In order to decode words rapidly and make use of comprehension strategies as they read, students must have a sufficient amount and flow of mental energy. The longer or more complex a passage, the greater the amount of mental energy required. Students’ mental energy for reading comprehension is facilitated by attentional abilities.

Here are some strategies for enhancing reading comprehension by focusing on mental energy.

Helpful Hints

  • Provide opportunities for students to make their word decoding skills “automatic” so that energy can be spent on comprehending the meaning of the text rather than just decoding the words.
  • Allow students to read for comprehension during times when their mental energy is high, perhaps at the start of day, after recess or physical education, etc.
  • Provide reading “jump-starts,” for example reading the first part of the text to students or with them. Engage students to provide jump-starts for each other by approaching a reading passage as a team, reading alternating paragraphs, etc.  
  • Use advance organizers to preview what the reading passage will cover, and to provide students with a framework for the task.  
  • Before students read a new passage, especially one with technical vocabulary and abstract concepts (i.e., decontextualized information), introduce new vocabulary that they will encounter.  
  • Provide short but frequent breaks that allow students to stretch or move around in order to rejuvenate mental energy.  
  • Break up lengthy passages, and help students get involved in the material they are reading by asking them questions about content as soon as they finish each section.  
  • Enhance student use of efficient and effective reading comprehension strategies. For example, teach students how to use the table of contents and the index, skim chapters for key words, dates, and names, look at pictures for clues to meaning, and read the questions at the end of a chapter for key information or ideas.  
  • To motivate students, have them read about areas in which they have strong interest (affinity areas), e.g., sports stories, biographies of inventors or rock musicians, or fictional stories about teenage issues.