowish."(green papers)

The final outcome is a very visual way of showing students how good readers think about what they are reading. The salad bowl should have much more green than white in it.

You could then have the students practice it with each other, and also use it at any time you are observing a student struggling with comprehending a text.

Paint Chips and Getting the Gist of It

Instead of doing the thumbs up and thumbs down to show if they understand, try giving the students paint chips.

This really is one of the best comprehension activities, as paint chips are definitely free at your local home stores.

You should get the chips that come with three colors on them: light, medium and dark.

paint chips for reading comprehensio

During guided reading time, have the students use the chip colors to show their understanding of the text.

If they are very clear on what is happening in the text, they put a penny on the light color.

If their thinking is not clear, the penny goes on the the medium color. If they are completely in the dark, the penny goes on the dark color. Now the students are really into metacognition - thinking about their own thinking and comprehension of the text.


G.I.S.T. stands for "Generating Interactions between Schemata and Text." One of the more difficult things for students to do is to grasp the essentials, or main idea of a text. Getting the "gist" of something means that you get what the most important parts are.

This is an excellent reading intervention strategies for ELL students. It gets rid of extraneous words and information that will impair their understanding of a text.

  1. Take a 150-200 word passage and have the students read it silently or with a buddy.
  2. Individually, have the students underline 10 words that they feel are important to the selection.
  3. Write the words on the board (you do this - you won't use everybody's words - just 10 of them).
  4. Students write a summary sentence using as many of the words as possible. This can be done in small groups.
  5. Each group shares its sentence with the class.

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