Fluent readers use their background knowledge or prior knowledge to help them make sense of text. As it turns out, prior knowledge is a foot in the door to comprehension. Readers check text content against their own knowledge of the world and interpret text within the framework of their existing knowledge. When text introduces new information and concepts, readers adjust their thinking to accommodate the new ideas.
All text follows a certain structure. Understanding how text is structured makes it possible for readers to know where to find information and how to organize their thinking. Setting purposes for reading and asking questions guide readers to identify the main idea and supporting facts. Identifying the main idea makes it possible for readers to organize facts and details, determine which facts and details are important and which are not, and to summarize. Summarizing, in turn, improves children’s ability to remember what they read (Thiede & Anderson, 2003; Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002).
Children also learn to identify and understand cause-and-effect relationships. These relationships are particularly important because readers cannot make inferences if they do not understand cause and effect. Children make inferences by combining information directly stated in the text with their background knowledge. Whereas fluent readers use the facts, ideas, and concepts in text to make inferences, nonfluent readers appear to do this only when the text has specific questions that ask for an inference. Difficulty making inferences results in poor comprehension, even when children have adequate prior knowledge. In addition to understanding implied information, children think critically about the text and its relevance to their lives. Children might draw conclusions, evaluate text, or judge authors’ credibility. Fluent readers also pay close attention to comprehension. They monitor their own comprehension to make sure they understand text, pause to sort out meaning when text does not make sense, and then take action to get comprehension back on track.
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