Reading for meaning is a strategy focusing on understanding what we read and finding purpose. The plan focuses on two types of questions: literal and inferential.
When we read for meaning, we should be able to answer literal questions about the text we’ve read and make inferences from it.
Reading for meaning helps us to make sense of challenging texts and is a good building block for critical reading. It focuses on making interpretations based on evidence.
Why Should We Read for Meaning?
If we don’t comprehend the meaning of words and what texts are trying to tell us, what’s the point of reading?
When children first learn to read, the focus is on learning to pronounce the words correctly and to be able to read aloud fluently. Children begin to sound out and decode individual words. This is an important step for the foundations of reading, but understanding and comprehending what the words mean together, not just individually, is of equal importance.
It’s also important to consider that being able to sound out words and pronounce them correctly doesn’t automatically mean that children understand what they’re reading. For many years, it was assumed that if a child can read fluently, they can know what they’re reading. But, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. That’s why the strategy of reading for meaning was developed in the first place.
Developing reading for meaning skills at an early age can help prepare children for what they might read later in their education. As they grow, they’ll be faced with more challenging texts with more difficult vocabulary. If they aren’t able to read the text and analyze it for meaning, they’ll struggle and become discouraged. This can hinder their development and cause children to lose their motivation for reading and learning.
Reading for meaning also encourages children to become active readers. Rather than just passively accepting what a text is telling us on the surface, they learn to take a closer look to find meaning in what they read. This is an essential skill useful for literacy and other topics in their education and life.
How Can Reading for Meaning be Implemented in the Classroom?
Reading comprehension activities are a traditional way for children to learn how to read for meaning. You can read for purpose in a story, a poem, a newspaper article, or just about anything with words.
To introduce your pupils to reading for meaning, you should give them a text to read alongside a set of questions or statements that relate to the reader. At this stage, these should be literal questions rather than inferential ones. In other words, they should be able to find a ‘correct’ answer by searching for evidence within the text.
When pupils answer the questions, they should show where they found the answer in the text. For example, if one of the questions asks what happened to a character at the end of the story, they should use a quote as evidence for their answer.
Once pupils grasp basic reading for meaning using evidence, they can move on to inferential questions. The questions can be slightly more open-ended, and the pupils must make inferences to find meaning. These could be questions like ‘How do you think the character felt during this scene?’ or ‘What do you think will happen next?’. Pupils should still use evidence from the text to support their answers, but they should also be prepared to defend their arguments!
This is a great opportunity for whole-class discussions where your pupils can share the meanings they’ve found, and other pupils can discuss whether they agree or disagree about the inferences made.
Comprehension activities like this show whether pupils can comprehend what they’ve read and understand the text’s meaning.